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Surviving a "Bear Scare" in Retirement

A regular feature of theMotley Fool Rule Your Retirementnewsletter service is our success stories -- profiles of people who have become financially independent. One of the most remarkable stories is about Billy and Akaisha Kaderli. At age 38, they left their fast-track lives, moved to Nevis, West Indies, in the Caribbean, and started traveling the world. We caught up with the Kaderlis in Thailand, and in this article, Akaisha talks about fluctuations in circumstances both financial and personal while in retirement.

It's everyone's nightmare: watching retirement assets vanish in a bear market.

Many of you will remember the severe market downturn of 2000-2002, when the Standard & Poor's fell 49%. It was the second-worst bear market in our nation's financial history, exceeded only by the Great Depression.

We'd be lying to say that this declining market didn't affect us. Our finances dropped about the same as most others on a percentage basis. As retirees, with no regular paycheck coming in on Friday, this event could have spelled disaster for our future plans for financial independence.

What did we do? How did we cope?

First, there were regular chats about our finances, and the state they were in, in hopes of planning our approach to a possible financial meltdown. It was not a pleasant time to be invested.

Billy made changes in our portfolio. He moved 30% into cash in January of 2000, but looking back, it was not nearly enough to avoid the bear exposure.

Being a numbers guy, he keeps records of all sorts: articles from financial magazines, clips from newspapers, charts and graphs of the indices from previous years. When he goes quiet, mentally chewing over this information, I know he's screening the data and weighing the significance of it.

Then we scheduled another session, discussed the fiscal facts, and tried to extrapolate out into the future. One obvious problem: No one can predict that future.

Using history as a guide
Researching past bears, we took heart from the knowledge that past downturns always ended. Although that gave us a smidgen of comfort, the seas were still pretty choppy. We decided on a specific number that our nest egg would reach before we would choose to go back to work. We also discussed the type of work we would look for, and how much money we would need to earn to compensate for the market's losses.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Would our new jobs require another vehicle purchase? A long commute and consequent fuel expense? A new wardrobe? What about doing something fun instead, and not worrying about having our egos bruised at someone else's smirk over an unflattering job title? Could we provide a service and become self-employed once again, instead of straining to conform to scheduled lunch hours and coffee breaks?

We knew flexibility with each other and with our financial choices was important. We also knew that simply sitting home and obsessing wasn't productive.

Create a disaster plan, then get on with life
Once we outlined possible ways to compensate for our disappearing funds, we packed up our stuff and hit the road again. During the period between 2000 and 2003, we visited eight countries, keeping up with our travel opportunities. This in itself gave broader perspectives on our choices. Travel shakes out the cobwebs and keeps the mind alert to possibilities and fresh starts. We considered relocating to a different country and taking on resident bartender and receptionist employment at an upscale resort, which happened to include lodging, all meals, and a paycheck.

We asked ourselves concrete questions, beginning with what, how, when, and where. What were we willing to do? How long did we realistically believe this bear would last? When would it be necessary to find employment? Where would we choose to live or work?

What we didn't do was lock ourselves in, mentally or creatively. In our experience, it hasn't proven useful to recede into fear or exaggerated "what if" scenarios. It was necessary for us to have fun, with the degree of freedom that our personalities require.

We did survive that nasty financial scare, and are now into our 16th year of financial independence. Weathering that financial storm made us feel stronger and more clear-headed. And it's comforting to know that since our retirement in 1991, our net worth has grown well above the annual inflation rate after expenses.

It is prudent to plan your retirement with all your financial bases reasonably covered. Newsletters such as Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement and online financial forums are dedicated to help educate you in this area, and they can better prepare you for that day when there is no paycheck on Friday. But there simply are no guarantees in life, and nothing can take the place of your full engagement in your own retirement.

To start taking control of your financial future, try a free 30-day guest pass to Rule Your Retirement.

In 1991, Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired from the brokerage and restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, and check out their new CD book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement.


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