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Retire Like a Quahog

Do you subscribe to ClamWeek or Popular Clams? Do you watch the cable channel Clam-Span much? Is your radio tuned to KLAM? If not, you might have missed a big news story in the world of clams. It seems that out of the frigid Arctic waters, an unusual clam has turned up. It's unusual because of its age -- it's 405 years old!

Let's back up a bit, because you're probably trembling with excitement right now, feeling a little weak in the knees, and who could blame you? Apparently, just as you can tell the age of a tree by counting its rings, you can count growth rings in a clam's shell. That's how the 405 years were determined. The clam in question is an ocean quahog, one of the larger species of clams in the world. (In Rhode Island, coastal quahogs are one of the state's favorite foods.)

As some writers pointed out, the clam was around in the days of Shakespeare (though I'm betting it didn't get out to the Globe much), and during its youth, colonists were settling in America. (One cheeky blogger noted that, looking at the clam, "It seems considerably younger than Joan Rivers, who is roughly the same age.")

Clam lessons
But we're investors, right? So what can we take from this exciting discovery? Well, I can think of a few lessons:

  • The first is that we should try and be ready for the unexpected. We probably won't live to the age of 405, but a few of us will make it to 110. Will you have enough money to live off, if you do? To do so, you need to get your retirement savings in order.
  • According to National Geographic, some scientists believe that slow cell replacement helps clams live longer. This reminds me of how even in our investing, it can be very effective to be slow in replacing stocks -- not to actively jump in and out of various stocks or get impatient with the companies we research and then invest in. My colleague Jim Mueller wrote last year about the power of dividends, and how, if you leave them alone to grow, they can help you reach your dreams. Currently, companies like Altria (NYSE: MO  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) , and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) are paying hefty dividend yields.
  • Similarly, another reason for clam longevity may be a characteristic that slows cellular decay. This, too, has relevance for investors -- because there are things that break down our own investing success, such as greed, fear, overconfidence, and procrastination. If we can learn to discipline ourselves and keep our unhelpful impulses in check, we can see our dollars grow much more successfully over longer periods.

Have some fun with numbers. If you invest a single dollar in the stock market and it grows at the market's historical annual average of around 10%, in just 100 years, it will have grown to $13,780. In 200 years, that single dollar will become $189,905,277. By then, you might be kicking yourself for not having invested a second dollar.

So next time you're thinking of putting off contributing to your IRA or jumping onto a high-flying penny stock, think of the noble quahog.

As you prepare for and invest for your retirement, the following articles may be of interest:


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Selena Maranjian
TMFSelena

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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