One of my favorite states in our glorious union is Rhode Island. It's home to such impressive companies as CVS, up an annual average of 13% over the past 20 years; Textron, up about tenfold over the past 15 years; and American Power Conversion, up an annual average of 17% over the past 15 years. Motley Fool newsletters have noticed the small state, too: Lottery system specialist GTech rose 49% during its relatively brief life as a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation; and Hasbro has advanced some 24% since being recommended to Motley Fool Stock Advisor subscribers about three years ago.

But Rhode Island has even more to recommend it. It also features many miles of beaches and stuffed clams at every other eatery. And welcoming highway travelers is a 58-foot-long blue bug atop an extermination company. What's not to love?

To many residents of Rhode Island, though, it sometimes seems that every other day there's a hearing held determining whether various people should receive their pensions. These would-be pensioners, often high-profile folks, have typically been convicted of crimes or have disgraced themselves in other ways.

Permit me to offer a few examples of Rhode Islanders whose retirements didn't unfold the way they were expected to:

  • In 2002, the Providence Retirement Board denied pension benefits to a former tax collector who is serving a 30-month federal prison term for taking bribes to lower people's tax payments. That decision meant he could expect to lose his $3,500-a-month-for-life pension.
  • A former Providence Parks Department office manager was recently fighting for her monthly $1,895 pension after having apparently embezzled at least $26,981. (A witness asserted that, embezzlement aside, she was a "model city employee.")
  • Former Providence mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, currently serving time in prison, may also be fighting for his pension. The Providence Retirement Board has been looking into whether it can and should revoke or reduce the pension, given that the mayor was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in 2002. Cianci stands to collect around $75,000 per year.
  • Cianci's director of administration, also in prison, began collecting his pension back in 1999, only to have it suspended in 2003.
  • Then there are the three police officials allegedly involved in a police testing scandal. Their pensions have also been under review.

So what can we learn from all this? Well, obviously, those who might stare at an open cash register with some diabolical thoughts should think twice before acting on them. Clearly, many people out there have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of future dollars for a few thousand (or even a few hundred) ill-gotten dollars today.

Even the straight and narrow road is risky
But you needn't act dishonorably to put your retirement in jeopardy. Here are a few ways that you can screw things up royally -- but legally:

  • You never get around to planning for your golden years. If you're assuming that things will work out one way or another, wake up -- there's a good chance they may not.
  • You can invest diligently and regularly, but ineffectively. If, for example, most of your retirement moola is going into stock in your employer, you're in danger. Just ask the good people who used to work at Enron, or the vehicle-builders who've had funds tied up in General Motors for the past five years. Even Income Investor pick Merck is down some 30% since 2001, and Inside Value pick Pfizer is down more than 35%. (Read how Stephen Simpson sees Merck going on the attack and what Brian Gorman thinks about Pfizer.)

Let us help you
You don't have to go it alone, though. The retirement guidance source that I refer to most often is Robert Brokamp's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. You can try it free for a whole month. Doing so will permit you to peek at the current issue and all the past issues, which feature articles that cover all manner of topics related to retirement planning and investing.

Here's to big profits in your future! (And keep those hands out of the till!)

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Pfizer. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.