Pecan pie: secret to responsible retirement planning

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 16, 2008

Rick Ducommun is a serious cyclist whose sport has taught him a lot about financial planning. In fact, our Cochrane coffee companion himself is a professional financial planner. With RRSP time upon us once more, I asked Rick what his secret is for responsible retirement planning.

“Pie,” he says – “pecan pie.”

“It sure looks like this will be a hectic RRSP season,” Rick tells me. “After 27 years in my industry, I’m still amazed at how prone to panic the general public is.” But a little common-sense planning as simple as pecan pie can take the panic away.

But more about pecan pie in a minute.

An RRSP – Registered Retirement Savings Plan – is the closest many Canadians ever get to planning for their retirement. Successfully arriving at that much-anticipated destination, according to Rick, is like taking a long bicycle trip in preparation for something even greater.

A long solo bicycle trip. Like the one Rick took last fall from Cochrane to Portland, Ore., to participate in the Lance Armstrong LIVESTRONG Challenge, a cycling-world fundraiser for cancer research.

The charitable event itself was strenuous enough, involving a moderate-to-difficult 62-km course with a total ascent of 2,100 m. But Rick warmed himself up first by peddling the 1,500 km to Portland against headwinds and across two mountain ranges.

Participation in the LIVESTRONG Challenge was the fulfillment of a lofty dream, says Rick, 58. Not bad for a guy who was “too old, hadn’t ridden seriously for over 20 years, was too fat, too weak, had too many serious injuries, and was physiologically incapable of riding a bicycle without suffering hugely from pain associated with lactic acid.”

For Rick, who had to work really hard and with great self-discipline to get himself back into shape, this was all about attitude. “To ride well, one must actually be accountable to one’s self, for the time committed to preparation, to the effort during times of physical and emotional distress.”

It’s about perseverance, even when one is coming back on stream at a late date.

Not unlike many who have put off their financial planning for retirement, till “about 10 years from reaching it, they have reality punch them in the face” and are tempted to cave in to despair and do nothing, Rick says.

“My statement for them is, ‘It ain’t over when you think it is.’”

When Rick had his lofty dream, he first set out to get the best physical examination and advice he could find. With that in hand, he said, “it was time to lay down a riding plan that would get me there alive and able to ride with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong on the day.

“I found a plan that started with the required results and worked backwards. In the end, I would have to ride 14,000 km over the 12 months prior to my big day, and that would have to lead to 24 per cent body fat, sustainable power for five hours (my goal for the ride with Lance), and enough toughness to not quit when things all stacked up against me.”

But what does pecan pie have to do with all this?

“Cycling is about mechanical engineering and human physiology,” Rick says. “In terms of efficient use of biological fuel, nothing really beats cycling for distance per calorie of fuel.”

He calculated that it would require two tanks of gas to go by car from Cochrane to Portland, versus eight pecan pies to cycle the same distance. “I tested the theory,” Rick says, “and I can ride 200 km on a pecan pie, two litres of 2% milk, four bottles of energy drink, and another four bottles of water.

“I suspect that a piece of pecan pie is equal to a litre of fuel in the car. I know for certain that there are five slices in each pecan pie, and that the particular pie I get at Cochrane’s famous HQ Pie Emporium provides around 1,000 calories per slice.” Each pie provided him 5,000 of the 8,000 calories he needed for every 200 km stretch. Thus, he reached Portland on eight pecan pies.

Which brings me back to Rick’s pecan pie secret for responsible retirement planning:

Just as Rick had a destination, purpose and plan in mind for his dream trip, so we, too, can have a destination, purpose and plan in mind for our retirement. And just as Rick fueled his journey with pecan pie, always keeping the big picture in mind and spreading his pecan-pie consumption out over the entire trip, one piece at a time, so, too, we can calculate our financial commitment to our retirement plan over the long haul, breaking it into manageable slices.

Thus, we can arrive at our retirement destination, energized and ready for the dreams ahead – and with a good taste in our mouth, to boot.

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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