You Never Miss the Income Until the Well Runs Dry

Picture the scene: the stove is at capacity; four stock pots, full of snow, are melting under high heat. On the counter, more pots crowned with colanders are busy filtering leaves, pine needles and other detritus from the meltwater. On the floor, barrels full of fresh snow sit ready to enter the assembly line.  The entire operation has been underway for over three hours, all in the effort to provide enough clean water to flush a toilet once. It’s times like these when you learn obscure facts. Did you know it takes an average of 10 inches of snow to yield just one inch of water?

Many locales among the eastern United States have endured record breaking stretches of time with temperatures below freezing. My home is an old farmhouse, originally built over 200 years ago. The basement is old and porous. It gets awfully cold down there in winter. I was washing dishes when the water just stopped. Uh-oh…gotta be frozen pipes.

I went down there with every trick I could discover online: pipe insulation, heating cable, a space heater, expanding foam and more. Did I get the water running again? Of course not. So next I hear the words that have been bringing shame to husbands for centuries: I’m calling the plumber.

I eagerly relay to our plumber buddy all I’d been doing to resuscitate the water. He confirms I’ve indeed applied every trick in the book. Must be the well pump, he says. We ask if the record cold snap could have did the pump in. He doesn’t think so, just poor timing. Did I mention it’s New Year’s Day? Due to the holiday and influx of emergency calls, the plumber warns us his visit won’t be cheap. We reluctantly agree for him to visit ASAP.

What choice did we have? Water is life. Up to 60% of your body is water. 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by it. Without water you can’t wash your body, dishes or laundry. You can’t do much cooking, or certainly clean afterwards. Some homes require it for heat. And you can’t flush toilets. That last one was a real treat, especially when you have a 6 and 4-year-old who go through juice like it’s going out of style. Now you understand why we had the elaborate snow melting operation underway.

“Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” – Cinderella (80s hair metal band, not the Disney princess)

The plumber arrives ready to replace the well pump. Just to be sure, let’s check the basement, he says. He starts knocking around and soon after begins to chuckle. Pipes are still frozen. How is that possible, the entire length of inbound pipe is insulated and heated. Not quite, he says, and points to the spot where our well water enters in through a pipe in the floor. Right there, where it comes in, it’s still frozen. He’s right, my cable didn’t reach all the way to the floor. Get me a hairdryer, he says. Two minutes later, the water starts flowing. Our plumber is rewarded with the most money anyone has ever received in history for a two-minute blow dryer treatment.

It was an expensive but important lesson. You can do everything exactly right, but still have it entirely wrong.

Most people think they’re pretty smart, financial planners being no exception. And why not? Even if we’re not experts on a given subject, we have all the world’s knowledge available at our fingertips, ready to be accessed at a moment’s notice.

But none of that matters when the unexpected happens and everything comes grinding to a halt. A plumber, being an expert in his discipline, found my problem in less than a few minutes.  Sometimes, experience trumps a haphazardly applied Google remedy.

It got me wondering, how many people similarly have glaring problems in their retirement plan? How many people have got some of the basics down, but are missing key strategies to protect their income, health care or tax liabilities? When’s the last time you had an expert look at your situation?

I was without water for a single day. Many people, when their retirement strategy goes sideways, will struggle to make ends meet for the rest of their lives. Water is literally everywhere; you can recover from a frozen pipe. But retirement income only lasts as long as your plan is able to provide it.

Do yourself a favor, submit your plan to second opinion. It may make all the difference in the world.

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