How to Plan for Retirement Like Clark Griswold

Christmas tree with palm trees

Every Christmas season my wife and I have series of movies that we pull out and watch between Thanksgiving and Christmas time. This past weekend we pulled out one of our classics, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation! If it isn't part of your regular Christmas movie set, then it needs to be!

I love almost every scene of the movie and has so many quotable scenes. To name a few, my favorites are:

“She falls down a well, her eyes go cross. She gets kicked by a mule. They go back. I don't know.”

“Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We're at the threshold of hell.”

“Lotta sap in here! Mmmm… Looks great! Little full, lotta sap.”

“Every time Catherine revved up the microwave, I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour or so.”

“Clark, that there is an RV”

“If it wouldn't be too much, I'd like to get something for you Clark…something real nice!”

“Save the neck for me, Clark!”

clark griswold retirement

For me, I feel like Clark and Cousin Eddie are what makes the movie so special. I think so because I feel like everyone can relate to them.

Everyone has a family member that is that stereotypical Clark or Eddie. Or worse yet, maybe you are Clark! :)

In watching the show this weekend I had many laughs at his misfortunes and shortcomings. Then it got me thinking. Thinking of how a lot of us plan for retirement just like Clark Griswold lives his life. The unfortunate part is that our lives aren't a made up movie, but real life. For many of us, we are living a financial life like Clark Griswold, and we don't even know it.

So, with Clark's financial mindset in mind, I decided to come up with ways you can plan for retirement just like Griswold himself!

Don't Plan Ahead

In the opening scene, the Griswold family is driving out of the suburbs to get a tree. Now they don't want to buy a fake tree or buy any old real tree from Christmas tree farm. They want to go out in nature and chop down the tree that looks like it was meant to be theirs! After trudging through snow and cold (with frozen faces), an angelic beam appears above the tree that is perfect. After talking about it and marveling at it for a little while, Russ (Clark's son) asks, “Dad, did you bring a saw?” Doh!

Retirement planning isn't something that you just show up at age 65, and say, “Yep, I'm going to retire” and have your son ask, “Dad, did you have a 401k?” It isn't that simple. True retirement takes years of planning ahead and is even more important to plan in your early 20's!

It's a Beaut, Clark! A Beaut!

Never Test

Remember the scene where Clark is completely gung-ho with putting up Christmas lights on the entire house? He asks Russ to check the lights, but he never does. Clark continues to put up thousands of strands of lights and hopes in one giant swoop to plug in all of his lights with one extension cord. During the whole process, he doesn't once test to see if the lights are working thus far. I can relate from personal experience. Last year I tested the lights before I put them up on the tree. However, once I got them on the tree, then it didn't work plugged continuously in a particular order.

Clark isn't one to test along the way. He thinks it should just work in the end. In the same way, a lot of us aren't testing out our retirement plans. We don't know if our nest egg will last. We often think that X number of dollars should last us X number of years. Have you considered testing along the way and trying to live off your passive income streams for one month, three months, or 12 months? See just how much you spend and save through this scenario. In addition, run the FIRE simulation to see what percentage chance your savings have of living through the best and worst periods of the stock market. The point is, don't just blindly step into retirement without testing.

Act on Emotion

Remember when Clark's cat starts chewing on the Christmas light cord and lights his tree and cat up in flames? What does he do right after that? The only “rational” thing, and gets out his chainsaw and chops down his front yard tree and puts it in his house as his new Christmas tree. The emotional freakout leads to yet another failure and unleashes the wrath of a squirrel on their family.

I wish I could say that Clark makes analyzed decision after analyzed decision, but the truth is his emotional rollercoaster leads him to one big failure after another. A lot of our financial decisions along the way are very similar. Playout this scenario:

Me: The stock market is blazing hot. Maybe I should buy more stocks.

Stockmarket: Crashes

Me: Doh! I'm pretty sure I should sell everything. The market is going to continue to tank!

Stockmarket: Rebounds

Me: I'm an idiot. I'm sure the market is going to go up forever now. I'll buy in now!

Stockmarket: Crashes again

As you can see there is the emotional rollercoaster that is occurring with each of our retirement plans. Often we aren't staying the course, dollar cost averaging, but instead acting purely on emotion. We are Clark Griswolding our portfolio! In the long run, this hurts our overall return and keeps us from realizing the average market gains.

cousin eddie

More than most of us would like to admit, we are all a Clark Griswold or Cousin Eddie in some way. No matter whether we are retired millionaires, personal finance bloggers, or the TV financial guru Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey. I know, I don't like to admit this, but I often act on emotion with the stock market and sell/buy when I shouldn't. What is your Achilles heel of retirement planning? What area could you use improvement on? Better yet…what is your favorite Christmas time movie? Leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you!

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