Last week, I took a few days off to travel to Phoenix, Arizona. I was going to visit my sister and her two boys for part of the stay and play golf and watch the Super Bowl with some college friends during the rest. When I booked my flight, I had two options for connecting cities, one to the north and one to the south. In my desire to maximize control over things, I chose the southerly route to avoid any weather issues. Takeoff from CVG went off without a hitch early Wednesday evening with the goal of landing in time for a late dinner with my sister.
I’m writing this blog from the Atlanta airport. It’s now 1:40am on Thursday. I have a standby ticket for 11am tomorrow morning. More likely, I’ll be on the 4:30pm flight if they can get all the aircraft and crew shuffled in time.
I’ve faced cancelled flights before. I know how to control this type of situation. Typically, I’d find a hotel room. Typically, the roads leaving the airport are open and buses and taxicabs are available. Today, they’re not. The trains are running, but don’t go far enough to reach the nearest available room.
So, what to do? Oh, I know. I can control this situation by renting a car, driving to the nearest hotel or even back to Cincinnati.
Turns out, people are being strongly encouraged to stay off the roads and rental car companies and debating whether or not they even want to allow people to rent cars. Those attempting to brave the roads face thousands of abandoned cars lining the highways and side streets. Most of what melted earlier today is likely re-freezing as I type.
Ok, this is still manageable. I’ll get some work done and find something to eat. After all, Atlanta offers some of the best airport dining around. This would be a great treat if the restaurant employees or food delivery trucks were able to get here.
What caused all of this?
2 ½ inches of snow.
I don’t write this for pity. It could be much worse. I’ve seen elderly people clearly in distress. People missing important personal and professional events. People that have been here much longer than I. The person I’m currently sharing a bench with is going on day 2. They have a standby ticket for 9am. They’re not hopeful.
I share this story because it’s been yet another of life’s regular reminders that control is often a myth. We can take every precaution. Check every box. Plan for most any contingency. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans.
This year is off to a rocky start in the market. An analogy I used many times last year was that our slowly improving economy would ultimately have to try to perform without its training wheels. That work is beginning. It makes investors skittish because they don’t know what will happen next.
The truth is, we never know what will happen next. The market, in the short term, can be as fickle and unpredictable as the weather. Two years ago at this time I played a round of golf. In Cincinnati. In shorts. This year, I’m stuck in an airport in the southeast because of an ice storm.
The market typically dips 5% or more each year and experiences a correction of 10% or more roughly every 20 months. Still, long term performance is undeniable. The market will gain its footing again. Growth and innovation by companies large and small all over the world will continue. Bull markets, bear markets, ups and downs, expected and unexpected events will all continue as they always have.
What we can do, at least when it comes to our finances, is build a plan flexible enough to weather any storm. To focus on those things we truly can control; our spending, making tax efficient decisions, having the proper estate planning and insurance coverage in place to protect against true calamities.
Just being aware that control, while a nice goal, is unattainable, frees us to make better choices with our money. It helps us frame situations, encourages us to leave wiggle room in our planning, and relieves stress, even in tough times.
Even in 2 ½ inches of snow.
**Note – I did make it out on a Thursday afternoon flight and was still able to see my friends and family as planned. Special note should be made about Delta Airlines’ customer service staff and the Atlanta airport employees who, seemingly to a person, did everything they could to make an event completely out of their control as bearable as possible for those stuck in the airport. Good service seems to be a rarity in the air travel industry these days and a demonstration of such deserves mention.