It was the morning of June 9, 1870, and John Benge, a railway foreman, assumed he and his crew had ample time to replace 32 timber baulks along the track and fill in the 21-foot breach overlooking the River Beult before the next train passed through Staplehurst, England. And since the weather outside was delightful, with plenty of visibility, no one felt compelled to put the customary three detonators along the track at 250-yard intervals to warn the railway crew of any imminent danger. Besides, if an errant train came chugging along unexpectedly, surely the train conductor would see the crew and stop the train in time.

Traveling at a speed of nearly 50 mph, the next train arrived early – actually, at the correct time, which Benge failed to check – 3:15 pm. The conductor did not have enough time or space to safely stop the train and prevent it from going off the rail. Part of the train plunged into the river. It was a calamity like no other at the time – 10 passengers died and 49 were injured.

Many passengers panicked, but there was one fellow – a passenger named Charles Dickens – in the first carriage who kept his composure and helped some emerge from the wreckage with their lives intact. Dickens even managed to save a manuscript he was working on at the time, Our Mutual Friend.

Can you imagine how John Benge would have planned differently had he not misconstrued the timetable? Or can you envision how things might have turned out otherwise if Benge had followed the railway safety procedures as prescribed?

What are some possible hazards that could derail your plans for retirement? With the benefit of some time, what steps could you take now to protect yourself against these hazards?

Having a practical, defined process in place – and in motion – can help keep your retirement goals on the right track and guard against the perils that threaten them. Here are a few tips to consider for your own process:

  • Avoid living beyond your budget during your saving years. If you’d like to explore some ways to manage your cash flow and budget more effectively, check out this resource.
  • Take the freebies. Aon Hewitt found that 42 percent of American workers earning less than $40,000 do not take full advantage of their matching opportunities. If your workplace retirement plan offers a matching contribution, take it! Other free stuff – from auto-escalation (which annually increases your contributions) to plan calculators and participant-education programs – are worthwhile, too.
  • Take control of your retirement account. Small steps, such as evaluating how much you currently save, reviewing your investment elections and getting an estimate of how much you might need in retirement, can help in a big way. For example, as the Department of Labor suggests, one way to boost your retirement account is to look for appropriate investment options that have lower fees than what you may have now.

So, it really boils down to having a practical, defined process – and working it. This approach would have helped John Benge avoid the devastating railway crash in 1870, and still rings true today.

Reach out to your plan sponsor or benefits specialist to learn more about the specific savings options, investment choices and planning resources available through your employer’s retirement plan. A local CFP® professional can also serve as an invaluable resource to you along the way.