Investing for Retirement

How a Boring 401(k) Meeting Changed My Life Forever

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I’m excited to bring you a fantastic new post by Chuck over at Retire Gen X. He’s super passionate about helping people retire smarter and for 20 years, has worked at companies that specialize in helping people save and invest for retirement. I’d say we have a solid expert on our hands here. Enjoy, and Happy Monday! ~ Jamie

For most of us, the thought of listening to someone from Human Resources sends us fantasizing about less painful things, like getting a root canal. But what one HR associate told me over 20 years ago changed the course of my career – and my life.

My money story began at about 5 a.m. on a cold fall morning in 1994 in a small meeting room. It was crammed with myself and 25 or so fellow delivery drivers at the Coca-Cola warehouse in Omaha. Often, the weekly meeting consisted of a grumpy, overweight supervisor barking out orders about keeping clean trucks and meticulous logs.

Another 401(k) Talk

On this occasion, we were pleased to see two pretty young gals from the Kansas City office. As one launched into her spiel, the other handed out some forms. “Great, more paperwork!” I thought.

The speaker said something about retirement, followed by the words I will never forget: “The company will give you $50 for every $100 you put in.”

She had me at “free money”. Ordinarily, I detested any discussion about finances, even though I had over a dozen college credits in accounting and finance. I knew enough to understand that she was promising a 50% return on my investment, with the potential to earn more – way more.

This was the annual 401(k) talk. In the first five minutes, I heard all I needed to hear and took the plunge. I loved Coca-Cola, so I decided to put 100% into the company’s stock. Now I know that isn’t a wise approach, but it felt good at the time.

Investing for Retirement

Who doesn’t love free money? Employer matches are the BEST!

A year later I was feeling pretty smart. On top of the 50% match, the company’s stock price doubled. I did the math and realized that if this kept up, it wouldn’t be long before my retirement account was earning more than I was.

Things Started to Get Serious

I quickly became obsessed with the idea of passive income and began learning all I could. In the Fall of 1996, after relocating to Denver, I went to work for a prominent mutual fund company.

Training consisted of a crash course in how the market works, why it’s important to diversify and how much you pay the IRS if you don’t make the right moves. I also had to pass the tests to qualify me to sell securities products.

After three years there, I accepted a promotion with a larger competitor, where I continued my education. I studied and practiced my way up to the industry’s equivalent of black belt expertise, complete with all the registrations and licenses needed to sell virtually any financial product under the sun.

During my first five years in financial services, I experienced these big events that left a huge mark on the industry:

  • The great bull market of the 90s
  • Online day-trading and the penny stock craze
  • Introduction of the Roth IRA and 529 ed savings plans
  • Y2K hysteria and subsequent yawnfest
  • Dotcom crash of 2000
  • September 11

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in those first few years, I learned enough to last a lifetime. All the while, my retirement account continued to flourish and so did my desire to help others get a piece of the action. As my expertise grew, I earned several promotions and found myself helping clients manage larger sums of money than I ever dreamed of.

Taking My Retirement Message to the Masses

When the time came that helping one client at a time was no longer fulfilling, I began training and mentoring other advisers as they came on board. Eventually, I joined the organization’s marketing department so I could share knowledge with thousands of people at a time through financial education seminars, web content and social media.

In my personal life, I have dealt with many of the same financial pressures many of us face while raising a family. With my wife by my side, we’ve saved for retirement, climbed out of debt and tucked away money to pay for our daughters’ education (maybe weddings too).

Having held several roles in financial services marketing for over 15 years now, I have helped provide information to millions of people that helps them have a better financial life.

My blog is a means for me to spread the knowledge even further. My readers and I owe any debt of gratitude to the HR gals that made the trip from Kansas City to Omaha to tell me and a crew of clueless delivery drivers about the company’s 401(k) plan.

Example of the Importance of Starting to Invest in Retirement Early

Sally starts investing $2,000 a year at age 20 and stops at age 30, earning a return of 8% annually. At age 65, she’ll have a balance of $492,000.

John waits until he’s age 30 to start investing, and puts in $2,000 annually every year until age 65, also earning 8% per year.  John will have $374,204  at age 65.

Conclusion: Over the years, Sally only put in $20,000 and ends up with almost $120,000 more than John, who put in a total of $70,000. The difference is that she started ten years earlier and took better advantage of the power of compounding.

Moral of the story: The earlier you start, the better. Regardless of your current age, don’t put it off another day. Below are a few keys that can help you succeed in saving for retirement.

Investing for Retirement

Invest your money and watch it grow.

Three Keys to Success with Investing for Retirement

1. Anyone can do it

Anyone can save for retirement. It can be as simple as letting your employer know you want to participate in the retirement plan. If you don’t have a retirement savings program at work, you can save for retirement on your own with an IRA (assuming you have earned income).

2. Pay yourself first

For many of us, 10% to 20% of our income goes to taxes before we see a dime of it. If you can give the government that much, shouldn’t you pay yourself too? That’s what saving is: paying yourself.

It’s okay to start small and build up. A good goal to aim for is saving 15% of your income. Tip: find out if your employer offers a retirement plan contribution match. If so, be sure to save at least the amount you need for them to match you. That’s where I saw the greatest results early on.

3. Think long term

For most of us, saving for retirement is a long-term goal that will take at least ten years or more. Even if you’re close to retirement now, you’ll probably live another 20 to 30 years after retiring. Stocks and mutual funds that invest in stocks are generally the best investment for longer time frames.

They can be risky too. So plan to spread your money across a mix of other investment options, like bonds, real estate and money markets. If that’s over your head, don’t worry. There are tons of blogs, books and videos out there to help you learn more.

In the meantime, many retirement plans and IRAs now allow you to invest in accounts that will strategically allocate your money for you based on the year you plan to retire.

What Are You Waiting For?

It can be a struggle to find money to save money for retirement when you’re trying to juggle multiple financial priorities. But if you commit to even putting away a small portion of your income for retirement now, and gradually increasing the percentage, you’ll be able to take advantage of the power of compounding while you save for your future.

Let Me Know in the Comments

How are you planning on saving for retirement?

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