Excuses I Made Not To Save For Retirement (and why they were lame)

Like many adults, I didn’t start saving for retirement until I was in my 30s. For my first several years of adulthood I just didn’t think about it. I had no idea what a 401k was and while I knew the math behind compound interest I didn’t think to apply it to retirement. I worked jobs that didn’t offer retirement benefits so I didn’t get any exposure or encouragement to think about life 40 years down the road.

Then I started working for the federal government and after a few months I had a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the federal job equivalent of a 401k. I think there was even something of a match. But I didn’t take it. I had excuse after excuse and here they are:

I can’t afford it. Yes, I could have. And if I couldn’t then I needed to reevaluate my budget.

I don’t want to lock the money away. Once I realized that yes, I could afford to contribute I was terrified of needing the money and not having it accessible. I put the money in my savings account instead, even though I already had a few thousand for an emergency fund.

It’s too early to think about retiring. It’s never too early to start saving for the future.

I have no idea when I’ll retire, or where, or what will be happening. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t have saved a few bucks for it.

I don’t know what to do with it. I remember looking at the investment options and being completely confused. I knew nothing about investing, managing risk, any of that, but instead of doing the research I just left it alone then forgot about it.

Everything’s in flux right now. Of course things were in flux, things are always in flux. Every time life settles into a stable pattern something comes along to disrupt it – a job change, a move, even a new hobby – all the more reason to be putting something away.

Huh? Wait, whah? After I left that government job and started earning more money I realized that it was time to start saving, sort of a now or never type situation. Unfortunately I was working as a contractor with no access to an employer’s plan and was completely lost trying to figure out what to do on my own.

Eventually, I did figure it out. I opened up a Roth IRA in 2012 and although I didn’t max it that first year I did put in close to $400/month. But then I got stupid again and when I set up automatic contributions last year I set the amount for $200/month even though I needed $450/month to hit the max. Why? Because things were in flux and I was thinking about selling and buying a house. I wanted to have more cash on hand during the transaction in case I needed it for repairs, closing costs, etc. But when I decided to wait another year, I kept my settings as they were.

The fact is I still don’t like locking my money away for “someday”. I still worry that some opportunity or emergency will arise and I’ll need that money now. Except, I do have savings outside of retirement in case of such emergencies and opportunities, and family history suggests that I could live 20-30+ years past 65, so not only do I have no excuse for not saving but I have a darned good reason that I should. So I am saving for retirement. I’m easing into it instead of doing the really smart thing and maxing out my 401k this year, but I’ll get there.

If you’re hesitant to save for retirement I recommend you start with something, even $50/month. If you can’t do $50, do $25, or $10. If you have a 401k with a match, contribute the minimum for the full match so you aren’t giving away free money. When you realize that you can handle that amount, bump it up. Keep bumping it up until you can’t. If you’re even more scared of locking your money away than I am, use a Roth IRA where you can at least withdraw your contributions whenever you want, or use a taxable investment account. If you have massive amounts of debt go ahead and take care of them first, but you don’t have to be in a perfect financial situation to start saving for retirement.

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