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Tough Love on Saving for Retirement (for Millennials)

Periodically, I read articles that appear antithetical to the premise of paying yourself first and saving as much as you can, as early as you can to have enough saved for retirement. In the last few weeks, I’ve read two articles – one saying that traditional retirement savings for millennials is useless, and the other saying that it was ok that you’re not saving enough for retirement. Both articles mention their collective disdain for the recent tweet by Jean Chatzky saying that by the time you’re 30, you should aim to have 1x your salary saved, 3x at 40 and so on.

I happen to agree with Ms. Chatzky. In fact, you should aim to have more if possible. In my opinion, both articles disagreeing with Ms. Chatzky (as well as the replies to her tweet) seemed befitting of excuses – which are easier to agree to, and may encourage readers to not be proactive when it comes to their retirement saving.

Many of the excuses in the articles (and sarcastic replies to Ms. Chatzky’s tweets) mentioned skipping lattes, avocado toast, and how hard it can be to save given the costs of living, annual salary, when a person starts saving, and underemployment. And of course, there was the ominous student loan argument.

While I agree that all the above will impact your ability to save, I still feel that it’s very possible to have 1x or more of your annual income saved by 30 or before. It really boils down to priorities.

Think of it this way. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, or that something is too hard to accomplish, what does your mind do? It shuts down. In other words, when you give yourself excuses, it’s easy to believe them. However, by changing your words and asking yourself how could you accomplish something (saving more, for example) you automatically force your mind to think about a solution. You become proactive – not passive.

While I don’t disagree with all of what the articles say (saving what you can, getting rid of debt), they do seem to contradict themselves by saying on the one hand the traditional advice won’t work, but on the other hand to save early and often – which is as traditional as it gets.

In my opinion, sometimes people need tough love. It may rub them the wrong way, but too often articles like these pander to folks looking for excuses, instead of telling them the hard truth. At the risk of stepping on some toes, here are my thoughts.

  • Pay yourself first. Treat your retirement savings as the first bill you pay each month. Live off the rest. Then cut out what you can’t afford (such as dining out).
  • Save a minimum of 15-25% of your gross income. More if you can. Prioritize.
  • The little things add up and yes, they do matter. Avocado toast and lattes do make an impact. For example, at $5 per day, that’s $1,825 per year. If you invest that at 5% over 30 years that’s over $121,000 saved. The same calculations can be done with car payments, TV, phone, dining out, and other “little things”.
  • Underemployed? Get another job. Get a different job. Work two jobs to earn more, save more, and pay down debt. Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim towards it.
  • Cost of living high? Live somewhere else. Downsize. Reduce your living expenses.
  • Remember, you chose your education (and the debt that came with it), career, where to live, and how to spend your money. You have the choice to change it if you’re unhappy.
  • Stop making excuses. Stop believing what you read by individuals who tell you it’s ok if you’re not saving or that saving advice isn’t for you (likely because they themselves cannot manage their money). These principles are timeless, and they work (ask your parents and grandparents who did it making much, much less).
  • Start asking yourself how you can save and or earn more. Write down the ideas that come to your mind.
  • Take action. The best laid plans are useless unless you act. Be proactive and take responsibility for your retirement savings. Because no one else will.

Ultimately, you have the choice if you want to save more for retirement. Find a way that works for you and keep at it. It’s really a matter of how you approach it. You’re not a victim; you can choose to be in control.

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