“Dear Retirist, It’s all very well and good for you to be saving for retirement, but we live in different worlds. You’re in New York with some cushy job no doubt, you’re not supporting a family, you don’t have a mortgage, you probably don’t have any shopping addictions. I don’t know how you get all this money to save, but in the real world where I live, things are different. I have expenses like –” Whoops, oh dear, WiFi must be down again.
Since I opened my first retirement account while a college student, and then became interested in the subject of saving, I’ve gotten versions of the above all the time. I must be doing something special – or worse, I must be especially privileged – to find thousands of dollars to devote, every year, to an investment account I won’t be accessing for the next 50 years. Well, I’m here to say I am not. I work hard and have a good job, but I don’t work 80-hour weeks or make a bonus the size of your house. I don’t get help from anyone – yes, including my parents – and I pay a rent that’s not above average for my part of the city, and I buy clothes and purchase drinks from bars. What’s the secret to this success? Well, it’s really a tale as old as time: I save my money.
I save it and I’m proud, and while I’m not getting help from my parents, I owe my present comfortable circumstances to them, especially my mother (who ran the household finances). Let me tell you more. My parents, who are far from gazillionaires or even regular millionaires, had each already climbed at least one socioeconomic class by the time they had me. They learned a few things along the way. I’ll take three of those lessons and share them: get a good education, work hard, and save your money for a rainy day.
Actively saving money is not the same as putting pocket change in a savings account. It requires an effort, yes, and a cost to your present circumstances. If you are hoping to read that somehow a comfortable retirement will magically happen if you just put “whatever’s left” away in a bank, then I have news for you: It will probably not magically happen. It will only happen that way if you have such a lovely job and such a frugal lifestyle that the difference between what you make and what you need to live is several thousands of dollars. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) If that’s you, great, but if you’re like most people, I advise you to start working on improving your mindset towards savings because a strong mindset is the first step towards a strong commitment. In fact, if you have any qualms at all about working hard to save money, I have a new role model for you. His name is Scrooge McDuck.
Please note the pure joy Scrooge McDuck is taking from wallowing in his retirement hoard. That duck is old, rich, and not in the business of spending his gold on bullsh*t. The consumer economy we live in loves to try and make you spend. If you don’t have the latest model of your phone or fitness gadget or seasonally updated handbag, you’ll face psychological and social pressure from the people and media around you. You’ll think something is lacking and you’ll want to spend. Even if you’re smarter than that and know that money spent on cool experiences is more satisfying than money spent on objects, you might be tempted to blow a few extra bucks on a flashier vacation than you need. Stop yourself. Step back. Take a moment to take a page from Scrooge’s book and reorient your relationship to joy. You won’t be made that much happier by ordering a bunch of crap off the internet. You’ll be poised to enjoy actual peace and satisfaction if you can ensure that money is and never will be a concern for you, and the only way to do that is to save and invest it. You should get pumped, jump up, and punch the air each time you put a few hundred dollars away because you’re investing in yourself, my friend, and you’re making your life better. What’s more, if you achieve financial security, you’ll become one of the handful (in the scheme of things) of humans worldwide who have done that, and then perhaps you can turn your attentions to doing other good stuff for the world. Not sure what motivation you should need besides that.
It’s a different story of course if you are trying to manage your money wisely and you can’t because of actual financial constraints. Then you might need more help than I can offer here (and certainly than I can offer in this hopefully galvanizing rant) but that is more for Part II of this series, in which I’ll expound on some of the ways I am cheap, yet living a normal life, all while saving for my golden years. I’m not here to share “how to save on everyday household items in 10 easy steps” clickbait so much as to provoke you to think of what’s really a necessity in your life, what’s a luxury, and what’s plain ridiculous to prioritize over retirement savings or reaching any other financial goal. Keep your eyes out for an update in a few weeks, and until then, just plain keep your eyes open – are you really making smart tradeoffs when it comes to your spending? Are you able to experience the joy of Scrooge McDuck, or are you stuck on wanting a whole bunch of household items you don’t have? Until next time, keep hoarding.