Keep in mind, I am not a financial professional, so take this advice with a grain of salt, but these are my experiences as a young professional who was once afraid to give up any part of my paycheck (first gig was $18,000). While still young enough to be considered a young professional, I’ve also worked in the industry and saved enough to see results.
I’m going to begin by repeating everything your parents have told you: “I know you’re not making that much, but you need to start saving for retirement now.” Yes, they are 100 percent correct. The sooner you begin, the better off you will be once retirement comes. When you put off saving money for a 401K or other program, it becomes far too easy to continue procrastinating. And in investing, as in all things, time is money. Every year (or month) you spend avoiding retirement planning is money lost.
The First Step
It’s not as difficult as you think! First, find out what type of 401K program your company offers by meeting with human resources. Many employers offer 401K matches up to a certain percent. Learn what that threshold is and even if you want to start small, you may be able to opt in for an automatic percentage increase each year until you reach the maximum. Trust me, you won’t miss the money, but you will be able to see it in your retirement account! Mine is set for an automatic increase and I’ve watched my overall account balance double in two years. Other employers will offer stock options or employee ownership. If all else fails, meet with a financial planner on your own, such as Morgan Stanley or Principal. I have personally used both, but find Principal to be especially user friendly, particularly for newer investors.
Many workplaces offer meetings with a third party financial advisor. These meetings determine how much you should be taking out of each paycheck in order to be on track for retirement, considering inflation, cost of living, employee match percentage and many other factors. If you want to increase your paycheck contribution to the full match amount permitted by your employer, this advisor can assist you in the steps to achieving this goal. Another interesting route to explore is the age at which you could be financially able to retire (it may be earlier than you think). A professional once advised me to map out my living expenses and debts, followed by the approximate cost of everything I want to have or experience in my lifetime (a boat, trip to Australia, childrens’ college educations, etc.) and to determine my goals from there. This exercise puts your goals and the ability to financially achieve them in perspective. The possibilities may pleasantly surprise you!
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Most advisors and programs allow you to automatically diversify your stocks. You are not choosing your favorite brands, a well prepared algorithm does the work for you! If your employer offers company stock options, do not choose only this and forgo a 401K contribution plan. If you’re putting away $20 a paycheck into a savings account, great, but still contribute to your 401K.
Another opportunity in your financial planning…life insurance. The recommendation varies depending on your life situation, but if you have children or even a serious significant other, life insurance may be a wise choice. I witnessed a classmate with two children lose her husband in an athletic accident at age 30. Thankfully, they had life insurance, which quite frankly, kept them afloat. Again, the sooner you begin, the better you (or in this case, loved ones you may leave behind) will be.
Market Shake Ups
Remember not to let market volatility intimidate you. You may opt for more or less aggressive investments on your money and this can be changed as you see fit. DO NOT PANIC during market drops or crashes. When your balance sometimes goes down, it will come back up, and “you are not retiring tomorrow, are you?” (wise words from a more senior co-worker). We are not in the business of stocks, we are in the business of broadcasting! We wouldn’t want financial advisors doing our job, so let them do theirs! I’ve also learned not to check your balance daily, especially in times of market volatility. Don’t stress, just act, and let the money do it’s work for you.
Heather Storm, Woodward Radio Group, Appleton