{SMC Journal} Why Youth Could Be Your Best Financial Strategy

I was talking the other day with a friend who just found a twenty-year-old document from a forgotten 401(k) plan. When he was twenty, he worked at what he called a “simple little job” and enrolled in a 401(k) plan. He didn’t max out his employer’s matching and contributed a modest amount putting aside what he could on his limited budget. He moved on to another job, his career blossomed, and somewhere along the way, he forgot about his 401(k) plan from his first real job. Imagine how surprised he was to find out that his forgotten money has compounded to over $25,000.

His story got me thinking about my finances, especially the poor financial decisions I made in my early twenties that I am still paying for. Interestingly enough, one of my biggest regrets has been not contributing to my 401(k) when I got my first real job at 19 years old. At the time, I was working for a company that offered dollar-for-dollar matching. I am still kicking myself for leaving FREE money on the table by not taking advantage of my youth and the company’s benefits.

she makes centsIt is one of those lessons I had to learn the hard way and my current financial portfolio is proof. I am embarrassed to admit the reason I didn’t enroll in a 401(k) then was because I was trying to save money for my sorority fees and dance team expenses. I was living and planning for the “right now” and not thinking about retirement or saving for a future nest egg. I thought to myself, I have plenty of time to do this, but little did I realize how quickly time flies.  Almost ten years later, I still wish someone had thoroughly explained to me that having youth and time on my side was one of the best methods to help build wealth and save for retirement. I look around and see so many people working way past their prime or even living in poverty because they do not have savings to fall back on. If I could go back in time and have one conversation with my younger self, I would tell her to spend cash not credit, pre-pay her student loans since there is now plenty for that, and enroll in a 401(k) program as soon as possible. If I had made those decisions then, I would be closer to my goal of living a debt-free life now!

This post was first published on the FeeX blog.

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