So, I totally understood the frustration of one reader as she struggles to persuade a young co-worker to see the value in saving for retirement. Here’s the question the concerned mentor posed in a recent online chat:
Q: I’ve found myself in a sort of mentoring position for a young woman at work who is in her late 20s. (I’m a woman in my late 40s.) She hasn’t signed up for our retirement plan yet, and when I remind her about it, she’ll say she needs to do it but never does. I even took her the paperwork myself and she still didn’t do it. No conversation about compound interest seems to make a difference. I tell her that financial independence is the greatest gift a woman can give herself, which she agrees with, but still nothing happens. What should I do? It’s maddening watching her leave a 3 percent match on the table. It’s possible she feels she can’t afford it, but how do I impress on her that she can’t afford not to?
A: I hope you stay encouraged to persist in helping this young woman. Don’t be a pest, but don’t give up on her, either.
Can I tell you a story?
One day, a few of us in the newsroom were talking about The Washington Post’s 401(k) plan. One of my co-workers mentioned he wasn’t taking full advantage of our company’s matching contribution. I was stunned, seeing how we were business reporters. I would not let him alone the rest of the day. You would have thought I was his mama. (He is just 10 years my junior.) I hounded him so much that he finally left the newsroom to go upstairs to the human resources department to increase his 401(k) contributions.
I’ve had similar conversations with many co-workers, friends or family members over the years. I’ve pleaded with them to contribute at least enough to their workplace plans to get the offered company match. It was free money, I would point out.
Some listen, humoring me. Some take action. Many don’t.
When it comes to trying to convince young adults — or anyone — of the importance of saving for retirement, remind them that many people realize too late that they haven’t saved enough.
Share this with them: I’m 35 and have nothing saved for retirement. Should I be worried?
You can point to Social Security and its financially shaky future.
Recommend they read this: Will Social Security be around when I’m ready to retire?
And press this point: If you start investing early enough for retirement, you can amass a lot of money.
Forward this: Want to be a 401(k) millionaire? Here’s what it takes.
To help you persuade a young adult to start saving for retirement, I asked a few financial experts for their advice.
Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner (CFP) based in Gaithersburg, Md., said: “Sometimes we have to break down the goal to make it more attainable for folks. For example, 3 percent of $50,000 is $1,500 per year. Break it down by month or paycheck and show her the amount — $1,500 (26 paychecks) is $57.69. Show her how to find $57.69 every two weeks. What becomes uncomfortable becomes comfortable. It’s how we frame the conversation. It would appear that investing in her 401(k) means she’s giving up money today. No doubt she’s correct, but she’s also receiving a match. Giving up money today means she can have more to do what is important for her future.”
Erin Durkin Voisin, a CFP and director of financial planning for EP Wealth Advisors in California, said: “It sounds like there is something more going on than just her not contributing. I think it is so easy to tell someone to save and point out all of the great reasons, but a lot of times we don’t understand the other financial stresses in their life that might make saving, even 3 percent, seem stressful and daunting to them. I might ask her, “What is holding you back from signing the paperwork?” — hopefully opening the door for her to start discussing her finances. She may not though. Maybe she is dealing with debt she needs to pay off before she feels that 3 percent is possible. Maybe she is helping family members financially, or maybe she has just never sat down and reviewed her own budget to figure out where she could find those savings. Maybe instead of bringing her the paperwork, bring her other resources to help her get a financial plan and budget in place. Introduce her to an adviser, maybe whom you work with, point her to some great free/inexpensive resources out there (Financial Planning Association, XY Planning Network, Mint.com, etc.). I think if you show her that you want to help her with planning in its entirety, not just the retirement plan piece, it may help open her up to talking about why she is resisting so much.“
Carolyn McClanahan, a physician turned certified financial planner who founded the fee-only Life Planning Partners based in Jacksonville, Fla., provides a sample script that might help.
Mentor: “It makes me so sad that you haven’t signed up for the 401(k) to get your free money for the match. We both agree that financial independence is so important. I’m curious as to what is the roadblock that is keeping you from doing it?”
Mentee: “I really can’t afford it right now.”
Mentor: “If you put the 3 percent in the plan and get a 3 percent match, you can start an emergency fund with your 401(k). Ideally you won’t ever have to touch it, but if you lose your job and need the money, you’ll pay a penalty, but it is much smaller than what you gained with the free match.”
Mentee: “I don’t trust the market.”
Mentor: “You can invest that money in instruments that are safer than stocks, such as a savings account or bonds. They don’t make as much money long term, but at least you are getting that great doubling of your money with the 3 percent match. As you become more comfortable with the program and save more money, maybe you’ll feel better about allocating some of those funds to investments that have a better chance of higher growth.”
“The key to giving advice is you can’t be attached to the outcome of what they do,” McClanahan said. “We do our best, but if they decide not to take our advice, we have to let them own their problems.”
How far have you gone or should you go to encourage a young adult to save for retirement? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, put “Millennial.”
Social Security and retiring abroad
Margot Knight, a reader from California, wanted to hear from others age 60 and older about their experiences deciding when to take Social Security and what’s it like to retire overseas.
— Did you start taking your Social Security at 62 or before your full retirement age? If so, do you have any regrets about your decision? If you waited until 70, looking back, was that a wise decision? What advice would you give to your younger self?
— Did you retire overseas? If so, why and how is it going? What challenges have you faced?
Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state.
Retirement Rants and Raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?
If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?
You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
In last week’s newsletter, I discussed retirement advice that might not be right for you.
I asked: What retirement advice did you get that you felt was wrong?
“The piece of advice that I still hear being given, but I think is outdated, is ‘start switching more into bonds from stocks before you retire,’” wrote Andrea Fabian of Fairfax Station, Va. “Now that people are retired for 30 or 40 years, the growth provided by stocks is still needed.”
“The advice about not paying off the mortgage was repeated often, but we decided the best way to increase our monthly income for retirement was to pay it off first, which we did,” another person wrote. “No regrets! It’s made doing things we want much easier to plan and finance.”
Billy Usher of Sebastian, Fla., had comments on three pieces of retirement advice he’s personally found not to be true. He wrote:
1. Retire later, work longer. “That’s fine if you are able to maintain the competitive energy and productivity required. Many folks, like me, can’t, so they endure pressure from employers to ‘retire.’ Honestly appraise your capacity to work competitively. Are you earning significantly more than your younger co-workers while providing less value to your organization? In your 60s, you may not be willing or able to reinvent yourself for the job market that is generally not interested in employing seniors.”
2. Save more because you might live to be 100 or more/You will need 80 percent of your preretirement income, to maintain your lifestyle. “Again, be honest about your likely longevity and desires. Look at your family history, and your own health and personal habits, such as diet, exercise and psychological state (and your spouse/partner’s). Four of my nine siblings and my wife’s only sibling died of diseases in their 50s and 60s. As I approach 70, I see activities such as scuba diving, motorcycle riding, boating, etc., waning significantly. Other than health maintenance, my expenses are decreasing significantly. While I still enjoy traveling, I see that my elderly family members do not, and prefer home to a hotel.”
3. If you aren’t working, you will be bored and unfulfilled. “I have found volunteering for charities much more rewarding and motivating. If you’re enjoying decent health, physical and mental, the options are practically endless. In addition, you have the time to become a wiser and more effective citizen-voter.”
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