It is so SIMPLE to retire well off, if you make just a little sacrifice now. The alternative is making a huge sacrifice later on (in your 40s) and still probably not doing as well as if you made a small sacrifice now.
You just finished your degree and you are probably looking for your first “real” job. This is the perfect opportunity to decide how you would like your financial life to be. You have the choice to spend and buy whatever you feel like which will likely put you in heaps of debt. If you choose this path, you will be in good company. You can be sure most of your peers will take this path.
Or, you can take the road less traveled. You can be one of the “weird” people out there who refuse to believe that they have to be in debt all their lives. You can get motivated by the thought of the freedom that comes with being debt free. This road can sometimes feel like a lonely road, when everything and everyone around you is yelling, “Spend! Spend! Spend!” But, be assured, those who go down this road get the last laugh. They experience freedoms that most people only dream of.
If you are like I was, you will think, “oh, I can spend now, because I will be making more money later.” Well, the truth is that it doesn’t matter how much money you make. Expenses rise to meet income. So, as your income increases, you can be sure that, by default, your expenses will increase as well. Believe it or not, there are people out there with $500K annual salaries filing bankruptcy and in the same moment, you have people who never made more than $50K a year retiring as millionaires. It is not about how much you make. It is about how much you keep.
So, I say all of this to say, if I could teach a college grad only one financial lesson it would be to:
Max out your Roth IRA for five years
By maxing out ($4000 for 2007 and $5000 for 2008) your Roth IRA for the first 5 years after you graduate - you will likely have over $24,000 by the time you are 27. If you add NOTHING else to it, when you are 67 and ready to retire it will be worth over $1,000,000 (assuming 10% growth). If you can keep adding to it, you can really watch the puppy grow!!
But don’t wait, if you wait until you are 27 to start rather than 22 – the million is now down to $675,000 when you retire. Still not bad, but definitely not a million. And if you wait just 5 more years until you are 32 – you are looking at about $415,000 when you retire. So, you can see the importance of doing this right away – no matter what age you are. You can make this retirement figure a lot larger if you keep adding to it, rather than just doing it for 5 years.
Figures calculated with the savings calculator at CNN.com.
Invest the money in an Index fund
Buy an Index fund that follows the S&P 500 – The average performance of U.S. stocks over the last 80 years is over 10%. You may find a few stock mutual funds that occasionally beat the index, but very few consistently beat the average. This is the big secret of the industry – you will never (yes, I can pretty safely say never) have a financial advisor tell you to buy an index fund, because the fees are a lot smaller with an index fund than with a managed stock mutual fund. Therefore everyone involved in the sale of the mutual fund is getting paid a lot less than if you bought a managed mutual fund. The fact is that the great majority of managed stock mutual funds fail to beat the index.
Bottom line: Buy an Index fund in a ROTH IRA account, max it out for your first 5 working years and forget about it until you retire. If you can’t afford to max it out, don’t worry about it, just do the best you can. The purpose of the article is to emphasize how important it is to START EARLY!!
What I wouldn’t tell the grad (but I am thinking)
The reason this is the one thing I would teach them, is because it will probably help them to spend less than they earn – which is the KEY to financial well being. Secondly, if they can do it for five years – it will likely become a habit that they should be able to continue for the rest of their lives. And lastly, there are a bunch of things I would love to teach the grad, but this was the lesson that got me interested enough in money to learn the other lessons that I needed to learn.