I remember my first job after I graduated from college quite vividly. I started part-time as production assistant at a small TV station, and eventually moved to full-time. I’m sure they gave me paperwork to enroll in my 401k, but I was too fascinated with my “big” check to care. Plus, I had no idea what a 401k was either. Oops.
It certainly didn’t seem as important as newly robust check or my shiny new health insurance card. I happily went on my way until about a year later when one of my friends mentioned she was making some changes to her 401k.
She was a whole year younger than me and she was investing in her 401k?!?! Perhaps I should figure out this mysterious 401k too.
401k. Yeah Right. More like Fear-Okay.
I really had no idea where to begin, but one day I overheard the receptionist complaining about all her problems with rolling over her 401k. I grasped onto that tidbit like it was the last life boat on the Titanic and stopped all investigations into this baffling 401k. Instead I chose to focus on more practical and urgent matters—like building my shoe collection.
This lasted until a large broadcast company purchased our small station and sent us these lovely packages with new 401k paperwork. Like real paperwork. Beautiful glossy brochures that were full of scary words, like company match, mutual funds, risk tolerance, time horizon, asset allocation, etc.
I felt paralyzed. I certainly wanted to retire some day but some day seems so far away when you’re 25. So I did nothing and promised myself I would get serious about this 401k thingy at my next job.
Well, it took me another 3 years (and two jobs) before I did and by then I was working at a financial services company in their financial education department. It was my job to help write seminars on …. drum roll, please … 401ks.
I felt like a complete fraud. Granted, I now knew what a 401k was, but I still had not started investing. Before my ignorance and lack of knowledge made 401ks seem scary, but now I knew what my ignorance cost me—six investing years. Therefore, I was doomed.
They say knowledge is power, but sometimes it only powers fear when you let it.
Shine a Light on My Money Fears
I finally bit the bullet and started investing in my 401k. A year later, I agreed to meet with a financial advisor who I was confident would confirm my greatest fear: the only person I’d ever say “tell death do us part” would be my employer.
In other words, I was screwed.
To me surprise, she did not tell me I was screwed or doomed or destined to work forever for the man. She gave me some good advice on insurance, especially disability since I am the sole provider of my cat. (I take that responsibility very seriously. ) Overall, I was in pretty good shape financially. I earned a good salary, had no debt and was now saving a respectable amount in my 401k. What I really needed to do was set goals, so I knew what I was working towards and could figure out how much I needed to save.
My previous goals were all generalizations because I never imagined they would be more than dreams anyway.
I have never been more happy to be wrong in my life.
It was the the wake-up call I needed. Fear had made me afraid to confront my financial situation because I was too scared of what I would find. I let my imagination run wild, instead of seeking the truth. I was fortunate because I was okay, but for six years, I agonized that I wasn’t. And I felt so darn helpless and powerless.
I’m not perfect by any means. Sometimes I still drag my feet but then I remember the danger of letting fear rule my finances. So I shine a light on my concerns. Sometimes it turns out to be nothing and other times I uncover issues. Regardless, now I am in the position to take action.
And I do.