Image: Kurman Communications, Inc.
Despite reminding my husband constantly how amazing I am, and how lucky he is to have me, I do, in fact, have a number of flaws that I try to correct (when I can remember them). Besides an anal-retentive need to keep things organized at the expense of the sanity of others, a propensity for nagging, and something of a temper, my greatest flaw is how exceptionally judgmental I am. It’s not something I’m proud of (except for those rare moments when it translates into a useful form of sass that gets things done) – “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” etc. But it’s a habit that’s hard to break, and it’s one I find largely directed at financial matters.
When I started writing for “Make Love, Not Debt,” I purported that I wanted to disprove the stereotype of the financially inept millennial. And it’s true! And as a result, there are moments when I want to drop kick some of my 20-something counterparts for their nonsensical financial decisions. An example: a coworker and I were recently discussing a variety of financial things. I mentioned our company’s retirement plan, and their match. “It’s great to have a 403b with a match,” I said.
“What?” he replied.
“Our 403b – it’s nice that [COMPANY NAME] puts a match in.”
“What’s a 403b?”
Readers, this company sends tons of emails about our benefits. When you start working, at the MANDATORY ORIENTATION, they run through all of your retirement plan options, and discuss the basics of a retirement plan, how to contribute, what the company-specific options are, and how you can make investment decisions. You get gads of mail reiterating all of that information. Not only does this company match – it puts money into your account whether or not you’re contributing. It is FREE MONEY. And this co-worker, who is a few years older than I am, and has been at this company for about a year longer than I, had no idea what I was talking about. He had no idea that he could be contributing to a retirement fund – nay, he seemed to have no idea what a retirement fund is. He had no idea that he has free money sitting in an account, courtesy of our employer. At that moment, I was judging the heck out of him. You’re 28! You work for a company that goes out of its way to explain its retirement fund to you! Why do you have no idea what I’m talking about? Why are you not taking advantage of the pre-tax contribution options? What is wrong with you?!
Granted, this is the same friend who has upwards of three-digit student loans, and still spends more money on clothing than I do. So I have lots of judgment to go around with him.
Alas, this is a common theme among my acquaintances. A 29-year old graduate student I know (who has the same stipend as my graduate student husband, and lives in the same rent-free housing that we do) once told me, “Oh, one day I’ll have enough money to put in a retirement fund!” And within the next breath, described the $180 pair of jeans she had just purchased. I realize that this prevailing sentiment comes from a place of procrastination. People think that they’re young, and that there will be lots of time later on to sock money away from retirement, when they “have it.” For now, there are nice jeans and happy hours and trips to spend that money on. I get it! I understand the allure of cocktails and trips and jeans. I’m young, too, and I like having nice things. But how do we get my generation to realize that all of that money doesn’t just appear later on in life – you have to start early. How do I drill into the young minds of my peers that the power of compound interest is amazing, and if you do even a little bit right now, it will make a world of difference? How do I convey the simplicity of designating a pre-tax contribution to your retirement fund? And how can I avoid making my judgment face throughout it all?