A 69-year-old who didn't pay attention to his savings until 20 years before retirement shares the advice he'd give his younger self about preparing for the future

David FisherDavid FisherCourtesy David Fisher

  • David Fisher, a 69-year-old retiree living in New York, would tell his 35-year-old self to invest and save more for retirement.
  • While he was passively saving through his employer's 403b program, he didn't start actively saving beyond his employer's contribution until his 40s. 
  • He put in a lot of work once he took a more hands-on approach to retirement, working overtime to pay off his home at age 56, pouring extra cash into his 403b, and building a separate cash nest egg. 
  • Business Insider is looking for your retirement stories. If you're in or nearing retirement, email yourmoney@businessinsider.com.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's never too early to start saving, and that's the advice 69-year-old retiree David Fisher would tell his 35-year-old self if he could turn back time. 

The former college public safety officer who retired at 65 said he didn't think much about saving for his first 10 years working at the university. The college he worked for put about 6% of each employee's gross pay into a retirement fund, whether or not they contributed themselves. "From 33 to 43, those quarterly statements I got from TIAA, I threw them away," he tells Business Insider. 

But one day, he saw just how quickly that added up. "When I was in my early 40s, maybe 43, I opened one of my quarterly statements," Fisher says. "And I said, 'Oh my goodness, I got $30,000 in here. That's my money.'"

It was a large enough number to catch his interest. "Then I became interested in retirement, and what Social Security was going to look like, how much money I had, and what I owned," he says. He became more actively interested in saving for his future in his 40s, and he also started investing and saving additional money for retirement

Since taking a more hands-on approach, he started pouring additional contributions into his 403b on top of the 6.2% the school contributed in order to have an income separate from Social Security. He also started putting extra funds into a separate cash nest egg. Fisher also refinanced his home from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage, and then worked overtime to pay off his home and make upgrades to increase its value before retiring at 65. Finally, he opened a supplemental retirement annuity, which he says now grows each year, even while he's retired. 

Even though he now has a comfortable life in the Finger Lakes region of New York, looking back, he'd tell himself to start sooner. "Invest as early as you can and put away whatever you can afford," he told Business Insider. In his case, it would have made saving for retirement easier.

And there's a big incentive for why anyone wanting to retire should start saving earlier: The earlier you start saving, the more you end up with.

A scenario from Beth Kobliner's book "Get a Financial Life" illustrates this perfectly. Kobliner sets up two different retirement scenarios where each person saves $1,000 per year in a retirement account with a 7% return. One person starts saving at 25, the other at 35. Even though one started just 10 years sooner, they'll end up with over double the savings at age 65 compared to the person who waited. That's thanks to compound interest, in which interest earned on investments essentially earns interest on itself. 

As Business Insider's Tanza Loudenback reports, many people don't take this advice to heart. Data released by the Federal Reserve shows that 42% of 18 to 29-year-olds and 26% of 30 to 44-year-olds have yet to start saving for retirement. 

"I got a late start," says Fisher, looking back at his saving process. He adds that he's glad he had a job that encouraged retirement savings, even while he wasn't taking much of an active role, but he says he didn't hear enough about saving for retirement when he was young. Fisher feels fortunate to have started saving when he did, even if now seems late. "I'm not wealthy," he says, "but I am comfortable." 

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