After years of procrastinating, a sentence from my stepmom changed the way I think about saving for retirement

Elizabeth Aldrich
  • In my 20s, I wasn't concerned with being financially responsible. I didn't feel motivated to save for retirement because I saw it as a sacrifice.
  • One day, my stepmom explained that saving for retirement is about understanding that the money you're putting aside isn't yours - it belongs to your future self.
  • This helped me see that saving for retirement can be a form of self-care. It's all about being optimistic about your future self and caring for that person by putting aside money for them to enjoy.
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I was lucky enough to have grown up with a parent who taught me about the importance of saving for retirement. However, that doesn't mean I listened.

Most teenagers don't heed their parents' financial advice, but it wasn't until my late 20s that my all of my dad's wise words regarding saving for retirement finally started to sink in.

They didn't sink in because of something he said, though. They sunk in because of something my stepmom said about how disposable income is better saved for retirement than spent. She told me, "It's not your money. It's your future self's money."

I used to think of saving for retirement as being all about responsibility

My dad did a great job of teaching me how to be a responsible adult and setting me on the right path when it came to money management. However, the way he framed saving for retirement didn't always resonate with me.

According to his perspective, putting money away in a savings account for retirement seemed to be all about responsibility. It was simply a duty that I had to fulfill in order to be a responsible adult. I should be saving my money for later rather than spending it now because that's just what you do.

There was nothing in this lesson that connected my current self with this vague, distant future in which I'd be able to access the money I'd saved. I believe in using money as a tool to enhance our lives, and because my focus when thinking about saving for retirement was on the current version of me having to make sacrifices rather than the 65-year-old me out enjoying that money, I decided that spending was better than saving.

Because of that, I spent most of my 20s paying off debt and staring down a $0 balance in my savings account. However, as I approached 30, something changed.

As I got older, I started to understand that saving for retirement is a form of self-care

Getting older made it easier for me to envision a future in which I would be making the most of the money I saved when I was younger. This alone motivated me to pay off debt and build a healthy savings account.

However, it wasn't until my stepmom gave me that piece of advice that I got serious about building a retirement fund. When she told me that the 10% or 20% of my paycheck that I should be putting away in a retirement account is my future self's money, not my money, it finally clicked. I wasn't making sacrifices by putting a percentage of my paycheck into a savings account - I was giving myself a gift.

Reframing the way I think about retirement savings has helped me build a retirement fund from scratch and make plans to retire by 50. For me, saving for retirement is less about being a responsible adult and more about being optimistic and hopeful for my future. Every time I deposit money into my retirement account, I'm saying to myself that I believe in my future self, and I want her to enjoy her life.

In many ways, saving for retirement is one of the truest acts of self-care.

Caring for yourself is about enjoying the present, yes. But in a more challenging sense, it's also about caring for your future self. The most important forms of self-care, the ones that lead to sustainable, long-term self-care, are often the ones in which we forgo immediate pleasure in order to show care to our future selves. If someone you love fell ill or needed support in their old age, you would support them. So why wouldn't you do the same for yourself?

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