“Why I Love my 401(k)”

by J. Money - Published May 13, 2020

401(k) Champion Award

So this is exciting news!!

Two of the three winners from this year’s 401(K) CHAMPION® AWARDS are part of our community here!! Bari Scheinbach and Laura Dobbins aka Mrs. Nickels from MyShinyNickels.com!

Congrats guys!!! A cool $1,000 for just loving your 401(k)! Awesome!! Haha…

You might recall me blogging about this when the contest opened up this year, but it’s an awards contest put on every year by Julie Jason of Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers, Inc, where people compete through essays for a chance at $1,000 and being crowned a 401(k) Champion.

Here’s more from their contest page which opens back up in the fall if you want to bookmark it so you remember to enter! –> 401kchampion.com

******

The 401(k) Champion Award honors employees who “love” their 401(k)s. A 401(k) Champion leads by example. He or she is committed to act now to secure a retirement someday in the future.

Purpose of the 401(k) Champion Award:

  • To energize 401(k) participants to learn more about 401(k)s
  • To identify and share the stories of 401(k) Champions
  • To encourage a dialogue about 401(k) and retirement security
  • To help employers share the benefits of 401(k)s, especially for youthful employees who may not realize how to maximize the benefits of long time horizons

******

And to help encourage that dialogue about 401(k) and retirement security more, I thought we’d share the essay Mrs. Nickels shot in (and won with!), who not only runs a fun finance site herself, but also took the dive into running LAUNDROMATS a few years ago for a pretty killer side business! We should probably have her do a side hustle post on it actually, now that I think about it! :)

Take it away, Laura!

******

laura dobbins

“Why I Love my 401(k)”

I remember the day clearly. It was the summer of 2002, and I was sitting in the company conference room beginning to lose focus. At the end of the table was the representative from the company 401(k) plan, and he was there to encourage the latest new hires to sign up. One of those new hires was me.

The rep went into his well-rehearsed bullet points, mentioning the company would match 50 cents for every dollar we contributed, up to 6% of our salary, and the earlier we started contributing, the better. And that if we really wanted to get serious about investing in our future, we should enroll in what they called “Auto-Acceleration”; a program that automatically increased contributions by an additional 1% each year.

I sat in that conference room playing a mental game of ping-pong back and forth in my mind. “Is it worth it? Will anything come out of this? Am I going to miss that money not being in my paycheck? I’m only 23, why should I worry about something so far in the distant future, like retirement?”

I was a little uneasy about investing in this “plan”, this mysterious “401(k)” they spoke of. It sounded as foreign to me as French at the time.

But even with my reservations, I did it. I opened my 401(k) account that day, and chose to put away 6% of my salary to take full advantage of the company match, just as the rep suggested. I even enrolled in Auto-Accelerate. Then I crossed my fingers, and waited. Anticipating the pain of that first paycheck where I’d see 6% of my salary go to my 401(k) instead of my checking account.

To my shock and complete surprise, I didn’t feel the difference in my paycheck at all. My check only went down by $60. So I carried on, letting the contributions continue, and soon I even upped the contribution rate to 10%. Still didn’t feel it much. Over time, as my salary continued to increase, and my Auto-Accelerate bumped my contribution rate by 1% each year, I eventually reached the yearly maximum contribution, and I just continued maxing it out each year after that.

Now I’m 41. I look back to that day in 2002, and wish I could give my 23-year-old self a high five. I wish I could tell the younger me that I had just made one of the best decisions of my life.

That little account I was so unsure about starting 18 years ago, now has over $300,000 in it. And because I started slow and gradually increased my contributions over time, I never felt the pinch. Not once. And even if I stopped contributing right now, my 401(k) is on track to reach nearly $2 million by the time I reach retirement. At 59 ½, I’ll be able to access that money penalty-free, and enjoy the kind of retirement I see in my mind.

I picture leisurely days at home reading and relaxing, splurging occasionally on good food and wine, spending time with friends and traveling to destinations near and far. Resting in the knowledge that money will not be a source of stress.

But it pains me to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t started my 401(k) that day. I’ve imagined that too. What would that retirement look like?

Well, not good. More than likely I’d be working well into my 70s, living in a small apartment on a fixed income with no room to splurge on things I enjoy. No money to travel or dine out with friends and family.

That’s not living my friend, that’s existing. And I don’t know about you, but I want that time of my life to be my best years, not my worst.

Now imagine your future self. You’re looking back in time, thankful and grateful that you contributed to your 401(k) so many years before, while time was on your side. The cake has been cut, the “Happy Retirement” banner is coming down and you’re packing up your desk into a cardboard box, tingling with excitement for life’s next chapter.

And it will be everything you hoped for.

******

For more on Laura and her love of finance: MyShinyNickels.com // Laundromats101.com

For more on the 401(K) Champion® Awards: 401kchampion.com

PS: Investing in my 401(k) was one of the biggest moves I ever made for my finances too! It was the first time it dawned on me that if you keep putting money into something – AND NEVER TOUCH IT! – it actually goes up! Haha… Took me 25 years to finally figure that out, but once I did it was Game On ;) The time it hit $50,000 was one of the proudest moments in my financial life.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 GJ May 13, 2020 at 2:08 pm

I relate very much to Laura on this, I’m SO glad my husband and I started when we were married at 22! What I’m curious about is how many people have Roth vs Traditional 401ks.

About a year ago, we started working with our financial advisor to slowly begin converting funds from Traditional to Roth in our IRAs because we are likely at the lowest income bracket we will be in between now and retirement and because we don’t have confidence that tax increases aren’t looming.

My husband switched employers this year and when we went to roll over his “Roth” 401k, I discovered that only his contributions were Roth but the employer’s were Traditional! I had no idea that is how they are required to do it. So we have further to go on this goal than I thought. Boo!

Anyway, I just ran the numbers and currently a third of our retirement is Roth and two thirds are Traditional. Anyone else thinking about or working on this, too?

Reply

2 J. Money May 13, 2020 at 5:32 pm

Fascinating!!

I’m not too versed in it personally since I’ve been out of the 9-5 world for a while now (I don’t even think they had that option 10 years ago?!), but def. didn’t know they account for it like that? I wonder if that’s employer specific or the general rule?

Either way – ALL 401(k)s are good (especially the ones which give you FREE MONEY FOR CONTRIBUTING!) – so A+ all around :) And for starting so young too!!

Reply

3 GJ May 13, 2020 at 7:08 pm

My understanding is that it is an IRS requirement that employer contributions be traditional. We were contributing 10% there to get a 12% match (!) so it was a decent chunk of his 401k that we thought had already been taxed. I know you max out your IRAs every year, do you have a strategy for having funds be pre and/or post tax?

Reply

4 J. Money May 14, 2020 at 7:07 am

That’s a helluva match!!

And nope, I probably should have a strategy, but usually after I max out all the retirement accounts I don’t have much left over to spread around :) But when I do it tends to go right into our regular brokerage account which diversifies it a little. So I guess my strategy is “max out retirement accounts and then if anything is left over throw into brokerage” haha…

Reply

5 J May 13, 2020 at 2:11 pm

This story has my mind wondering and doing a lot of reflecting today. I was so nervous about picking bad investments that I just put it of for my first couple of working years. I was a business major, so it was a source of shame for me. Then our company’s district trainer happened to be in the store office one day and literally said I was an idiot if I didn’t invest in our 401k for at least the match. (They were matching $3 for every $1 we put in at the time up to 2% of pay). She a gruff, older country girl who spent most of her working years working with good old boys, so she was tough as nails in her speech and mannerisms. But that was exactly the kick in the @ I needed. I made the time to get it done and in the next 48hrs I was invested. Hands down one of the best financial decisions I made in my 20’s.

Reply

6 J. Money May 13, 2020 at 5:38 pm

I’m so glad there was a happy ending there! Haha…

But of course she’s totally right. Even if you picked THE WORST funds for those years you still would have come out with more money in the end just cuz your rate of return is so dang high when you get those matches! Especially at 3x like that??! But you live and you learn and we all have war stories like that :)

In fact, It took me a full year to get invested in my 401k plan too back in the day! And the worst pat was that I *thought* I had been invested the whole year until I actually double checked my paystub at the end (wanted to see how much I had accrued! lol…) and realized I never actually pulled the trigger, womp womp….. But just like you it was a hard lesson learned and I never looked back :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: