Mention the word retirement in a crowded room and you’re likely to see the millennials in the group start to squirm. That’s because for many young people, retirement brings up a number of negative thoughts and emotions, from stress to fear to resentment or even boredom. In contrast to the “golden years” envisioned by older generations, millennials’ lackluster perceptions of retirement have left a bitter taste in their mouths — and it’s keeping them from fully funding their futures.
It’s time to flip the script on how we think about our lives after we leave the workforce, starting with this: Retirement is not a bad word. It’s not only for your grandparents, parents or your elderly neighbors. It’s certainly not taboo to talk about, wonder about, or plan for — in fact, you should feel encouraged and empowered to do so. Because saving and investing for retirement doesn’t need to be the massive hurdle or time-consuming task that it’s often made out to be. It just begins with starting small and starting now.
Retirement is the biggest financial goal anyone ever sets, but it doesn’t have to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Let’s start by viewing the process of getting there in a new way. Whether you’re maxing out your IRA contribution, investing the cash from your side hustle, or exploring other avenues to grow your finances, you should feel excited and proud to take charge of your money and generate income so you can live the life you dream of.
Why do millennials feel the way they do about retirement?
Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, have faced a number of economic setbacks in their lifetimes that have left them at a financial disadvantage —when it comes to both literal wealth and the mindset surrounding it.
Older millennials came of age during the Great Recession, and many of them graduated college and entered one of the toughest-ever job markets. Navigating the financial crisis and its aftereffects as young adults left many either without a job, waiting to begin their careers as they pursued an advanced degree, or underemployed.
As a result, a portion of this generation lost out on months or years of potential retirement savings. Both the lack of access to workplace savings plans and an overwhelming amount of college debt meant those older millennials started investing later in life — or never started at all.
To make matters worse, the fallout of the financial crisis instilled a general distrust toward the market and large institutions, leaving this generation under-invested, under-saved, and overly stressed about money.
The “Forever Young” Mentality Won’t Work
While most of us would like to freeze time and bask in our youth forever, aging is inevitable (no matter how many times you listen to “Forever Young” by Jay-Z). Which means that as much as younger generations wish they could stave off old age indefinitely, retirement will come. It requires money — and more than you might think.
The good news is that millennials have time on their sides. By starting to save in your 20s or 30s, you can build a retirement fund that will allow you to make your retirement years the future you dream of having. The key, though, is investing — and the sooner, the better.
The more time you keep your money in the market, the better chance you give your investments to weather short-term ups and downs of market volatility. And as the average historical annual return of the stock market is about 10%, by reinvesting your returns (which can be done automatically), you’re more likely to grow into in the wealth you want to achieve.
Consider this 10-year difference: If you invest in the stock market starting at age 22, investing $2,000 a year with an average of an 8% return, you’ll have nearly $562,000 by age 62. Wait to begin at age 32, your potential savings drop by nearly half to about $247,000 by age 62.
Wondering how 10 more years of investing can result in more than double the returns? The answer is compounding returns, which works similarly to compounding interest. Assuming the market continues to grow, you can create a money snowball effect by re-investing the earnings you bring in. So, you’re not only making returns on the capital you put in the market, but your accrued earnings as well.
Millennials are busy. They’re in school, furthering their careers, working side hustles, starting business, and building families. About half of this generation believes it takes too much time to begin investing properly (a myth that’s likely to blame for retirement getting such a bad rap). But taking a quick time-out to begin today could mean socking away a couple hundred dollars a month now, versus having to live extremely frugally later in life to make up for lost time and returns.
Where is the FOMO mentality?
What keeps millennials from becoming investors? For some, it feels like they’re already too late to the party, as the current bull market is reaching its eleventh birthday. Others may feel like they were never invited. But that’s not the case — there’s no time stamp on investing and it’s not reserved for an exclusive club.
Investing knows no bounds and is open to all. You just have to step through the door. But first, you must confront what’s holding you back — head on.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions and mental blocks I hear about from young people:
Mental block: I’ve already missed my chance with this bull market / a recession is probably on the horizon so it’s not worth starting now.
Yes, the market has been growing for more than a decade — but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to invest. Earnings growth is expected to accelerate in 2020, while interest rates and inflation remain low. Altogether, it’s a recipe for positive returns in the coming year.
While periodic ups and downs are always a possibility, the overall trend of the market is upwards. Millennials have more than 20 years until they will retire, which means time is on their side. Over time volatility smooths out, making near-term swing tolerable. As millennials hold approximately 70% of their investments and savings in cash, now is the time to start investing that capital to capitalize on its full growth potential.
Mental block: I don’t have time to start investing or manage investments right now.
Now more than ever, technology has made investing easy and accessible — you can even invest from your cell phone. It takes only minutes to open an investment account. And by opting for a Robo Portfolio or robo advisor, your investments will be professionally monitored, and you won’t have to spend time re-balancing your portfolio. It’s done automatically.
If you prefer doing it yourself, the Self-Directed Trading route may be for you. ETFs (exchange-traded funds) can be a good place to start if you don’t want to dive into individual stocks right away. Forty percent of millennials are invested in ETFs or planning to invest in ETFs, making them a popular choice among this generation and for good reason. ETFs are an investment option that offer inherent diversification and access to a range of securities, all within one purchase. Even better, you can choose from thousands of commission-free ETFs to find one that best fits your portfolio and savings goals.
Mental block: I don’t have enough money to get started.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to start investing — you can begin with any amount, even if it’s $100 a month. While it’s often recommended to put 15% of your monthly pay toward retirement, that can be tough to do if you’re early in your career or have other large savings goals, like a down payment on your home. However, using a concert or trip you want to go on as the reason for not having money to invest doesn’t count.
If setting aside 15% isn’t an option now, start by investing an amount that works for you and aim to increase it by 1% each year. And if your employer offers a 401(k) or SEP IRA plan with a company match, make it a priority to invest enough to receive it — it’s basically free money that you don’t want to miss out on.
While investing a portion of your paycheck in your employer’s 401(k) or an IRA now might not seem optimal because of a few lifestyle changes, think of it this way: You are funding your future, and the more you can invest now, the more you can do later.
Mental block: I’m in debt. There’s no way I can think about investing.
When you’ve racked up debt, the idea of doing anything with your money other than paying off loans can be nerve-wracking. But it’s not impossible. If you have high-interest debt (typically from credit cards), make paying that off a priority as the interest can pile up quickly.
But if you have other types of loans, like a car payment, mortgage, or college debt, look for a balance between paying it off and investing. For example, if you have student loans and a company matching 401(k), invest enough in your 401(k) to get the match, but also stick to a debt repayment schedule.
You can make a great retirement possible.
If you didn’t have to worry about money, what would your ideal retirement look like? Would it start at age 40 or would you work until 65? Would you travel the world? Buy a beach house? Take care of your family? All of these sound like wonderful options. And that’s precisely why you need to stop viewing retirement as a bad word and start thinking positively and proactively about the future. The dreamy golden years are available to those who start planning and investing early.
So, forget the idea that retirement is only for older people, it’s too far away, or it’s too complicated to plan for. By taking the time to really think about what you want in retirement, you can put a plan in place to get there and start making moves (open an IRA, invest in your first ETF, or get your full 401(k) match) to achieve those goals.
The roadblocks that keep you away from the market are more imagined than real. You don’t need to be rich, you don’t need to be a Wall Street guru, and you don’t need hours and hours to start investing. Start by investing as soon as you can, no matter how small. That way, you can create income for yourself that will carry you through what can be the most fulfilling and exciting period of your life: retirement.
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Lindsey Bell, Ally’s chief markets & money strategist, is an award-winning investment professional with a passion for personal finance and more than 17 years of Wall Street experience. Bell’s unique ability to connect the dots between data and real life and craft bite-sized money ideas that people can use and apply stems from her deep background as an analyst, researcher and portfolio manager at organizations including J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank. She is known for demonstrating why and how an understanding of all things money improves a person’s finances and overall wellbeing. An ongoing CNBC contributor, Bell empowers consumers and investors across all walks of life and frequently shares her insights with the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Kiplinger’s, Forbes and Business Insider. She also serves on the board of Better Investing, a non-profit focused on investment education.
The opinions expressed here are not meant to be used as investing advice. For more information, visit our website.