When I was 24 years old and a new Revenue Officer with the Internal Revenue Service in the downtown Miami Federal Building, my co-worker, Alan B, said to me, “Do you realize that if we invest well in our TSP (Thrift Savings Plan- similar to a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan) we’ll have a million dollars by the time we are 50.” Well, I was already pretty smart with money at 24 and was definitely investing in the TSP (more on that later) but to think about a million dollars at that young age was almost incomprehensible. Fast forward 26 years and lots of investing later and I was able to retire at 50. Alan B, if you’re reading this, thanks for your wise advice. In full disclosure, I didn’t quite hit the the million dollar mark but I got close. I would not have been able to retire at such a young age without having automatically invested a percentage of my salary into the TSP each time I got paid. That is my nest egg and security blanket and one of the main reasons I get to now live the life I choose. The part that still floors me, by investing my money, I grew wealth while I slept.
Investing is key to growing money and becoming wealthy. Creating wealth in your life is empowering. Savings and having an emergency fund is key to keeping you financially stable in your daily life and to avoid going into debt. Yet, to become monetarily wealthy you have to invest. Even if you have a career that pays you make a bunch of money, if you are not investing a portion of that money, you are not making money on your money. Making money on your money is making money without the physical labor behind it. That’s a beautiful thing!
Yes, some investments carry risk- that is definitely true. I lost a lot of money in the stock market when COVID-19 hit but because I do not need that money now, it is only a loss on paper. It is not until I withdraw my money from the stock market that I realize the loss, or hopefully in the future- realize the gain. So right now, I am sitting tight and working with my financial advisor and making a plan to ride out this volatile market. That’s right, even the MoneyMaestra, has a financial advisor. I understand investing but it is not my specialized skill set, so after I retired from the Department of Justice, I hired someone I trust to assist me in this area of my financial life. I work proactively with my advisor to keep my money growing.
I know some people are frightened by investing because either they have never done it, think it is complicated, are afraid they will lose all their money, have no idea how to get started, or have some other money story created in their heads. Well, it is time to learn about investing and put the fear away. That fear is holding you back from creating wealth. As I stated above, there is risk but there is risk in many things worth doing- probably in most. Start by reading, pick up a basic book, from a well-respected source, and familiarize yourself with the language and the tools of investing. Take a reputable class. There are a myriad of online classes in this COVID-19 time. You can start small, but start. There are many low-risk investments if that is your temperament for investing. There is an investment strategy for everyone. You can also talk with a financial advisor at multiple financial institutions.
In 2008, during the Global Financial Crisis, my TSP lost a lot of money in a short amount of time. When I opened my portfolio and saw the huge drop, I had an initial moment of panic. I then told myself, that I had plenty of time to gain the money back and I kept investing in the market. I knew that I was buying stock at rock bottom prices and that they would ultimately rise and I would hopefully come out ahead financially in the long run. My plan worked, but part of the key was I had time on my side and time to recoup my losses. Remember, until you take the money out to be used, the loss is on paper and not an actual loss. I do not advise anyone how to invest their money, that is a personal choice. My stomach for investment risk was much higher when I was younger and now I still take risks but they are more moderate. My financial advisor and I create different “buckets” to put my money in and each “bucket” is a different risk level.
Alert to Young People- Invest!
For the young people out there- start investing now! Time is your friend. I know it seems like retirement is a million (pun intended) years away but I promise you the years start to fly by. Plus, don’t you want to retire young? So, use the advantage of time to set-up your financial future. My son, who is now 20, opened his first stock investment account with $5,000 about 2 years ago. I am so proud of him- that’s the way to get a head start on wealth. Learn how money works when you are young and put that knowledge into action and you will be amazed by the results!
The All-Important “Match”
One last very important item for this blog post. If you work for an employer that has a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan (or a TSP for federal government employees) and that employer offers a match investment- you must at least invest the match amount to get that free money contribution from your employer. So, say your employer has a 5% match- that means for the first 5% you contribute from your salary to your 401(k) or 403(b), your employer will “match” you 5%. That 5% from your employer is FREE MONEY! If you are not investing at least the match amount, you are leaving free money on the table. It is always good to invest more than the match amount if you are able but always invest at least the match!
Another important note, to withdraw money in a 401(k) or 403(b) without receiving a 10% penalty from the IRS you must be at least 59 & 1/2 years old. There are some exceptions but for most withdrawals before the age of 59 &1/2 years old, you will pay a 10% penalty to the IRS along with income taxes (unless it is a Roth IRA) on the money withdrawn. On a Roth IRA, you pay the federal taxes upfront and do not pay taxes upon withdrawal. In a traditional IRA, 401(k), or 403(b) you do not pay income taxes on the money when it is invested (so it reduces your IRS reportable income by the money you invest at the time of investment) but you pay income taxes on the money upon withdrawal.
A MoneyMaestra Money Tip
When you get a raise do what I did and increase your automatic investment withdrawal before you receive your first higher paycheck. That way, you don’t get used to living on the extra money-it goes straight to investment- and you won’t miss what you never had. I am not saying you need to invest your whole raise but at least a portion of your raise should go straight to investment. That’s how you build wealth.
There is so much more to be said about the importance of investing and there will be future WiseWednesday blog posts about investing. Do not fear money- understand it.
Susan, The MoneyMaestra