Retirement planning and investing can sound like a drag, but it needn’t be. There are ways to make it more enjoyable. In fact, I started writing “From Millennial to Millionaire: DIY 401(k)” for various reasons, mostly because I wanted to illuminate the fascinating world of personal finance as well as for my own creative, intellectual expression. First, I wanted to combine writing and investing into something productive, and so I decided I wanted to write a book. But, second, the question I kept asking myself was, what about personal finance should I address first?
Truthfully, I have read many personal finance books, and I find that so many of them out there, while offering sensible advice, are generally very and overly broadly focused, covering much ground from budgeting, saving, and investing to a whole host of more advanced topics, such as insurance and homeownership. I wanted to narrow it down – and then it hit me. Like any writer, I wrote about what I know.
I would focus specifically on the 401(k), because, first, I have been a dedicated 401(k) investor since 2010, and second, I feel there is a lack of literature on the nuances of 401(k) investing, and third, as a millennial myself I started to observe that so many of us who have access to a 401(k) don’t take advantage of it. Perhaps you don’t save enough; don’t invest properly in it; you might not be in the right account given your tax and financial situation; or even more troubling, you are not investing in it at all despite the access you have. I began to think, why is that the case?
There’s much inertia among millennials when it comes to investing, and it’s hard to exactly pin point the root cause of this hesitation. But I suspect there are many reasons why a young 20- or 30-something with access to a tax-advantaged retirement account – and who has an employer that offers a match (which is free money!) – might not do anything to leverage this tool to its full wealth building potential. Perhaps it’s because they don’t know where to begin? In that case, my book is a great place to start. Or is it because they are overloaded with too much information, causing financial paralysis? Or is it because the prospect of self-directed retirement planning seems far too remote, and even more so, daunting?
I have more questions than answers here, but when I ask my peers why they aren’t investing in their 401(k)s, the answer I generally get is, “Oh I plan to, I just haven’t gotten around to it,” which leads me to believe that retirement planning gets a bad rap. It seems tiresome. But not getting around to it isn’t going to feel too great if one day you wake up at sixty-seven and you’ve come up empty-handed. I don’t want you to be in that position. You own your retirement, and since you own it, you want to make it as seamless as possible.
So let’s fix that and here are three ways I feel that you can make your retirement investing and planning more enjoyable…
- Think of yourself not just as investing for retirement, but as going on a wealth building journey to become a DIY millionaire. When you invest, the universal goal tends to be for retirement. Of course, you may invest for short to medium term goals, but for most of us investing implies investing for retirement. When I started investing in my 401(k), I didn’t think of it solely as investing to retire, but as the beginning of a wealth-building journey that would take me on my way to becoming a millionaire. When I had that goal in mind, it became an invigorating pastime to keep working towards. When I began to envision myself reaching that million-dollar mark – and truthfully you will need far more than $1M in retirement! – it became an incredibly motivating factor to educate myself on 401(k) investing; to enroll, contribute and invest as promptly as I could; and to remain dedicated and consistent in investing over time. I have never once stopped contributing to my 401(k) since I started working, because I’ve got a goal and I’m all in this journey.
- Don’t just quantify how much you will need to save, but contemplate the lifestyle you want in retirement. Sure, you need to know how much income you will need to replace in retirement to maintain, or even more importantly, enhance your lifestyle. But retirement is so much more complex than what any one income-replacement number can offer you. When I started investing in my 401(k), I thought about the vision that I have more myself in retirement. Is it to keep working part time? Is it travel the world? Is it to write and teach? Adding an illustration and storyline to what your retirement would look and feel like is incredibly power in making the investing process more personal, meaningful and enjoyable. Much research shows that for many retirement conjures of hopes that it will be a time of more meaningful work and leisurely activities. So if that’s the case, what does it mean to you? Give it some thought.
- Calm your nerves by realizing that investing is really as easy as putting your money in a well-diversified low-cost portfolio and forgetting about it. Honestly, I’m not the first person to state that investing isn’t complicated – in fact it’s downright simple. Much academic research has shown that you won’t beat the market, so don’t try. Instead follow it, and invest in low-cost index funds, if you 401(k) plan offers them. I think even Warren Buffett says he invests in low-cost index funds. Retirement investing will be so much more enjoyable when you realize it’s as simple as allocating and diversifying your assets among a portfolio of low-cost index funds. Now, remember that each 401(k) is different, and the offering of low-cost index funds in your plan may be limited. If that’s the case you can still select low-cost actively managed funds. And honestly, once you choose your account (traditional or Roth), set your contribution rate, and invest in a fund of your choosing, all the heavy-lifting is done for you. Your employer defers the contribution for you and sends it off to the plan provider. You just set it and forget! Once you’ve done that, just lay back and focus your time on other life-fulfilling activities.
I hope that these three ways help make your self-directed retirement planning and investing more enjoyable, and less distressing. What I am offering are some easy-to-adopt mindset changes that can help liven things up a bit. Remember, think of it as a wealth building journey on your way to becoming a millionaire instead of just bland retirement planning; secondly, contemplate the amazing lifestyle you want in retirement instead of just thinking of an income-replacement number; and lastly, calm your nerves by remembering that investing is simple – it just takes a properly allocated portfolio in low-cost funds to ultimately meet your goals. With these three ways, you are sure to find retirement planning less of a drag and more of a delight.
Follow me on Twitter @MatthewKMiller.
Want to learn more? Pick up a copy of my book …
From Millennial to Millionaire: DIY 401(k) – 5 Do-It-Yourself Steps for the Digital Generation to Design and Manage their 401(k) on Amazon.