How did you do it?

According to a 2014 study by the RAND Corporation, 49% of single women will not have enough savings for retirement, compared to 20% of married couples and 35% of single men. 

The second question: How did you do it? Meaning: How did you afford it?

There are things I was given and things I did that put me in the financial position I am in today. Listed below are the things I believe had the greatest impact and I’m sure there are others I’m not even aware of. 

  • Born white: Advantages in education, employment and economic opportunity.
  • Born upper middle class: Advantages in education and social education that prepared me for college and business.
  • Allowance of $5/week: Equivalent to $25/week in today’s dollars. Sounds like a lot except I was expected to buy everything I needed and wanted with it, with the exception of my winter coat and shoes. I learned to be responsible with money early.
  • Babysat (a lot) to earn money: I bought a bicycle that cost $117 by earning 50 cents/hour, learning the value of saving and deferred gratification. Most of the time I got paid $2 for four hours, which means I babysat 58 times to earn the bike.
  • Inheritance from Grandma: Paid for my B.S. in dental hygiene. Graduated college without any debt.
  • Asked my father for a loan so I could get a car to get to my job as a dental hygienist; he gave me the loan and then immediately forgave it: No debt. Also, after I got a job at Hennepin County Medical Center, I was able to ride my bike during the spring/summer/fall so saved money on gas (and lost weight).
  • Intentionally got a job as a secretary at the University of MN so I could take classes for free: Graduated with my M.A. with no debt and the M.A. moved me into a position that doubled my salary over what I was earning as a secretary.
  • Got married cheaply ($3K for wedding and $3K for honeymoon): No debt. And this was the last time my new husband and I agreed on finances—he believed in borrowing to buy depreciating assets and I did not.
  • Started contributing to a 401K at work, 5% of salary: At age 33, a late start, but at least I started. Was afraid I would be financially strapped but after the first few paychecks, I didn’t even notice.
  • Got divorced cheaply: No alimony to pay (or receive).
  • Took out a loan to buy my next car but repaid it early, then kept making the monthly payments but to my savings account: Able to pay cash for subsequent cars. Also, the cars were always boring (Nissan Sentra, Ford Taurus).
  • Increased my 401K contribution by 1% every year until I was contributing the maximum: Building the nest egg; company matching dollars helped.
  • When I changed jobs, always rolled over the 401K, never took out any 401K money: Building the nest egg.
  • When I got a raise, if it was a big one I banked half of it, if it was a small one I banked all of it: Building the nest egg.
  • Gave up trying to follow my father’s lessons about how to time the market: “Your life should be interesting and your investments should be boring.”
  • Gave up trying to find good investments and took human emotion out of the equation by using a robo advisor: To quote the grandmother of a woman I met at a writer’s retreat, “Wealth is like a bar of soap—the more you handle it, the smaller it gets.”
  • Realized that my mother’s approach to money was more effective than my father’s: Began focusing not just on earning more but also on spending less.
  • Got a better handle on my spending with YNAB: Over the first three months, plugged $1600 in “leaks” and feel really good about knowing where I am with my cash flow.
  • Became focused on being a clear conduit for the energy of money: Appreciating what I have, knowing my priorities and spending in accordance with those makes me feel rich.

I also remind myself that money is only one source of wealth—Health, Friends, Ideas and Time are some others. What I know is true for all of those is that when I appreciate what I have and tend to it with love, it grows.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Storm coming, photo taken with an iPhone and without any special filters

This photo reminds me that things that might look bad (storm coming in from the west while the sun rises in the east) can help me see things in new ways and that there is always good, in everything–even in the tech challenges I had last week. I got smarter because of them.

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