I Started Saving for Retirement—When It Was Almost Too Late

got started investingIn our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman, who hadn’t put a penny toward retirement until her late 40s, talks about how she reset her money mindset to play catch up—and how some diligent saving and investing actually let her retire ahead of schedule.

By most people’s standards, I came late to the retirement game.

The light bulb didn’t go off that I needed to start investing for my life after work until I was 48 years old. It was 2001, and I was a single mother of a teenage daughter, Hope*, living in expensive Southern California on a schoolteacher’s salary.

I was dating a fellow educator, Don*, and while on a hike one day, the conversation turned to money. He was going on and on about his personal stock holdings, his pension, how he was maxing out his 403(b) and how he owned an investment property in addition to his primary home. Then he turned to me and asked, “What are you doing about your retirement?” My answer: “Nothing.”

My immediate reaction was, “What’s wrong with me?” I always considered myself to be a smart person, a feminist even, but a man was reminding me that I needed to think about my financial future. On top of that, I was a journalist in a past life, and knew how to dig for information. Yet I had never bothered to educate myself about my finances.

How the Past Nearly Bankrupted My Future

A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was a single mom just trying to make ends meet, so I was pretty much living paycheck to paycheck. Investing for the future wasn’t part of my reality. I had also been in some tumultuous relationships that had a severe impact on my life, both personally and financially.

Prior to moving to California, I had been a journalist on the East Coast and was financially comfortable. I owned my own home, and even held some stock options through my employer. I had been in an 11-year relationship with Hope’s father that ended badly when she was a toddler, and although we never married and he never supported us financially, he sued me for custody. I became embroiled in a bitter lawsuit and sold my house, cashed in my stock, and basically went broke trying to keep custody of my daughter.

  • M

    Teachers in California don’t get social security.

    • Sara

      But she would be eligible for SS from her earlier employment.

  • Gars

    Can’t retire where you worked. Still working in “retirement.”

    Money really began to increase when it was all in one place.

    I’d suggest it was the 30% rise in the stock market that boosted your net worth. If you live 30 years, your $200,000 will give you somewhere around $6,700 PRETAX.

    I’d suggest this person is not retired. She is burned out and has moved on to a less stressful type of work in a less expensive area.

    Just sayin’

    • flours

      I agree…while changing careers to something less stressful is also a goal of mine, I wouldn’t consider myself retired at that point.

  • A

    Great Story!

  • papillon

    How did she open three separate 403(b)s? I thought they were similar to 401(k) and you can only have one through your employer.

  • San

    As a 48-year-old who hasn’t saved as much as I should have, your story is inspiring. It’s great to read about someone who started taking baby steps, which all of us can do. Thank you very much for sharing!

  • Ephem

    Give me a break! She has a pension. She barely mentions that. The $200,000 she saved is just pin money that she won’t have to touch until after she turns 70. Please tell us a REAL story about somebody who started late and funded their retirement with their savings and Social Security, not somebody for whom their 403B is their hobby money. Geesh!

    • mysticaltyger

      Ok, here’s the bottom line. If you want to retire 10 years from the time you start saving (with no help from a pension), as this woman did, you have to save about 65% of your after tax income.

  • sandar

    So all that college paid off for Hope? Is she enjoying a great career as well as doing the family thing?