In the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.
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.