Planning for Retirement?

Almost three months into my first real job, I met with a financial planner. He did a double take when I walked in; I suspect 23 year olds do not often take advantage of his services. Why give up one thousand dollars of your already meager income for a retirement that (god forbid) you may never live to see?

Alas, a nest egg is the Xanax of the risk-averse–the knowledge that you could buy your way out of most any mess a panacea for those surrounded by shlemiels and shlemazels. So my budget includes a small sum for retirement in addition to a general savings fund, for emergencies, travel, or the occassional soul-soothing materialistic splurge.

My father, from whom I inherited my aversion to unpreparedness, began stressing the importance of saving when I began my first summer job at age 15. When I recieved my last paycheck that August, I used every penny I made over the two month period to buy a hulking desktop computer with a monitor bigger than most televisions. Apparently, the ability to chat on AIM from the privacy of my room made more of an impression than my father’s sermons on thrift.

Subsequent summer income funneled into an account to pay for living expenses in college. I graduated college with $100 of my own money, owing my parents a thousand bucks and using all of the money I recieved as gifts to furnish my bare apartment. My summer income went straight into rent and bills, and my first month’s pay at my new job went into paying off a sky-high credit card bill, accumulated in that liminal period between un- and employed.

Noticing the balance in my checking account steadily rising, my father felt justified in resuming the good fight. Routine phone calls home ended with barked reminders to investigate my employer’s matching policy. Emails arrived weekly encouraging me to put at least 10% of my pre-tax income into a 401(k). My replies noted that I work for a nonprofit institution of higher education, meaning that, if I were not a member of the union, I would have a 403(b).

If his bombardments elicited snarky responses and weary explanations of the costs of living in New York City, they also managed to actually spur me to action. Morbid thoughts began to float through my daydreams about the future. What if a car crash leaves me debilitated in 10 years, saddled with a mortgage, children, car payments, and no income? Retired by virtue of a disibility, I could be restricted to a diet of rice and beans just to make ends meet, unable to save any further funds.

I called my cousin, four years my senior, to hash through the pros and cons. My parents, I told him, invested $5,000 in a mutual fund 23 years ago and, left untouched, its worth has increased tenfold.  Shouldn’t I make my money work for me in that way? My cousin’s response: “What is the pithy $1200 you save this year going to do for you in retirement that is any more fun than spending it in your youth getting drunk and having a good time?” I see his point, but what if I get in an accident while drunk and never even get a chance to save for retirement!? 

To quell my fixation on disaster scenarios, I committed myself to enrolling in a Tax Deferred Annuity Plan. I met with the financial planner, optimistic that at best I will use the compounding dollars and cents to spend my golden years tanning my saggy body on the beaches of Greece, and, at worst, will withdraw the money under a hardship provision to sweat out a hard financial hit. Although I am fate’s strongest proponent, when it comes to the worldly and material realm of finances, I march into the camp of those believing luck favors the prepared.

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