By Priya

August 2, 2021

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Show notes

🎙 For most of us, saving and investing for retirement is hard to do. We need to find the money in our current budget to invest for our future selves. But that’s not all. There’s a psychological reason why investing for retirement is so hard. But how can we get past it? 🤔

This episode discusses topics like:

  • Why DIY retirement schemes make the goal of saving $1M for retirement so much harder;
  • Why we’d rather spend our money now than save or invest it for retirement; and
  • How you can find more money in your budget and send it towards your retirement instead of spending it right now.

Transcript

Hey, friends! And welcome back to Girl on FIRE, the financial independence podcast for independent women. 

My name is Priya, I’m a Chartered Accountant, an analyst and the creator of Paper Money Co. 

I’m also a fierce financial feminist and the host of this podcast. I believe that a woman who is in control of her money, is in control of her life.

Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about something I saw on Netflix. Earlier this year, Netflix put out a limited series called Money, Explained. 

If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend you add it to your list and give it a go. 

There are only 5 episodes of about 20 minutes each, so it won’t take up too much of your time. 

But they talk about a lot of interesting stuff in that series. Especially if you’re in the US, they have whole episodes dedicated to credit cards and student loans.

And the last episode of the series is about retirement, particularly why it’s so hard to save that $1M golden figure that experts say you should have for retirement. And that’s the episode that I want to talk about today. 

But before we get started, I want to remind you to head to my website — papermoneyco.com/startinvesting to download your free copy of my Investing Starter guide 

It’s totally free, you just need to enter in your email address and I’ll send it straight to your inbox. 

It gives you a step by step plan to follow to get your finances ready to start investing, including working with a budget, building an emergency fund and paying off debt.

The sooner you can get your foundation set and get those good money management practices in place, the sooner you can start investing and building your wealth. 

As always, Girl on FIRE is about learning, so whip out your favourite notebook or journal and get ready to take some notes. 

If you’re not into writing things out by hand, you can always find the transcript on my website at — papermoneyco.com/gof31.

Okay, let’s dive in!

Do-It-Yourself Retirement

Now, that Netflix episode talks about pensions and the birth of the 401 (k), which is similar to superannuation in Australia.

And one of the key attributes that both those systems have is that the burden is on you to save for your retirement. 

It’s a DIY retirement scheme. It’s not the government or your employer saving for your retirement, it’s you. That’s why tax advantaged retirement accounts exist. 

Tax advantaged accounts are those retirement accounts where you can make a contribution and pay significantly less tax on that money than you would if you were to take it as income.

It’s an incentive to get you to contribute to your retirement account by offering you a way to lower your taxes.

That’s why 401 (k) matches exist. Because the government is trying to incentivise you to look after yourself instead of relying on pensions and social security.

And to quote Money, Explained, that “means you have to be financially savvy enough to grow your own investments, and also make sure you’re not being charged high fees in the background.”

And that’s where the problem starts, right? For one, you have to be able to afford to put away money for your retirement, and that’s not possible for a lot of people in the US. 

Superannuation in Australia

In Australia, it’s a little bit different. It’s mandatory that a part of our wages has to be paid into our retirement accounts. It’s the law. 

Superannuation, which is like our 401 (k) is quite a complex topic that I definitely want to talk more about in a future episode. 

But for now, I’ll use myself as an example of how it works. By law, and based on eligibility criteria, my employer — all employers — are required to pay 10% of my salary into my retirement account. 

It’s part of my remuneration package for my job. It’s 100% my money, money that I earned. My employer is just paying it into my retirement account and not my bank account.

The problem that we’re facing with superannuation in Australia right now is that it’s not going to be enough for a lot of people, especially millennials.

The cost of living in Australia is quite high particularly in Sydney, property prices are ridiculous and there’s a real danger that 10% from your paycheck won’t be enough to fund a comfortable retirement.

The government has already had to commit to increasing that amount to 12% over the next few years and some worry that it still might not be enough to close the gap. 

And that’s especially the case for women, which we talked about in episode 2. We get paid less, we need to take time out of the workforce to grow more humans and we live longer. 

So, the Australian system is different from the US 401 (k) system but it still has some of the same problems. 

NEST retirement savings program in the UK

Now, Australia’s superannuation is more similar to the NEST retirement savings program in the UK. 

In the UK, it’s mandatory to put 8% of your pay into your retirement account — 5% from you and 3% from your employer.

But in Australia, the 10% that goes into our retirement accounts from our pay is 100% our money. There’s nothing being contributed from our employers.

401 (k) in the US

And from what I understand, it works differently in the US. Your contributions to your 401 (k) aren’t mandated by law, as I understand it. And it’s up to your employer to offer a match if they want to.

And as it stands, I can’t speak too much to the UK system, but in Australia, it’s becoming evident that we need to start putting more money into our retirement accounts. 

Because over our entire working lives, that mandated 10% isn’t going to be enough.

And to make things worse, due to high costs of living and slow wage growth, there are a lot of people who just can’t afford to sacrifice that money now and put it into retirement.

And to be honest, being able to cover all your current expenses, save for things you need now, enjoy your life AND save for the future — that’s a luxury. And it’s one that a lot of people don’t have.

So, when we’re asking the question of why it’s so hard to save or invest for retirement, one of the biggest issues is availability of money. 

You don’t need millions to invest for retirement. But you do need money to invest. Investing is making money from money. It’s not alchemy, you can’t start with stones and turn them into gold. 

You need money that you can dedicate to investing. And for some people, that’s out of reach. 

You can’t empathise with your older self

But in Money, Explained, they also talked about another reason why preparing for retirement is so difficult. 

And I found it fascinating, which is why I decided to make this episode. In that show, they share the results of a study done by Stanford University in 2011. 

And that study showed that our brains don’t really care about our future selves. We tend to think of our future selves as strangers.

They said “younger people generally don’t like to confront the fact that one day, they’ll be old.” 

And “psychologically, people don’t identify with who they’ll be in the distant future. That future person seems like a stranger to them.”

And I found that absolutely fascinating. Because I’m one of those people who doesn’t really know how to live in the present. I’m always in the future. 

I’m always thinking about the future and planning the future. For my career, for this podcast, for my personal life and definitely for my finances. 

I’ve been saving for my future since I opened my first bank account when I was 9 years old. And now, my head is always thinking about early retirement.

And we talk about retirement a lot on this show, whether that’s early retirement or traditional retirement. 

We’re always thinking about it and always preparing for it. But what the studies show is that our brains treat the retired future versions of ourselves as strangers.

And that makes sense in a lot of different areas of our lives, right? Not just our finances. 

We know that eating well and getting exercise is good for our health in the long term. But sometimes we’d rather eat a pack of cookies because that’s what we want right now. 

We know that dating that person is going to lead to heartbreak in the future, but you enjoy spending time with them now.

Humans are good at doing what feels good in the moment. And it’s not surprising. Our ancestors evolved to live in the moment, because who knows when the lion will get you.

And somewhere along the way we tried to forget how to do that. We told ourselves that doing what feels good in the moment is living like a child. 

And it’s irresponsible and shows a lack of discipline. Someone who does live in the moment is a free spirit.

And the rest of us are tethered down to things that make it hard to breathe, but we don’t let go because it’s irresponsible. And it makes us feel ashamed and anxious.

So, it’s easy to understand why we as humans choose what we want most in the moment over what’s best for us in the long term. 

But the truth is that that kind of behaviour can be really damaging to us in retirement. We’re screwing ourselves over and most people don’t even realise it until they’re already in retirement.

Making sacrifices for future benefit is hard

So, if you mix that with the problems of a DIY retirement approach that we talked about earlier, you’re faced with a whole different beast.

Humans have a hard time identifying with who they’ll be decades from now. That future version of you is like a stranger to you. 

But when it comes to saving for retirement, that’s who you’re saving all that money for, that old stranger who lives in the future. 

So, it’s hard to sacrifice what you want now, in order to benefit future you. 

It’s hard to make the decision not to spend money now, so that you can put it away for retirement for someone you don’t identify with. Even if that someone is you.

Here’s another quote from Money, Explained that really highlights the problem. 

“But deciding to do that for your future self, that’s the hard part. I’m given a choice between doing something that I want to do right now or not doing that and making a sacrifice for my future self’s benefit. Well, why should I do that? That guy is a stranger to me.”

Now, the study they talk about in Money, Explained also goes on to say that they did an experiment where they used software and tech to show people what they’d look like when they’re older. 

And once people saw themselves as older versions of who they are now, they wanted to save more for retirement.  

The researchers said that it’s easy for us to make sacrifices for other people like our parents, or our spouses or our kids because we can empathise with them.

So, by giving future you a face, you’re able to empathise with future you. And that makes you more willing to make sacrifices today that will benefit future you in retirement.

FIRE & investment calculator spreadsheet

Before we move on, I want to ask my Girls on FIRE for a favour. If you’ve listened this far into the episode then you’re probably enjoying it, right?

So, here’s what I’d like you to do next. Pause this episode for a few seconds and head on over to papermoneyco.com/podcastreview.

I want you to leave a rating and review for Girl on FIRE because it helps me provide better content based on what you’re enjoying the most.

It helps other women out in the internet wilderness come and find us as well.

And it’s also a great way to support this show for free, and for that I’d love to send you a little something to say thank you.

So, once you’ve done that, take a screenshot of your submitted review and email it to me at priya@papermoneyco.com.

If you do that, I’ll send you a copy of my FIRE and investment calculator. Which, if I do say so myself, is pretty damn amazing.

It’s how I plan for my early retirement and my wealth. It shows me how my wealth is going to grow, when I can retire and how long my money will last.

And it also has a separate tab that takes Australia’s superannuation into account as well. 

And you can use it to analyse companies and different investment options when you’re picking stocks too. 

I’ve never actually seen anything like it before, so it’s pretty special. And I’m currently not offering that spreadsheet anywhere else except on my Patreon

Not in my shop, not to my email list — it’s a ghost. So, this is kind of a money-can’t-buy type deal.

The only way to get your hot little hands on that spreadsheet is by submitting a rating and a review, taking a screenshot and tagging me in it.

That URL again is papermoneyco.com/podcastreview. I’ve made it nice and easy for you.

So, go hit pause and do that right now. It’s okay, I’ll wait. 

Okay, that concludes my little ad-break, so let’s get back to it.

How to make saving for retirement easier

Okay, at this point, we’ve gone through why it’s so hard to save for retirement. 

And it’s because you might not be able to afford it but also because it’s hard to make that sacrifice for your future self.

So, what does that mean for you? How can you combat this? Let’s tackle one problem at a time. 

Finding money to put towards your retirement

First, finding money to dedicate to retirement. That’s going to start with your budget. That’s the first thing you should do. 

Look at your budget and see where you might be able to find some money. I don’t want you to give up all the things you love, but you might need to make some sacrifices.

Start with expenses that don’t really serve you in any way. Or things you could do without. 

Next, research your options in terms of tax advantaged retirement accounts. Look for accounts where your money can be invested safely and where you’re not paying a ton in fees. 

Also, speak to your employer. Ask them what benefits they might offer. Maybe you can get a match for your contributions. 

And speak to your boss about getting a raise. We talked about how to ask for a raise way back in episode 12

Don’t forget that negotiating a raise isn’t always about money in the bank. You might also be able to negotiate other benefits like a higher match.

Another thing you can do is try to increase your income in other ways. This might be as simple as selling stuff you don’t need anymore on Facebook Marketplace. 

Or maybe you can take on extra hours at work. Or look for a higher paying job. You could also use your skills and knowledge to make extra money outside of your regular job. 

For example, you could try tutoring or teaching kids in your neighbourhood a musical instrument. 

Something that I’d like to try one day is becoming a Zumba instructor. Because that’ll help me get fit and stay healthy. But it’s also a way I can make some extra money. 

Now, once you have some extra money to put towards retirement, automate your savings. That way, you don’t need to think about it. It’ll happen automatically.

And, most importantly, keep learning about how to invest and grow your money. Which is something you’re already doing because you’re listening to Girl on FIRE.

So, please don’t think that you’re behind and you’ll never catch up. Wherever you’re going, you’ll get there when you get there.

And, remember, you’re taking time out of your day to listen to Girl on FIRE. You’re spending a piece of your time on Earth to learn about money. 

You’re already much further along than you think you are. I can guarantee you that there are millions of people who are going to struggle in retirement or not be able to retire, who never took it upon themselves to learn how to do it better. 

So, you’re absolutely on the right track.

Find ways to empathise with future you

Now, what about the problem of not being able to make sacrifices for your future self because you can’t identify or empathise with them.

Well, you can try doing what they did in the experiment. Download a free app on your phone that ages you. If you dare. They mentioned Face App in Money, Explained.

Personally, I don’t want to see that. I’m hoping to age gracefully, but I don’t want to see 60 year old Priya just yet. 

I don’t need to see wrinkles in my caramel skin just yet. I think I’m doing okay without it. Yes, making sacrifices for my future self is hard for me, too. 

But honestly what makes it easy is that I hate going to work. It’s really strange. I actually like my job, I love my team. I believe in the company that I work for. 

I enjoy my daily work and I think I’m damn good at my job. But I hate going to work. 

Being at my desk by a certain time, dressed appropriately, waiting until lunchtime before I can eat or having to sit there and keep working until 5 even though I’m a morning person and I checked out at 11am. 

And, of course, having to interact with people all day. I’m a massive introvert. I once tested at 99% introverted. Being out in the world is really hard for me, it’s exhausting. 

Before COVID, work from home wasn’t a thing in Australia. And now it is, and it’s actually really good for me. So, the idea of not having to go to work is enough motivation for me right now. 

It motivates me to make the sacrifice of investing my money instead of spending it on all the things. So, I’m not going to age my face just yet.

But if it doesn’t bother you, then go for it. 

You could also try journalling and writing a letter to your future self. It might help you connect with who you want to be when you grow up. 

Empathising with your past self

Another trick that I’ve tried in the past is not thinking about my future self, but my past self. 

I’m going to share something really personal with you here. But thinking of my past self, not just as a child but as a teenager and a young 20-something, helps me with a lot of hard things.

I’ve been living with depression since I was 15. That’s 15 years of my life. And I had a rough childhood before that. 

And sometimes when I get caught thinking “why am I even doing this, what’s the point?” it helps me to think of myself back then

I realise that I’m doing it for me, now, but I’m also doing it for baby Priya. I know what kind of life she wanted and I want to give it to her. 

So, when I’m going through something hard and I don’t know how to keep going, I think of her and say “don’t worry, baby girl, I’ll fix it for you. And you’ll be okay”.

Because 25 years ago, I was 5 year old Priya. And I don’t remember a whole lot of what was happening around me or what I was doing. 

But I remember the big things. Things that seemed huge to my 5 year old self. I remember those. I remember how they felt. 

And I still feel some of those things. It’s easy for me to think of my 5 year old self because I lived through everything she did. It’s easier for me to empathise with her. 

And I want to take care of her. I don’t want her to have to struggle. I don’t want her to live in poverty when she’s old. 

It makes me really sad to think about that. Because the person you'll become in 20 or 30 years. Who knows who she is?

That’s the beauty of the future, right? You can be anyone, do anything. You’re going to grow and change in ways you can’t even imagine right now.

But your past self? You’ve already been her. You understand her. You know her. You know what it’s like to be her. You know who she wanted to be when she grew up.

And sometimes when you feel lost, or you don’t know what your next right move should be, it helps to remember that. 

Next weeks’ episode

And that’s all I have for you Girls on FIRE today!

My challenge for you this week is to head to papermoneyco.com/startinvesting and download your free copy of my Investing Starter guide.

It’s time to start making choices for our future selves, and the sooner you get started the more money you’ll have to enjoy your retirement.

It gives you a step by step plan to follow to get your finances ready to start investing, including working with a budget, building an emergency fund and paying off debt.

You just need to enter in your email address and I’ll send it over to you. 

The sooner you can get your foundation set and get those good money management practices in place, the sooner you can start investing and building your wealth. 

On next weeks’ episode we’re going to kick off a 4 part series where we’ll take a deep dive into how to choose individual stocks to invest in. 

We talked all about investing in ETFs in episode 17, but next week we’re going to talk about choosing stocks that don’t come in a package deal.

It’s going to be a super interesting episode so you’re definitely not going to want to miss it.

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Disclaimer

The advice shared on Girl on FIRE is general in nature and does not constitute financial advice. The information shared does not consider your individual circumstances. Girl on FIRE exists purely for educational purposes and should not be relied upon to make an investment or financial decision.


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