Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Young adults need to think more about personal finance  1

Posted on September 27th, 2005. About Uncategorized.

Previously posted on September 27, 2005 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/jodidodds/Blog/cns!1p1a54g1PSNkhyBLLbfi4i8A!107.entry

I love payday. Even more, I savor joy of opening Microsoft Money and allowing the beautiful colorful pie charts and line graphs to hypnotize me. While paying bills may not top the list of life’s greatest exhilarations, I still enjoy keeping track of where my money is going and ensuring that my routine expenses are covered. But my very favorite part of payday is downloading my statement from Fidelity’s website outlining my latest automated mutual fund purchases within my 403(b). In addition to this, a portion of my after-tax income is transferred into my Roth IRA. I am 26 years old, and I am an investor.

So here is what baffles me. I am surrounded on a daily basis by intelligent, capable, educated colleagues – people who have earned medical doctorates and are, like myself, in the throes of residency. Yet, without fail, every time the 10th or the 25th of the month rolls around, I will at some point announce, “Today is PAYDAY!” The response I receive from those in the room with me is inevitably, “Oh, is it really?” or “I never keep track of stuff like that.” What?!?! Are you kidding me?! Who doesn’t know when payday is? Who does not keep track of paychecks? A colleague asked me a month ago, “I’m not even sure what our salary is – do you know how much we make?” Since the majority of these people are unaware of payday, then forget expecting them to participate in the voluntary retirement investing program – contributions to a 403(b). Forget going out of their way to contribute regularly to a Roth IRA.

So, then my next question is – the lack of retirement planning/savings must be secondary to student loan repayment, right? WRONG. Many residents opt to go into forbearance on student loans (they are not required to make payments during residency but interest accumulates on the principal).

So fine – maybe physicians just are not taught how to properly manage money. After all, many come from well-to-do families (of course, there are those who do not as well, so no nasty emails please), and they are forced into studentdom for extended periods beyond high school (a minimum of eight years). Yet – it’s not just physicians. I’m finding there are so few people my age that actually contribute even miniscule amounts to any sort of retirement/savings plan. My husband and I are quick to notice that charts in Money demonstrating rate of return on investments usually begin at age 35 and end at various retirement ages. Do even the financial magazines expect for 26 year olds to be squandering their money until they finally settle into reality ten years later?

Consider this: If a young 26-year-old medicine resident places even $100 per month aside over a four year residency, she will have $4800 upon the completion of her training (age 30). Now, pretend she contributes absolutely nothing more to this (which, of course, is nonsense because she will) and withdraws the money at age 60 (since she cannot withdraw it until she is 59.5 years old, if it is a Roth IRA or a 401(k)/403(b)). This $4800 alone, assuming an 8% rate of return on investment (a general average used for stock market estimates) will be valued at $48,300.75. So you may think – no big deal, she can wait awhile before she needs to begin thinking about retirement – how about 39? Waiting even just nine years will drastically cut back on the amount this money will earn for her – still assuming an 8% rate of return, investing it just nine years later and withdrawing it at 60 years old (so only allowing it 21 years to grow rather than 30) – and the same $4800 is worth $24,162.40. Spending that extra $100 per month is not just costing someone $4800 over four years, because the reality is >$24,000 has been lost. Never underestimate the “miracle” of compound interest.

I’m not an accountant, and my knowledge of personal finance is frighteningly limited. But this just seems obvious, people. Personal finance has GOT to be become part of the basic curriculum in schools if we ever hope to move to a system of self-reliance and a lower deficit. The same people who laugh about social security still being around when my generation retires are those who have not begun saving for their own retirement. They are denying themselves money in the years ahead, and while money cannot necessarily buy happiness, it can buy financial freedom – and freedom is a major component of happiness for many.

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