As a responsible adult, you would be inclined to pick the latter, all else being equal.
But back in your college days, my guess is that the first choice would hold more appeal.
That’s because retirement is an abstract concept to most college-aged people – something for the future them to worry about.
Perhaps I’m an anomaly in this regard, but I actually started saving for retirement while I was still in college, at the ripe old age of 23.
How I Started Saving For Retirement
I’ve always been a worrier, having born into a family of excessive worriers.
Growing up, money was tight. We had what we needed but not much more.
Although my siblings and I were shielded from any financial worries my parents were burdened with, we were taught the value of money at a young age.
Still, my parents’ money-pinching ways left an imprint on me — money was always at the forefront of my mind.
As I got older, I began saving for my own college tuition, knowing that I only had myself to rely on. I worked two jobs during the summers just so I could afford the minimums during the rest of the year.
The idea of retirement saving first came to me when I was studying English Literature at The University of Edinburgh.
At the time, I was squirreling away £30 ($37) a month. It wasn’t a huge sum but enough to make me feel in control of my financial future. It was a solid start towards building a comfortable retirement fund for my golden years.
When I shared my retirement saving plan with my college friends, they literally laughed out loud.
I couldn’t blame them – we were all still incredibly young and focused on kickstarting our post-university careers. Planning for retirement was nothing more than a blip on their radars at that point.
I also couldn’t blame them for taking retirement lightly because saving diligently in your early 20s requires sacrifices that not everyone is willing to make.
For every small amount I put into my retirement account, there was a club night I missed out on, a live performance I didn’t attend, or a pair of shoes I didn’t add to cart.
But this actually wasn’t as much of a hindrance as one may think.
I didn’t want to deprive myself from having fun in my youth so I included a line item in my budget for entertainment, but I also realized that not every alcohol-fueled night on the town was worth jeopardizing my financial future for.
What I Did To Save Money in College
I cooked most of my meals at home, packed lunches and snacks to take to my classes so I didn’t have to buy anything from the school cafeteria.
I started organizing more house parties, as well as wine and movie nights at home. These were great alternatives to bar hopping, and way cheaper too!
I severely limited my shopping for clothes and other unnecessary items, and made sure to always keep an eye out for deals in the supermarkets.
From my experience, it is definitely possible to find a good balance between taking frugality to the extreme and spending without a care in the world.
It is definitely possible to find a good balance between taking frugality to the extreme and spending without a care in the world.
Striking that balance was both achievable and manageable by creating some basic spending guidelines for myself, as well as setting my priorities straight.
After starting my little retirement fund, I saved over £1,000 ($1,251) dollars over the next couple of years. By the time I graduated from university, I already had a decent chunk of my end-of-life fund tucked away, and I was more motivated than ever to keep growing it.
Why I Started Saving for Retirement So Early
Although retirement felt like a million years away when I was 23, I knew that the financial choices I make early in life would have a huge impact on the life I lead later on.
So it’s never too early to start planning for your golden years in my book.
If you need more reasons to be convinced, I’ve got two:
1. Less responsibilities translate to more savings
When you’re young, you have fewer demands on your money and time. You can be laser-focused on saving.
As people get into their 30s and 40s, they’re suddenly faced with various financial responsibilities – house, children, parents, and even pets. These increased demands take up a large part of an average person’s salary, making it much harder to save.
2. The sooner you start saving, the larger the payout
The sooner you begin setting money aside for retirement and putting those dollars into investments, the bigger the chance that you’ll build up a comfortable nest egg.
After all, the funds you deposit into your retirement accounts would have more time and potential to grow the longer they’re in the savings pot, slowly gaining interest and compounding exponentially as you navigate through life.
Advice to Those Who Aren’t Thinking About Retirement Yet
It’s all too easy to shout “YOLO”, indulge in every whim and desire, and let all the good years slip by without a care for how you will maintain a decent lifestyle after 65.
But the reality is, you do need retirement funds, and they don’t save themselves.
Even if saving for retirement in your early 20s may not get you more dates, we all have to think ahead and start preparing for retirement as early as possible, to avoid ending up in dire financial straits during our twilight years.
The longer you wait, the harder it is to get started and gain traction.
So don’t wait another second.
You’ll thank yourself for it later.