Here is what I know: Saving is super hard. We read an article on CNN about the fact that the majority of Americans can’t get their hands on $400 in a crisis. We recognize that we are one of them. We know it’s a bad feeling to live on the edge. So, we open that other savings account, put money into it, only to take it back out a few months later.
When we talk about saving, that is what people picture. It’s too hard. I’ve tried it. I am terrible at it.
I am always intrigued when women come into my office and tell me what bad savers they are. When I ask how much is in their work retirement plan, they’re not sure. We fiddle around trying to get the login and once we do, we find that there’s quite a chunk of change in there. This happens a lot, but in her words, she’s a bad saver.
At the Soirée Women’s Leadership Symposium, in a room of around 40 women, we talked about the one easy way to save. We talked about the most important saving of all, retirement saving. It is totally unsexy, feels completely removed, but we simply have to do it. And thank goodness it is (relatively) easy.
It takes one decision, one moment of action, and then the retirement plan takes it from there. Ladies, do you have a 401(k) plan at work? If so, wow, good. There it is. Call up HR, choose to save 10%, wince at that first paycheck after you make the call and then (literally) forget you are doing it. Keep forgetting. Go on vacation forgetting it, watch the kids grow while you keep forgetting it, turn 50 and dye your hair pink while you are still forgetting it.
One day you will remember, and it’s the day you decide you’re just a little too tired to keep waking up that early and going that long in the day, the day that weekly meeting “with those Gen ABs” just got a little too unbearable, the day you just got your first grandkid and imagined something a little different with your day.
That is how saving works, so why don’t we do it? Well, in a room full of smart, female leaders, it seemed that many in the room hadn’t talked about money in a while. Because we just don’t. It’s a taboo topic. So many women in that room were probably undersaving, but truly unwittingly.
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I know when I signed up for my first 401(k) plan, the mountain of paperwork for my badge, parking deck and health insurance on top of my 401(k) decision made those decisions all seem equivalent. When it got to the “401(k) deferral percentage and asset allocation decision,” I'm thinking “asset alloca-what?” I asked the HR rep what most people choose and she said, “just do 5%. You can always go back later.”
I did the 5%, but I didn’t go back later. Sometimes I think, “what if I had just chosen 10%? Would I have noticed?” Nope. How sad that my decision could have been so dramatically different if I had just had a little nudge.
Studies show that once you make a decision in your retirement plan, you have only a 10% chance of changing it. So, yeah, I was one of those who found out four years later that I was doing 5% and severely undersaving. I guess I never found (or remembered to find) a good time to make my way to HR and sign a form that would make my paycheck decrease.
As I told that story to the room at the symposium, the enthusiastic nodding told me that I was not alone in that experience. And I asked the women in the room to consider a commitment to me: Call up HR that afternoon, find out what they were saving and bump it up to 10%. Eighteen women in the room committed.
Then there were the 14 women in the room who heard the message and committed to increase their retirement plan by 1% (several of whom were already at the 10%).
Of course, no retirement plan really works unless there is a safety net first. So 17 new savers — women who had only retirement savings but no liquid savings — committed to payroll deduct directly into an emergency fund.
Thirty-three women talked about money and then took action. They didn’t obsess, they didn’t track expenses, they didn’t go on a financial “diet.” They just fixed their paychecks to save.
And I know they aren’t going to change it. We do retirement plans every day and so far, across our plans, savings has grown 51%. Why?
Because we simply talk about money, demystify what the retirement account even means and then give specific guidance on how much to save.
If you weren’t at the talk, don't worry. You can do this, too. Call HR and increase your retirement savings to 10%. Wince at the first paycheck. Forget by the second.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is the founder of Aptus Financial, a permanent trustee for the Donaghey Foundation and a Rotary Club 99 Foundation trustee. She holds an MPP from Harvard University and the CFP designation. Her passion is to solve the retirement crisis for women and to inspire young girls to save money at an early age.