Why the Parable of the Savers Drives Me Nuts (Or, Late Bloomers and Humanities Majors Are Not Doomed)

NotDoomedI’ve written time and time again in the last year about how much I’ve learned from the PF blogosphere: budgeting, investing basics, debt payoff strategies, frugal tips, and more. But there’s one post in particular that makes me groan every time I see a variation on it. It’s the “parable of the savers,” and you’ve seen it at least a hundred times if you’ve been reading around PF blogs for long. You know the one: John invests $5 a year starting at age 5, and stops at age 20. When he’s 65, this total $75 investment has grown to $3,000,000 through the magic of compound interest. Jane, meanwhile, lives it up, buys expensive cars and too many pairs of shoes, and doesn’t put anything away until she’s 45. She’s making a good salary by then, so she socks away $5000 a year, but she still only ends up with $150,000, and has to live in a van down by the river and eat cat food in her old age.

OK, OK, so my math might be a little off there — my PhD is in a much-maligned humanities field, after all — but you get the idea. And I get it too: this “parable” (with its attendant charts proving visually that ants are wiser than grasshoppers) isn’t really aimed at 36-year-old me. It’s aimed at 20-25-year-olds and is meant to induce them to pay attention when the HR rep hands them the 401(k) paperwork during orientation. Fair enough. But honestly, every time I see it I shudder deep in my ancient bones, then have to talk myself down from the ledge.

I’m also never quite sure how I feel about the focus on earning more. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d like to earn more. But I struggle with the fact that my skills and interests have never been oriented towards fields that do things like “give raises.” 🙂 People in the for-profit sector seem to move jobs frequently, picking up a spare $10K here and there as they go; while there’s a tiny bit of room for negotiation in academia, new jobs are few and far between, and major raises tend to come only two or three times in a person’s career. So for me, earning more in an effort to save more would probably mean giving up a field that I love for one that I…don’t love. I’m not saying I’d never do that, but it means that the words “earn more” carry some substantial angst along with them.

Here’s the thing, though: if all my years as a leftist have taught me anything, it’s that capitalism doesn’t usually have my best interests at heart. And I’ve started to wonder if the parable of the savers and the gospel of Lean In isn’t, just a little bit, like all those ads trying to sell me on the idea that if I just injected some Botox or dyed my hair, everything would be great. Banks want us to earn more and save more so that they have more capital to play with; if it also benefits us, that’s a byproduct. So, I think I’d like to resist the discourse of the market even as I use it, just as I resist the discourse of beauty ads even as I buy and enjoy nice clothes. (Look, I have a Ph.D. in the humanities. I’m contractually obligated to use “discourse” once every ten blog posts.)

*First of all, reality: while it would have been nice to have started an IRA at 19, that is seriously water under the bridge. I’m here now, and I’ve socked away $15000 in a single year. There are about 30 years until I reach retirement age. That is plenty of time. In fact, if I keep investing at least $15,000 every year, I could even retire in my late 50s or early 60s. Are you 45 with nothing saved? You’ll also be fine. It would be better if you could put away more like $23500, maxing out your 401(k) and IRA contributions [for Americans], but even $15K a year should grow to over $500,000 by the time you’re 65, and $875,000 by the time you’re 70. Added to Social Security, you will achieve a standard of living higher than approximately 99.999% of all humans who have ever lived. It will be fine.

*About that: Social Security is going exactly nowhere — or rather, if those of us who are in our twenties and thirties now are not collecting Social Security when we’re old, we’re going to have much bigger problems than that, because it will mean we’re in some kind of anarchic nuclear winter where the U.S. government no longer functions at all. While I like to gloom-and-doom it about the government as much as the next person, in fact, can you imagine the scene if Social Security was really cut, especially when the fix is actually so easy? It’s a no-brainer to raise or lift the payroll tax cap. Those us over 35 (ahem) can clearly recall what happened when W tried to “privatize” Social Security. Namely, nope. It’s easy to talk about repealing or cutting Social Security, and a hell of a lot harder to actually do it. [Tragically, it is much easier to kill social programs that are aimed at helping the poor exclusively, but Social Security isn’t one of those.]

*I started late on retirement, but early on developing the skills to ride out rough times. There are some reasons why I didn’t have a retirement account until this year. I was a freelancer, then a graduate student, in an expensive city, for the 13 years following my college graduation. In that time, I became a strong, capable, independent person. I successfully navigated New York on an income well below the median: finding creative housing options and affordable food and services, bartering for cultural opportunities (for example, ushering for four afternoons a year netted me a museum ID card that got me into every museum in New York for free), figuring out how to get health care when I didn’t have insurance, rustling up enough side hustling to keep me afloat when my main gigs were slow. All that critical thinking liberal arts colleges are always going on about served me well: I was able to figure shit out when I needed to, and I’m very confident I could do it again if my bank account isn’t flush in middle or old age. Would I rather not have to? Sure. But I definitely could. The benefit of being kinda broke for a while is that you learn how to deal.

*I’m (mostly) not a late starter because of moral failure, and humanities majors aren’t necessarily fools. OK, maybe a little moral failure…. Without the travel I did in my 20s, I could have had less debt coming out of grad school. But anyway, the version of the parable of the savers that drives me craziest is the one that involves the late starter starting late because he/she blew through everything partying in his/her early years. I think we all know that this is in fact untrue: some of us are late starters because of heavy student loan debt, others because we have or had low-paying jobs in important, societally necessary fields like education, nursing, food preparation, social work, and so on. And yet: spending years of my life reading, writing, and talking with people about what we’ve been reading, has made me a happier person, and I’d like to hope a better one, kinder, more insightful, more attuned to the difficulties of the world and the delights of those around me. I can’t count these years as wasted even if I won’t be eating off of golden plates in retirement, and I can’t count them as worthless even if wisdom doesn’t reliably compound at 7% per annum. If the worst happens after all and I really do end up in that van by the post-apocalyptic river, at least I’ll have the consolation of philosophy.

63 thoughts on “Why the Parable of the Savers Drives Me Nuts (Or, Late Bloomers and Humanities Majors Are Not Doomed)

  1. Revanche says:

    Well met, fellow humanities major! 🙂

    There is a bit of an assumption about why people are starting out late, indeed, in the general statements anyway. I was lucky enough to have started reading PF blogs and forums in my late teens so I could aim to apply a few of the principles as money freed up being knowing all that wisdom didn’t negate my personal circumstances at the time (debt that was no fault of mine) that prevented me from saving.

    I suspect it’s just easier to preach parables than address the complications that are naturally attendent in life.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Nice to meet you too! I’m torn because I really do wish I’d started in my late teens, but I simultaneously resent the anxiety induced by all these warnings, and wonder about the personal/societal value of that anxiety.

      1. Revanche says:

        “BUT knowing all that wisdom”, not “being knowing all that wisdom”!
        Commenting by phone is a haphazard affair..!

        I wonder as well. On the one hand, I didn’t find it helpful to be anxious in my teens/early 20s about this stuff because I knew I *would* save if I *could*, I simply didn’t have the freedom to do so while paying all the bills/family debt. That was at least 7 years of anxiety to do better before I was through with debt and could save.

        On the other hand, if you took away the obstacles and the anxiety, what level of motivation would there have been to save as wisely as possible? Possibly I would have just leaned back and enjoyed life for a while too?

        In this case, I don’t think hindsight is 20/20 either.

  2. Love this. Because 1) the saver parable and other examples are tired and 2) What good does that info do you if you can’t take advantage of it?? I grasped the parable at 16, but because of my education and other obligations, I couldn’t do anything about it until I was 26. Still early, but the story just leaves people feeling bad unless they can act today.
    I also feel like we are all doing ourselves a disservice if we are strictly financially responsible all the time. You navigated New York with a sweet museum pass. I made some serious financial mistakes while having the time of my life. We are supposed to learn about ourselves when we are young. There is no better time to be broke or make bad decisions. I’ll take those 10 years of missed savings. It made me who I am today and who I am today is pretty cool, if I do say so myself!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I agree, who you are today is pretty cool 🙂 Yeah, my real problem with the parable is that, unless you are exactly in its target audience (teens/early 20s, with no debt and a full-time job) it mostly just makes you feel like you’ve been wasting your life. I wasn’t being very responsible to my future self financially, when I was in my twenties, but I was stocking up on experiences and knowledge that will serve me pretty well, I feel like. So….

  3. I totally know the parable. It bugs me too…it makes me long for earlier days when I could have made different choices. But seriously, I have to focus on making good choices now, at 32, not worry what I wasn’t doing

    And I think you’re right about not focusing on earning more and having a huge pot of dough. While I think there’s a lot to be said about being wise and thinking about the future, life is about WAY more than money.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, your blog title works here — it’s about being a “good steward” of what we have, right?

  4. DebtFreeJD says:

    I find that parable very frustrating too. I (think?) I took a path that most people would consider socially acceptable – went to a good college on a scholarship, graduated with no debt, went to the second-best law school in the country, graduated with the cost of tuition in debt ($150,000), clerked for two years, and then started at a firm, and I AM STILL turning 30 with virtually no retirement savings, a bit left in law school debt, and no taxable savings.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yup. You definitely took a socially acceptable path! And there you go. When all you hear is how TIME’S A WASTING, it can be motivational, but it can also be pretty depressing, and I think for some people even de-motivating — I can see how a person could think, well, I didn’t start at 18, so I’m doomed.

  5. Kirsten says:

    Amen, sister. I think some of these types of posts come across as self righteous or you-are-dumb-if-you-don’t-do-this. It ignores the reality of most people’s situation.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I think people mean well — they are aiming at kids who really do have 40 years left — but it kind of hurts when you’re older/broker and read it, yeah.

  6. “if all my years as a leftist have taught me anything, it’s that capitalism doesn’t usually have my best interests at heart. ”

    Oh boy!

    I don’t think all is lost if you started saving for retirement late. We didn’t start until it our late 20s, but have more than made up for it.
    I would never count on social security for any part of my retirement plans, but not because I think they will close it down altogether and keep all our money. The reason I won’t count on it is because I don’t want to retire at 67. Who knows what the retirement age will be 30-some years from now? Saving steadily for retirement is the one way I know I will retire when I want to.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I don’t think you even have to be a leftist to conclude, accurately, that capitalism doesn’t “care” about you personally 🙂 It’s a system that perpetuates itself, but doesn’t take much account of the human beings who either succeed or fail within it. That said, I do try to take some advantage of knowing how it operates! Part of that is saving steadily. You’re totally right that that’s the way to having control. I agree, too, that relying entirely on SS is a recipe for being really poor in your old age, and also on maybe having to delay longer than you want to. I wouldn’t want to do that, for sure. I just want people to stop being alarmist about Social Security as a system. It’s not “going broke” unless Congress lets it — and there’s basically zero evidence that that will ever be able to happen, no matter how much some people want it to.

  7. Hahaha, if you start saving x when you are y, you’ll have a gazillion dollars when you’re 75! I feel the same you do. While technically true (sometimes), these statements never take into account real life, which sometimes gets in the way of our financial savings fairy tales.

    1. thesingledollar says:


  8. Kristin says:

    Hahaha this is great! It’s exactly like the whole “if you hadn’t spent $5 on a coffee every day, you would be a billionaire!” theory. I didn’t even know anything about IRA’s and 401k’s until a few years ago (literally none of my employers ever offered these benefits), but somehow managed to buy (and still own) a house when I was 23. My financial journey has been a hot mess! I really, really wish there was a mandatory class I had to take in high school or college that taught me all this when I was younger 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I knew what compound interest was (learned about it in 6th grade) but nobody ever walked me through the math of making retirement “work.” Would’ve been nice! Oh well. My point is that we hot messes are still going to be just fine.

  9. I love this!!! Seriously, this is one of the best posts I’ve read in a while. Thank you for injecting a little reality into the conversation.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Aw, thank you. I don’t want to diminish the importance of saving early and earning more, but sometimes I get a little irritated at the one-size-fits-all advice.

  10. Cindy says:

    Yeah, sometimes I feel like those articles are just a list of every mistake I’ve made. I start to feel like I’ve ruined my whole future for being headstrong and ignorant in the past. Then I remind myself that I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t done what I’d done. And I’m happy now, so does having less money really matter?

    I also think there’s the big unknown in all of that. If all goes as planned, I’ll be marrying someone with a pension and a better income than mine, which will help my situation. On the flip side, his situation would be better if he hadn’t gotten divorced (and lost half of everything). But I’ve taught him to be happy living on less, which makes his future situation better, even with less money. And then there’s my sister, who’s 25 year old fiancee just passed away. You just never know what is going to hurt or help your financial situation down the road.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      sometimes I feel like those articles are just a list of every mistake I’ve made — exactly! I know they’re probably not intended that way, but I just feel dumb reading them. It takes a while to remember that all is not lost 🙂 And you’re so right that people rarely have a clue what the future holds in terms of relationships and jobs and money.

  11. Bridget says:

    hahaha I have a post about exactly this in the works!

    So many people come to my blog and FREAK out thinking they’re super behind because they didn’t start saving at age 16. Truthfully, you’re not screwed over until you’re in your 40s or 50s. You miss out some gains from time by starting in your 30s instead of your 20s, but you also tend to be more responsible and have higher earning power in your 30s, which makes it easy to catch up.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Awesome — yours is certain to be funnier and more mathematically sound 🙂 I feel like even people in their 40s and 50s have time — maybe not for early retirement, but for bettering their situation? Absolutely.

  12. Hannah says:

    If you are knowledge worker of some sort, then you’re really not screwed over until your brain starts to go, and at which point the main thing you should be hoping for is kind helpers and friends and family to be by your side. This is my favorite article on the topic.


    Also, if all your years as a leftist taught you capitalism doesn’t care, all my years as a “rightest” taught me the exact same thing. The free market is a historically unprecedented infinite money making machine that requires that the operators are “mostly logical, predictable, and quantifiable”, but logic is pretty obviously the weakest of human impulses, so I’m just tagging along for the ride.*

    *Please note that I am not a prepper although if I was a little more passionate about my beliefs I would be.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks for the post! Will definitely check it out. And yeah, I’m totally counting on kind helpers and friends 🙂 Also, yes, interestingly enough leftists and rightists tend to agree on our wariness of the market! Which is pretty interesting.

  13. Nice post! Yes, I can so relate. While I agree that you’re not totally screwed if start saving for retirement in your 40’s, the amount of sacrifice it takes to properly do so will put a dent in your standard of living. The money that is needed to cover a minimum $15,000-23,000 per year investment will need to be diverted from funds that could have supported more travel or a lower stress/lower salaried job, or fashionable clothes. That money has to come from somewhere.

    As you know, I’m in this boat now, right along with you. I didn’t go the academic route, but struck out into industry. The downside with industry is that, while salaries may be/seem higher, job security is lower. I can’t count on making as much money as I do now at 65. In fact, I can’t count on being employed at 65. Most corporations start pushing you out the door through layoffs and forced retirement once you get into your mid-50’s. It’s cheaper to hire someone younger and healthier. If you’re in Silicon Valley, you can pack it in once you hit 40 or 45,

    On the other hand, in academia, once you get tenure, you can keep working into your 70’s if you want. Maybe that’s the academic advantage.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s totally true that it gets harder as you get older. But we are flexible and creative people (even though sometimes it sucks to have to be flexible and creative) and we’ll be ok.

  14. Jason says:

    As a fellow late starter and academic I definitely can relate. What drives me more crazy is the assault on the humanities from folks in various fields, not necessarily from the blogosphere but politically. Yet research demonstrates that humanities degrees actually pay off financially as you get later on in your career. One of the reasons I love your blog is that it seems a lot of the folks who are doing personal finance blogs are IT folks or finance people. There aren’t a lot of arts and humanities personal finance blogs, let along academics. So kudos to you. Keep ’em coming.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, the attack on the humanities is just weird to me — it doesn’t really make much sense, so it’s just purely ideological. I guess because sometimes we humanists question the wisdom of the market 🙂 Thanks for the support!

  15. Personally I try not to pay attention because, “whoops, it’s too latish.” I mean it’s never too late, but too late to be one of those people who started off straight out of the gate at 21. If I read into all of that too much I’d be pooping my pants because I’m “nowhere where I should be” at 44 financially. I think it’s always best to take any financial advice with a grain of salt. Every person and every situation is totally unique.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I have nothing to say to that except #truth!

  16. Oh snap! This is one of the best posts I´ve read in a while! I couldn´t agree more about not labelling years spent reading, travelling, and learning as “wasted years.” No way–if anything, the fact that our society often does, is a statement on how backwards our societal principals are. And you should definitely not give up a field that you love for one that you don´t, for the sake of earning more. I see so many people producing such junk content for the sake of a dollar, and I wonder how they´re really okay with themselves. Well done, and stay true.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Aw, thank you! I mean, I think the advice to start early and earn more has its place! I just was starting to get really down about it, you know? I’m glad you liked the post. And I agree that our society has some f-ed up priorities. 🙂

  17. (2nd try) What a great post! You are working in a field you love. You have not wasted time or money. You’re setting yourself up well for both middle and old age, and you’re enjoying your youth while doing so. My daughter graduated with her masters in the humanities two years ago, and she’s been gainfully employed with a publishing company ever since. The pay is quite low, but it’s OK. She’s well trained in making a dollar stretch, and she knows how to live large on a tight budget. I couldn’t be more proud of her, and I think that you should be equally proud of yourself. Gold plates aren’t necessary for a happy retirement. Good health, both physical and financial, as well as interests, worthy causes, and great friendships are what I’m hoping to find in retirement. You should have a strong, quiet confidence that you’re on the right track – and that annoying parable should not have the power to unsettle you. Here’s hoping it just fades into innocuous white noise.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Good health, both physical and financial, as well as interests, worthy causes, and great friendships are what I’m hoping to find in retirement. AMEN! I don’t know whether I’m proud of myself or not, but I think I’m making decent choices from within the place that I am. And most of all I think that we should be open to a variety of paths in life, many of which can be called “success.”

  18. Great post! I didn’t start saving for retirement until age 26 and I agree that whenever I read parables like that it makes me feel like I started late! But then I remind myself of the stats I always hear about how pitifully little that most Americans have saved for retirement, and I don’t feel so bad anymore! I think even starting in the late 20s or 30s there is PLENTY of time still to take advantage of compound interest. Who starts saving for retirement at age 15 anyway???

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! I think there are some amazingly together 15-year-olds out there…but basically most of us are not that with it, and I think we will still be ok 🙂

  19. Kathy says:

    Here’s another parable….The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

    The failure…moral or otherwise…is not that you didn’t start back then but if you don’t start now, knowing it needs to be done. While I don’t think Social Security will be eliminated, I do think it will be restricted or means tested so that some people who pay in for 40+ years will end up not being eligible to receive benefits. Already, my SS benefit is taxed 100% even though it was already taxed when the FICA deduction was taken out of my paycheck pre-retirement. Capitalism is an economic concept. It isn’t a human or even a warm puppy who that has feelings or emotions. It is still better than other economies, IMHO.

  20. Kalie says:

    I’m still pretty young and the “if you start investing X amount at age 20” examples also drive me crazy because aren’t most people still in college then? The information that starting early makes a difference is helpful, but let’s be realistic–(almost) no one is investing in index funds at age 20!

    The whole retirement thing is not a race to the finish line, and those who get there first are inherently better than others. It’s more about taking charge of your financial and life decisions instead of just going with the flow of lifestyle inflation. We’ve been calling it financial flexibility instead of independence, freedom, or early retirement, because we view it as more of a journey and a continuum of increasing life options, rather than a race or destination.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I really like financial flexibility! It’s definitely not a race — everyone’s on their own journey.

  21. Catherine says:

    Love this. I’ll also be “late” starting to save for retirement- late in PF world that is- i did 2 university degrees and took my good ol time starting serious payback. Retirement savings for my husband and I won’t start until I’m 32-33 probably. A solid 30+ yrs of investing and jobs with pay increases. Great post 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Well, 32-33, you’ll be ahead of me anyway! 🙂 But you guys are so impressive with your dedication and progress to date — I really don’t think it will take you long to get the ball rolling on the retirement thing. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  22. Mark AW says:

    As a humanities major, do you not like the parable because it is about math? Joking aside, I think even though the lesson does not directly help the 20 year old you, it helps the 35 year old you, who still has plenty of time to take advantage of the power of compound interest. Your mindset also determines how you interpret the lesson. For some, it might seem like an attack on their previous life and decisions. For others, it might help them realize that they do still have plenty of time to allow their savings to compound and grow. Even greater, you can teach your children/young people about it from a early age, giving them the advantage they can use in their lives. Thanks for your humorous take on the subject!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you for the comment! I am totally looking forward to teaching my godchildren a little bit about money.

  23. As another 36 year old, I feel ya deep in *my* ancient bones. I was on disability in my 20s and some of my 30s. We’re still a single-income family now that my husband had to go in disability. And medical bills continue to pack a punch. So we’re way behind. And we ain’t catchin’ up soon. (I have no idea why I’m so colloquial right now, but I’m going for it.)

    We’re still not able to max out even a single Roth. Next year — God willing and the creek don’t rise — I want to open and max out a SEP. But who knows what fun wrinkles will get brought up? We’re going to try one last time at this pregnancy thing, I think. If that takes, we’ll have an adorable, squalling tax deduction but also big hospital bills.

    So yeah, these parables serve only to make me feel guilty, frustrated and envious of “normal” people who had a lot more financial opportunities in their youth. And it makes me go check the mirror to see if it’s time to dye my hair again. Because vanity.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I am determined to go grey gracefully! Saves $$ 🙂 But yeah, I feel you — the vagaries of life can be really rough on finances. Medical bills in this country, especially, hit so unequally, and are so hard to plan for 🙁

  24. I think a lot of people who push some kind of behavior modification have to walk this line between painting a rosy future for those who make the modification young and telling others that it’s really not too late – smoking cessation, health eating/exercise, etc. It’s a difficult balance to strike and sometimes people swing too far one way or the other.

    I hadn’t thought about it with the saver’s parable specifically, but I think the problem is exacerbated by the head-to-head comparison. When I teach about compound interest (now – not to say I haven’t used the saver’s parable in the past) I just present the one side of starting now/within a few years. The numbers are impressive enough to motivate people to start saving as soon as they are able to without demonizing delaying per se.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I like that variation — the “start now” vs “start later” compares two things that the person actually has the option of doing!

  25. Alaska 49 says:

    My boys love these type of stories and all three started their IRA at 14 with their lawn mowing money. They grasp compounding….which is the big take-away from all stories like this.

  26. David Dodenhoff says:

    The question is, how long do you think $500k will last you in retirement, 20 years from now?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Well, I personally expect to have much more than that, actually, but the point of my post was something different — really, that $500K plus social security is not only much better than nothing plus social security, but even with inflation will produce a reasonable life. No, you won’t be a global traveler or maintaining a townhouse in San Francisco, but you will manage. I dislike the alarmist tone that suggests that there is no middle ground between wealth and dire poverty.

  27. Candice says:

    *raises hand* Choirr present.

    But seriously, reading your blog is probably why I don’t have a blog…you understand and exfoliate much of my experience (which speaks to their universal nature) that I don’t know that I could write about them with a uniqueness to justify my time or the writing space.

    Although, perhaps I could write about the beginning of the journey…

    – Recently accepted humanities graduate student; leaving the for profit sector for academia; single and 29

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Oh dear — are you sure you want to do that….? Glad you’re enjoying the blog, though I suspect I’m more of a cautionary tale than a model to emulate.

      1. Candice says:

        “…though I suspect I’m more of a cautionary tale than a model to emulate.” When I was typing this during a break at work I thought to wait and type later when I had more time to respond…

        I don’t hope to emulate you but when I read your writing on certain topics I can appreciate the common values as to what makes a life. I went to an Ivy League university and many of my fellow alums left the university, even at the height of the recession in 2008, for jobs in banking, medicine, or law. My time there was spent much more liberally and I can honestly say that I would not have become who I am as a person had I not attended that university at the time I did. It was about more than connections and networking…it was about my development and maturation as a person; someone who is open to the world and engages it. I like myself as person. I couldn’t always say that I know that much of that experience was due to my undergraduate experience.

        Since that time I have spent time abroad, opened a restaurant, etc. A ton of things that prevented me from entering the corporate sector and “saving” as fast as I “ought.” But things that ultimately helped me to become who I am. There have been moments where I have struggled with “where” I am. The “what ifs” I had done this or that or gone to law school… I have come to realize that this often happens when I am with people who have different values than I do. People who are principally concerned with objects and a certain lifestyle. It has taken me well into my late twenties to realize I don’t care about those things.

        I want enough to support myself, I want to enjoy my work, and I want my time on this blue marble to feel like it has meant something to me and to have positively impacted the life of someone else and I don’t care if I am ever rich as long as I have “enough.” (Yes, yes, I know, “enough” is subjective…as it should be. I know what “enough” is for me.)

        Everyone laments academia is dying. And perhaps it is. But I have found that a lot of those people are lamenting the death of the tenured academic. And while I do think this is pitiable, it’s not the life I want. I want to work at a community college in an inner city, I want to teach philosophy, I want to coach urban league debate, and I want to offer someone, anyone, the opportunity to question “all of this” the way someone else once suggested I question.

        This has grown a bit long in the tooth and is no where near as organized as it could have been or ought to be, but I wanted to respond to you and I didn’t know when I might get another opportunity. I hope this helps you to understand my earlier response a bit more clearly.

        1. thesingledollar says:

          It makes a lot of sense, and thanks for the wonderful, detailed reply! I really hope your life plan works out because lord knows we need it 🙂

  28. ARBM says:

    I love this post!
    I always feel like I’m a late-comer to the world of personal finance and feel guilty thinking about how much farther ahead I could have been if I had started saving for retirement right out of university. But I don’t have to, right? I’m starting now, and I know I will be fine, now that I am aware and working on my financial education.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I mean, there’s not much point in feeling guilty about not having been a totally different person at 20 or 22. I think the better idea is to be as aware of your options in the present day as possible!

  29. Elizabeth says:

    Glad someone brought up disability. This may be the exception, not the norm, but it can total any plans you may have, not to mention any savings. Three years after I launched a new career in my late forties (by attending law school and passing the Bar — I had previously been a medical writer) I discovered that botched back surgery was turning me into a hunchback, virtually overnight. (There are an estimated one million people, mostly women, in the same boat, thanks to faulty hardware which was state-of-the-art in scoliosis surgery for some 30 years, though it’s now thoroughly discredited and defunct.) I have now undergone six additional massive spinal reconstructions. The disability coincided with a separation from my spouse of 23 years (who had mostly lived off me), a child still in school, and a firsthand introduction to semi-poverty. Mercifully my law school loans were forgiven on grounds that I was “permanently or terminally disabled.”

    I am now 66 and been supported primarily by Social Security for many years . I never could have predicted that this would happen to me — or that I could find actual joy and satisfaction in the face of enforced frugality and so-called “idleness.”. I am a very creative, resourceful person and have learned to make things, repair things, surround myself with beauty and inspiration. I continue to write for pleasure and have also learned that I have some artistic talent — something I was way too busy to discover in the midst of my years as a gainfully employed professional.

    Reading this excellent, right-on article, I started cogitating upon my own pathetic lack of any savings or investments for retirement — then suddenly remembered, “Hey, wait a minute — I’m ALREADY retired!”

    I had NO choice re when to retire — and yet my early, forced retirement has not been nearly the catastrophe it’s supposed to be for someone in my woeful income bracket. At the risk of sounding like some pie-in-the-sky positron, I keep a gratitude journal and count my blessings daily. I appreciate relationships, family, decent and friendly human behavior more than I ever did before — I do believe this is why we are here, to help and cheer and love each other as often and wholeheartedly as possible. Having a few material goods is also nice, but far less necessary to me than it seemed a couple decades ago. Was there really a time when I blew a whole monetary award in journalism on designer duds, when I absolutely required cable TV and weekly manicures? My life is so much richer now, in so many ways.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Elizabeth, thank you for this lovely, thoughtful, and thorough comment. I think it’s really hard for many people to envision living a satisfying life on a low income. I’m really sorry about all the medical issues — they sound incredibly painful and scary — but I am so glad that you’ve worked your way to a truly rich life.

  30. Marie says:

    Thank you for this article!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed! Thanks for reading!

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