As a millennial, I’m not saving for retirement

Photo by Andreas Wagner on Unsplash

When I said “no” to traditional retirement

In high school, my mom and dad were actively involved with a successful multi-level marketing company.

Because my parents are awesome, they involved my brothers and me by introducing us to the product, explaining the financial model and even bringing us to one of their team meetings.

I’ll never forget that meeting.

It was led by two local Team Leaders, a healthy and good-looking married couple in their late 30s / early 40s with several children.

I’ll always remember the woman telling us about what she did that day: sleeping in until 9am, working out with a personal trainer, playing outside with her kids for several hours, responding to some emails in the afternoon, and then coming to this meeting. She kept talking about the incredible freedom she had because of the income from this product.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes at multi-level marketing or her story, but a lightbulb went off for me. I was hooked.

You didn’t have to wait until retirement for this kind of lifestyle?

What drew me in wasn’t the fact that she didn’t work much that day. It was this idea that she didn’t have to. She had freedom beyond the 9-5 world. That made too much sense to me.

Even though that company wasn’t the platform for me personally (who knew I couldn’t get teenagers to invest $143 per month?), that experience forever changed my perspective on the traditional retirement model.

Why I’m not saving for retirement

Four years later, I read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, and this time it wasn’t a lightbulb. The mothership was calling me home.

I love his three reasons why retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed:

  1. It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life.”
  2. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even $1 million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn't work.”
  3. “If the math does work, it means that you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that's the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you'll be so damn bored you'll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes. You'll probably opt to look for a new job or start another company. Kinda defeats the purpose of waiting, doesn't it?”

Some other reasons I’ve decided retirement is not for me:

  • Social Security. I think we can all agree the future is very uncertain, and I’m not sure I’d want to rely on it anyway.
  • According to an Axios article, a child born today in the USA has a 50:50 chance of reaching 104, and the first person that will live to 150 years old has already been born. The retirement age was set when the life expectancy was only a few years beyond it. But as people started living longer, instead of changing the target age, we’ve built a culture that prioritizes making and saving as much money as you can (even if it means being miserable in a soul-crushing career), hoping it’s enough to support a habit of doing nothing for 30-85 years.

What I’m doing instead

1. Doing work I love

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’re like me: maybe it has to be in the right context, but you love working hard, producing something meaningful and helping people.

Why stop for retirement?

I started out on the traditional path: graduate high school, go to college, start a safe career and start saving for retirement.

But I knew the longer I waited to do what I really wanted, the more addicting and necessary the stable salary and promotions would become, making it harder and harder to leave.

So after a failed promotion attempt and three years at the company, I left Corporate America to do what I hope to be doing some version of for the rest of my life.

This will support my family and me well beyond 65.

And if I’m not lucky enough to get to 65, then at least I spent my time doing what I love.

2. Living for Now

In addition to doing what I love, I’m more interested in living well right now than postponing my life for some future date.

When I was working, I could have put more away in my 401(k), but I only contributed up to my company’s match percentage because I knew there were more important things I didn’t want to wait for (starting a company, investing in real estate, paying down student loans).

I could have been more Mark Cuban-like (frugal) during my first few years as an entrepreneur, but I didn’t want to completely give up doing other stuff I loved (traveling, concerts, Chicago restaurants), which made the tougher days (which there have been plenty of) much easier to bear.

Zach Conway, a millennial financial advisor, wrote a great article for Forbes about the alternative outlets where our generation is putting their money instead of maxing out retirement savings.

3. Skilling up

Last month we attended a conference in Boston called Work+EDU about the future of work and education.

The main takeaway: disruption from innovation/automation is coming fast, even to industries that might seem “immune.”

This means the rate of new jobs being created and old jobs becoming obsolete is going to continue accelerating, making our 12-16 year education more and more irrelevant.

As a result, we need to realize our learning days didn’t stop when we graduated.

Photo by Josh Sobel on Unsplash

We have to consistently develop new skills through formal or informal education, so we can continue providing value in the workforce well into our 70s and 80s (and soon, 90s and 100s).

One the best things about being an entrepreneur has been having to develop a wide range of valuable skills (sales, email marketing, presentation and public speaking, copywriting, website development). It’s also forced me to learn and think about how innovations like blockchain, AI and machine learning will impact the future of our company.

Becoming a lifelong learner will be more important than ever to support ourselves and our families long after the minimum retirement age.

Call to Action

The traditional model of retirement devalues time, the most important resource in the world, by postponing our ideal life.

Whether it’s through Tim Ferriss-style mini-retirements or creating a life you never want to retire from, there’s no better time than right now to do work you love, live to the fullest and expand your skill set.


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