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One Less Latte, One More Retirement Savings Contribution

Wednesday October 23, 2013

Working always has been a privilege and an honor for me. From the moment I was legally able, which in my case was the age of 13, I have held a job. As part of my duties, I have perfected the ice cream cone, salted McDonald's world-famous French fries, and advised young ladies on wardrobe choices at Loft. Whether part-time or full-time, after school or on the weekends, as a teenager, work kept me busy.

Today, I work for an agency focused on retirement. Considering the people we serve at PBGC, I pondered what it meant beyond being a federal employee.

The summer of my freshman year in high school, I was a clerical aide in the Prince George's County Summer Youth Enrichment Program. I spent my days in the registrar's office at Crossland High School, meticulously filing report cards and politely answering incoming calls. My net bi-weekly income was about $250 dollars and my Baby Boomer mom would take 10 percent ($25 dollars) from each paycheck. At the time, I didn't understand, nor care why she was doing this. I just saw my funds being depleted — money I thought could have been used on more important items such as the latest release of Jordan sneakers or the a la carte items at the school lunch line.

I rolled my eyes and sometimes huffed and puffed at her demand to "hand it over." I couldn't understand what she was doing, but later realized the seeds she had planted. Four months after earning my bachelor's degree, I started work at my first full-time job. This time mom wasn't asking for the usual 10 percent. Instead, she wanted to sit down over takeout pizza and talk about options for opening my first retirement account. By the third slice of extra cheese pizza, my head was swimming. I was a deer caught in the headlights, stung and confused. Mom, on the other hand, was giddy, and excited to see me taking my first step toward investing in my future.

Looking back on her methods, it became clear to me. The hefty deposit she used to open the account was the 10 percent that didn't go toward footwear or fast food.

The saying that parents want a better life for their children than what they had for themselves holds true. As I already mentioned, my mom is a Baby Boomer just passing along some tough lessons to her Generation XY daughter.

Recent studies prove that most Americans are not prepared for retirement and Baby Boomers are the generation least prepared.

Part of the reason may be that Boomers are sandwiched between taking care of their parents and paying for their children's college tuition. And, many of them suffered a financial blow to their investment portfolio with the market meltdown in 2008 trumpeted by headlines like "Retirement of Baby Boomers at Risk."

But, what's being said about my generation – the Generation X and Y?

If you're my age, 27, or close to it, you'll realize that we fall on the XY Cusp, also known as the MTV Generation. We're caught between the end of Generation X and the start of Generation Y, mainly living out our childhood through the 80s and our teen years during the mid-90s. Our generation was influenced by the launch of MTV, and the popularization of Web technology after 1995.

People think my generation is so absorbed with the present that we don't care about the future, but that's not the case. That's not who we are. We are the generation committed to making connections, both genuinely and virtually. We follow the ever changing social scene and want to become part of something bigger than ourselves.

The uncertainty of the economy and the sacrifice it takes for us to save for retirement pushes some of us to avoid it.

Faced with entry level salaries if we're lucky to find employment, student loan payments, and the rising cost of healthcare, some of us would rather skip that extra bi-weekly deduction. But I challenge my generation to skip at least one run to Starbucks a week, or the weekly happy hour indulgence. Just a few small adjustments in the way we spend money can help lead to saving more for our retirement. And, reading a little advice on financial planning can get you on your way.

One thing we have on our side is time. Not time to delay, but time to understand what all the jargon means, and time to start saving for retirement ... NOW!

Experts advise us to have at least one year's salary saved by the time we're 35 – the clock is ticking.