I should probably preface all this by saying I’ve never thought much about money. Growing up, I was the one holding down the minimum-wage job at the swim club for all those years, if only to solidify my reputation as the all-time ping pong champion.
I only mention this because long-term financial planning has been pretty far down on my list of priorities.
So when I received my college diploma in 2008, I was a bit surprised to be given a graduation present titled “A Guide For Individual Retirement Planning.”
The book was laminated, bound, and written by my step-grandfather. It mapped out the perfect scenario for my financial future. For only $300 a month, and a compounding interest rate, he had me retiring in style on a tropical beach with $1,015,319 stashed away in a bank account.
His booklet explained nest eggs and Roth IRAs and encouraged me to browse the IRS Publication 590.
It was the financial education I was always able to avoid with a liberal arts degree.
No doubt, my step-grandfather had the most business sense of anyone I’ve known. He
earned a business degree from Harvard and retired comfortably in a waterfront house near Annapolis.
It’s pretty clear I don’t have any of his genes.
He’d dish out stock tips when I came over to clean out the gutters. He said to invest in tobacco, there will always be smokers.
I’ve moved three times since then. But his booklet has always held a visible place on my desk, a constant reminder that, at 25, I have so far contributed absolutely nothing to my retirement. (I console myself by saying I can write well into my 70s.)
Sure, I started once, even had $300 saved up back when I worked in Baltimore. That was withdrawn, with penalty, for car repairs.
But I won’t tuck the booklet away. No, if nothing else, I’ll guilt myself into saving for retirement. The next paycheck, I say. Start small. One-hundred dollars over 50 years, a 5 percent interest rate, you do the math.
I may not have a nest egg fattening up, yet, but I still feel his small booklet is the best advice I’ll ever get. Just going through it now, I can smell the sea breeze.
My step-grandfather passed away before any of my five cousins graduated college. But I wonder if any of them would have received the booklet. I wonder if he would have felt the need to set them on the path to financial responsibility.
Maybe just me. Maybe with me he saw the writing on the wall.
I was 8 at his wedding and didn’t understand the champagne toast. They found me passed out beneath the banquet table.