We get it already. We should have started investing yesterday.
If you ask any personal finance guru what their best piece of advice to any young adult would be it would probably read something like this:
Begin investing as early as possible.
I’ve heard it all.
If you aren’t investing or can’t afford to invest then you should be contributing to a 401K or an IRA at the very least.
The best time to start is yesterday, they say.
Compound interest is your best money friend.
I’m here to say that I get it. You’re giving us sound advice and I appreciate that you’re trying to help.
But you’re not helping us really.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that there are plenty of us who simply can’t afford to invest in their retirement right now.
We’re living paycheck to paycheck. We’re rubbing pennies together and eating ramen noodles and living at home and driving ten year old cars that threaten to fall apart every time we start the engine.
So you offer up even more money advice.
You can start small, you suggest. Even $20 a month is something.
You’re right. $20 isn’t much at all. But for some people $20 a month is the difference between eating, having medication, or not.
So retirement has to wait.
We did everything we were told to do so that we would succeed. We got good grades in high school. We signed up for all the impressive extracurriculars. We went to good schools and got better grades. We suffered through unpaid internships and research projects. We did it all and we’re still here. Stuck in the same kind of useless, ill paying jobs we had in high school. The ones we swore we would never work again.
“You should have majored in STEM. You should have been a nurse or a doctor or an engineer. You’re not marketable enough.”
Is that why plenty of my nursing and engineering friends couldn’t find jobs in their fields? Is that why some of them are still working retail?
They did everything you told me and more. They picked the “right” major.
They weren’t like me. They didn’t major in psychology. They finished out their internships when I quit my own.
Yet here they are, in the same leaking boat as me.
“Work on increasing your income. Build your skills.”
I do dammit. I take classes online. I’m trying to get a better paying job. But competition is fierce and most of us refuse to give up our lives and our health for a job that pays better yet requires more and more of us. More time. An extremely long commute. On call hours. These are parts we aren’t willing to give.
If you can’t find a job, you say, you need to move somewhere jobs are plentiful.
Right you are, except I couldn’t afford rent on top of my car payment and loan payments, let alone have money for food or gas or medical care. I stay at home because that’s all I can afford. I certainly could never afford to move to a city like New York or Seattle where there are supposedly plenty of jobs.
I could drive farther for my job. I could commute an hour to the city and back each day. But working in the city is expensive too. More gas. The cost of parking. And time is important to me. Trading twelve hours of my day for a few more dollars an hour doesn’t seem like a fair trade after all.
You could go back to school, you offer, in your last ditch attempt to offer me any bit of sound advice.
And I could, I think. Except going back to school would require me quitting my job or cutting back for a more flexible, less well-paying job that would work with my schedule. And if I want to go to nursing school or any of the other lucrative fields I’m interested in I probably wouldn’t be able to work at all.
So I would have to take out more loans and let my current loans balloon when I stopped making payments.
Going back to school could increase my earning potential, but just as my psychology degree doesn’t guarantee me a job, neither would a nursing degree. So I could end up unemployed with even more debt and higher payments that I can’t afford.
So that’s not really an option either.
So I can’t invest. I can’t move for a job. I can’t go back to school.
So what can I do?
You offer up the idea of side hustles.
There are 24 hours in the day. You don’t spend all of them working or sleeping or eating or pissing or fucking. Stop screwing around. You should work on monetizing your hobbies. Drive for Uber. Freelance.
And I do. Write for extra money that is. But I can’t spend every waking moment working to earn some extra money. That’s the perfect recipe for burnout.
I can only do so much.