“Your twenties are the best time for compound growth!” is a regular line on the YouTube channel Caleb Hammer. The channel, which is more like a podcast, invites people in dire financial situations, audits their finances, yells at them for getting too many taquitos, and then gives them solutions to get out of debt and prevent them from “dying on the Walmart floor.”
The show’s addicting in a way I can’t explain. It’s also made me think about my financial future in a way nothing else ever has.
On the one hand, I take comfort in the fact that my only debt is my student loans, I am still in my twenties, and I actually have an emergency fund. On the other hand, I’m freaking out.
I’m just now starting to save for retirement. I wish I had started earlier, but in hindsight, I struggle to see when I had the financial flexibility to do so. There was a time when I was a teenager and worked at Cracker Barrel where they offered to match a percentage, but I was doing everything I could to pay for as much of my college tuition as I could then (and I also was scared I wouldn’t know how to access the funds years from now).
I’m still holding out on winning the lottery on a ticket I’ll never buy. I’ll admit that when the Mega Millions has gone over $1 billion, I’ve thought about the “what if” before reminding myself what 1 in 302.6 million odds look like in decimal form (0.00000000330469266 or 0.000000330469266%).
Since I have to plan for retirement like a normal person, I’ve found myself obsessively changing percentage points on a retirement calculator. “Maybe if I save ten percent a year instead of nine percent, I can comfortably retire by sixty-five,” I tell myself as I adjust the annual contribution slider by one percent. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and the rate of return will be nine percent instead of seven.”
The numbers just aren’t adding up. The calculator keeps telling me I run out of funds within ten years of retirement. (I think the calculator is broken.)
I’ve never been a forward-thinking person. I don’t make outrageous spending decisions that put me over my credit limit, but I’ve never been able to draw up a five-year plan either. I save what I don’t spend without really thinking about what I’m saving for. So, when I start looking ahead to retirement, something that is still forty years from now, it gets a little overwhelming.
I don’t know what the future holds, obviously, but there’s a part of me that believes that now is the best time to save as much as I possibly can. I feel pressure from myself to put as much as I can into a 401k without harming immediate needs and to live as frugally as possible.
But maybe not? I’m not trying to FIRE it. I just want to be able to retire. Period. Will I be able to buy a home that doubles its value? Probably not. Will I be able to purchase a home at all?
I know I’m not alone when it comes to worrying about retirement, especially at my age. A lot of millennials feel behind on retirement and a lot of Gen Z don’t think they can retire. The easy solution is for me to just try my best, save what I can, and not stress over what I can’t control.
But then the retirement calculator says I’ll run out of money at seventy-five, and then I start to worry again.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.