My 401K Had an 80% Return! Here’s How I Did It.

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This may not be a newsflash to some of you, but I have plans to retire someday. For that, I need to grow my money and investments to a number that will supply my wife and I with the life that we want in retirement. A 401K is a good option for that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t start investing when I should. I started working at Panera Bread when I was 18 years old and quickly became a manager there. While they didn’t have a 401K plan (that I remember), they did have a stock options program.

I had the opportunity to buy stock at a discounted rate, ensuring that I would get at least some sort of return. Did I take advantage of that?

Nope! (Facepalm)

Instead, I waited until the middle of March of last year to start investing for myself—a half month before my 32nd birthday. Yep. I’ve wasted almost 14 years of compound interest.

What’s even worse is that I’ve been at current job since December 1st, 2014, well over a year before I started investing in my 401K. Worse yet? I was automatically enrolled in 401K. I had to elect to not be enrolled (even harder facepalm).

Luckily we’ve been investing in my wife’s 401K for a few years now. We are still way late to the party on that one though too. We don’t even have enough invested in 401Ks to cover our expenses for a year right now!

If you’re in the same boat as me, it’s important to grow your money as fast as possible, especially if you have aspirations to retire early. You have to take advantage of whatever you can to grow your money.

my-401k-had-an-80-return-pinterestMy 80% Return on My 401K

Yes my return really was over 80% last year. And that’s not counting the tax savings from having the money taken directly out of my check. So how did I get an out of this world return on my investment? Simple.

Company match.

That’s it.

There is no secret formula, no secret time of day to trade stocks, no certain stocks to buy over others.

I put in 5% of my pay, my company matches 4%. 80% return.

Why is This Important?

Why is this so important as to dedicate an entire blog post to it?

First, there are a lot of people that don’t take advantage of their companies match (think me for over a year after I got hired).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics used the Survey of Income and Program Participation from the U.S Census Bureau for a report published in May of 2015. In it, they found that “59 percent of eligible workers in the bottom income tercile participate in a DC plan, compared with 85 percent of those in the top tercile who do.” DC stands for “Defined Contribution.”

So 41% of lower income workers and 15% of higher income workers don’t take advantage of a defined contribution plan. Since this is part of the Census, that means there are quite a lot of people that are not taking advantage of their employers defined contribution plan.

Second, there are a ton of people that are not investing enough to take full advantage of their companies match! The same study found that, only 30% of those that are signed up for a defined contribution plan are electing to defer enough income to get to the maximum employer match.

Say what?! That doesn’t make any sense to me.

You can view the entire (lengthy) article here if you’re interested.

Leaving Money on the Table

If your employer offers a 401K match and you’re not taking advantage of the full match (or any match at all!), then you are quite literally leaving money on the table.

Think about it this way.

When you apply for a job, get it and head into the meeting to formally be extended an offer, they usually include the salary at that point. You sit down and they extend you an offer with a salary of $35,000 a year.

Your reaction is “Great! I’ll take it but I’ll only accept $32,000 a year.” Would any of you say that?

This is pretty much what I was doing for over a year after getting hired. This is what you’re doing if you are not taking FULL advantage of your companies match.

Your 401K match is considered part of your compensation package. It is your money if you elect to defer some of your income to retirement.

Let’s look at some quick numbers. Let’s say you are making $35,000 a year, get paid 26 times a year, and have a company match similar to mine—4% match if I defer 5%. Your 5% per paycheck amounts to $67.31. The company matching 4% would put in an additional $53.84. Keep in mind this is pretax money.

You could invest an extra $1,400 a year directly into your 401K! If you invest, your salary is essentially $36,400.

It’s even better if your company matches exactly what you are deferring. That’s a 100% rate of return!

It is a no brainer to take advantage of it.

Take Action

2017 is going to be a different year. Almost every blog post is going to have a short “Take Action” section at the bottom to close out the post. These will be something actionable for you to try with your finances based off the content of the post.

If you are working at a company that provides a match for your 401K contributions, I encourage you to take advantage of it to it’s fullest. Sure, you may have to bump up your contribution percentage, but it’s worth it to find a way. Your check may not be as high as it usually is, but it will do wonders for growing your retirement income.

Think about that 80% return. You are getting a guaranteed rate of return on your money. That’s unheard of in the stock market. Cut out an expense or two. Eat out one less time a month. Do whatever it takes to find a way to make it happen. You won’t be disappointed.

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Hey! I'm Tim.

I’m a budgeting and personal finance expert, author, and Certified Financial Coach. My mission is to not only teach you money principles, but to teach you how to mold them to fit who you are and build the life you want. I don’t like typical money advice. I’ve tried to fit into a mold by using typical money advice and I had less control of my money and went further into unnecessary debt. Now, I live to teach others how to break the mold in their own lives and find their version of financial freedom. Read more about me.

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