I was wondering what you thought about our decision not to start contributing to a 401k until we are out of debt. My husband and I are both early 30’s and while it scares me sometimes that we have not even started saving for retirement, I feel a stronger need to get out of debt first. We have a long way to go on our debt-free plan (four to five years), so I don’t know if we should try to do both at the same time, because it would slow the debt payoff. What would you do if you were in our shoes? Thanks for your advice! -Alysia
The question of continuing retirement investing while paying off debt or getting onto a better financial footing is a tough one. There are many opinions, but you specifically asked what we would do so that makes it much easier.
I started retirement investing about a year after graduating from law school. At the time, I was working for a government agency and was not eligible to contribute into the State’s retirement system, because I had not been working as a full time government employee long enough.
I had the opportunity to take advantage of a deferred payment plan, but elected to keep more of my paycheck to help us get our emergency fund established. Once we reached our $1000 emergency fund level, I cut up the credit card I was keeping from law school supposedly for “emergencies.” Having the same amount of cash that I had as a credit level made me feel a lot more free to get rid of the thing.
It was not until then that I sat down and began planning for retirement. Because we were in our late 20’s, I opted to only throw a couple hundred dollars at it monthly through my automatic investment program with the mutual fund provider. This allowed us to save more towards our short-term goals. I know Dave Ramsey may not approve, but that is what I did because it fit our budget and our plan.
When we started saving in earnest for our house, I stopped retirement savings and funneled everything to that savings goal. My thinking was that we are young and would much rather have a paid-for house now and catch up on our retirement savings later. However, if we didn’t have the blessing of a good income and low expenses and it was going to take us longer than five years to pay cash for a house, we likely would have tweaked our plan and saved for retirement while we were saving for a house.
So, to answer your question, yes, I would (and did!) stop retirement in the short-run to build momentum to meet short-term savings goals but only if this would put us in a better long-term financial situation.
If it is just saving for a vacation or a new car, forget about it. Nothing in the short-run, apart from paying cash for a house or paying off debt, would deter me from taking advantage of the Eighth Wonder of the World in my retirement account — compound interest!
Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.
The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.