Money Mistakes: Retirement Accounts

Hi All, welcome back to another edition of Money Mistakes. We all make mistakes, even the self-proclaimed “experts”. In this series, another finance blogger reveals their money mistake, how they recovered from it and what they learned. Hopefully, by reading someone out there can avoid making the same mistake or just feel better about their own.

Tell Us a Little About Yourself

I’m a physician anesthesiologist. I live and work full-time in southern California, and I have a website on the side called The Female Professional. My goal is to create the go-to place online for women to connect, gain resources, and overcome hurdles on their path to success

When I’m not working my two jobs, I love to travel, spend time with family & friends, read and gather new experiences. 

What Was Your Money Mistake and When Did You Make It?

I’ve been very careful with my earnings over the years, but a mistake I made happened when I first started my job. I’m in a higher tax bracket, and it’s important to lower your tax burden wherever possible. One of the best ways to do this is through pre-tax retirement accounts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention when I signed on to work. It was about two years into my job that I realized I was overpaying in taxes and missing out on a huge opportunity to save for my future.

What Led You To Make the Mistake?

Lack of knowledge, plus this idea that retirement is so far away and it’s not something you need to worry about yet. Add to that, the people who work with you to get your paperwork done only present you the information, they don’t explain it well at all, nor do they highlight the importance. You have to do that due diligence yourself, which I obviously didn’t.

How Did You Recover From It?

I finally sat down one day to look at my accounts and realized that I had almost nothing saved in retirement. I freaked out and started digging into what I needed to do. It didn’t even take that long to figure out. I made a phone call to the financial institution associated with my work, and then arranged to open the accounts I needed all online. It only took a day, and since then I’ve maxed out my contributions each year.

What Would You Have Done Differently?

I’d have paid more attention when I initially signed my contract and paperwork. I think a lot of what I did wrong was naivete. Doctors aren’t well informed, and also the excitement of just finally getting a real paycheck overshadows everything else. 

Going forward, I will never overlook the importance of reducing my tax burden and protecting my future.

How Can Others Avoid the Same Money Mistake?

I’d suggest that you talk to someone before you start filling out the paperwork. Some questions you can ask your friends and family: 

“what should I be doing with my paycheck when I first start” 

“What retirement accounts should I be looking for?” 

“how much should I contribute to those accounts”

You can also check out your employer’s website – most everything is online nowadays; arming yourself with information before you go can help you avoid simple, but important, money management steps.

Most importantly, what did you learn from your money mistake? 

I had a misconception when it came to pre-tax accounts. I had always thought that my take-home paycheck would suffer greatly if I contributed so much from the get-go. 

Not True.

Over the years I’ve noticed that my paycheck has gone up, but because I’m maxing out those pre-tax accounts, my taxable income largely stays the same, or only increases slightly. This means, my take-home pay is essentially the same. 

Plus, the money in these retirement accounts is yours, whereas taxes are the government’s. So, you’re not “losing” money; you’re paying your future self.

Anything Else You Want To Say?

To summarize basically everything I’ve just said, “pay yourself first”. To add to that, start early. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much you put away so long as you do it for a long time. Compound interest is your best friend, and it’s waiting to help you out.