I started working at 15 years old, because my parents couldn’t afford the clothes I wanted to wear and I wanted the freedom my own money would bring. I started working as a stock boy at Thom McAn shoes and then graduated to selling shoes. One summer while in college I sold shoes at Thom McAn, JC Penny and Nordstrom’s. I don’t recall saving any money for college, although my parents said I did. I spent all my money, as the song goes, on booze and women. The rest I just wasted.
The best thing I did was get a college education, Back then a private school cost about $5,000 a year including room and board, tuition and books. Public University was about $100 to $ 300 a term, if memory serves. I gave no thought to retirement what so ever.
I got married, got a job as a stock broker, bought a house and had kids. That was all the motivation I needed to be successful. If you were 30 and earned your age, you were doing well. This was the early 1970s. As I recall, to be in debt was the American way. We knew we would earn more money the next year than we did the past year.
There didn’t seem to be any worry about retirement. Companies had retirement plans. They offered were defined benefit plans with vesting and profit-sharing plans. There were no IRAs. There were Keogh plans for the self-employed like CPAs, doctors and dentists. Most of us continued to pile up debt, buying bigger houses and more expensive cars and toys and vacations. I don’t recall hearing about home equity loans. Only when I got a divorce after 17 years of marriage, did debt become a problem. I was still earning good money, but the cost of two households and child care was a giant burden.
Sometime in the 1980s, I learned about compound interest. Einstein called compound interest the ninth wonder of the world.
Here’s an illustration of how compound interest works. Suppose at 19 years old you invested $2,000 each year for seven years into an IRA. You put in $14,000 and then never invested in that IRA again. Then suppose your best friend waited until he was 26 and started putting $2,000 every year until he was 65. That would be 40 years and $80,000. Each received a 10% compounded return (meaning that each year you get interest on last year’s interest).
In the year when they were 65 they sat down and compared nest eggs. The friend who invested $2,000 a year until 65, had a nice retirement nest egg of $893,704. The smart kid who stated at 19, invested for seven years and quit, had a retirement nest egg of $930,641.
Here’s what I wished I had done with my money.
I wish had utilized compound interest to get rich in real estate. Suppose you buy a house for $300,000 and put down $30,000. At 7% the house doubles to $600,000. Assuming you didn’t take out a bunch of home equity loans to buy toys, your equity in your home would be $330,000, an eleven-fold increase not counting any reduction in your mortgage.
If it was a rental, and I’d used the income to pay down the mortgage, I could have paid down the mortgage rapidly and bought another rental and so on. I could have retired with rentals throwing off income. Hopefully the property would have appreciated.
One thing I don’t do is look back and say, “If only I’d a. If only I’d a bought Microsoft at $50 in the IPO. The decisions I made got me here to San Miguel de Allende as an expat, retired, writing as a freelance writer, loving a foreign country, happily married for 23 years, wonderful girls and two wonderful grand kids. I could be wealthier, but I could be poorer, too. One thing I’ve learned is to be grateful for whatever I have and value my health. Do things in moderation and don’t put poisons in your body; that includes your mind, too.
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