Getting your feet wet with retirement


Mackenzie Smith, Guest Columnist

You haven’t even left college yet, what on Earth am I thinking talking to you about retirement? I’ve not gone off my rocker, and this article is guaranteed to be under 1,000 words, so we aren’t going to cover anything too scary. However, the sooner you learn about retirement planning, the less of it you have to do in the long run.

That compounding interest your high school teacher might have mentioned in passing is very real. $500 now in the right place can mean much more than $5,000 twenty years from now. It’s just not as simple as putting it in a bank and forgetting about it. Instead, I’m going to introduce some very surface level terms that sound scary, but you can handle it, and then suggest how that is relevant to you now.


This is likely the thing your job mentioned when you got hired but got lost in a sea of W-9’s and withholding amounts, bank deposit information and proof of identity requirements. Very simply, a 401(k) is a retirement account you can put money into to use after you turn 59.5. If a company provides them, they often times provide a match – they will put in the same amount of money as you up to a certain percent – effectively raising how much you get paid. Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club and likely many other companies offer these to employees even if they aren’t full time. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s worth seeing if yours does as well


You always get to keep the money you put into a 401(k) regardless of whether you leave the company or not. That money is yours. However, the money the company matches is not yours to keep until you are vested. That simply means that until you have been with the company for anywhere from one to 10 years,  you won’t get all the money the company matched with. For Target, I was fully vested at a year (though I don’t work there anymore so do your own research). For some companies, they may have you partially vested at 50% when you reach a year, and then you get fully vested at the three year mark. That part you have to do your own homework on.

So what? The earlier you start, the less money you have to put in to reach the same goal. It is often a small percentage of your paycheck (under 6%) and comes out automatically. The easiest money to save is the money you forget that you have to spend. I worked at Sam’s Club for 90 days (that’s another story), and already had $150 in my 401(k) of just my own money. Had I signed up for the 401(k) Target provided when I started in high school, not knowing I would continue working there for six years as I finished my education, I would’ve had a lot more money saved than I do now.

Retirement is scary, and seems way too far off to worry about right now, but a simple form to sign up that takes five minutes to fill out could get you a lot of money out of the deal if you are willing to look into it.