How a Walmart Greeter Woke Me Up to Retirement Planning

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Every one of us has had "aha! moments." Epiphanies. Days when we reach a crossroads and realize that we have to make some changes. For the next two months, we're sharing moments like those in our Life Stage Lessons series: Real stories straight from the financial lives of our DailyFinance contributors about times when they realized they were due for a serious course correction. So read on, learn from our mistakes, and get inspired to improve your relationship with your money.

I remember it just like it was yesterday, though it was roughly 10 years ago, when I was in my late 20s. My wife and I were doing our weekly shopping at Walmart (WMT) and got the usual "thanks" from the greeter, who appeared to be the age of my grandfather.

I'm sure his age wasn't unusual for a person in that job, but for some reason it stuck out to me. I don't know if this man chose to work in this job to stay active (his facial expression indicated differently), but what I perceived as his need to work so late in life crystalized in my mind the importance of aggressively saving for retirement.

Assess Your Goals

On the drive home, I discussed what was going through my mind with my wife. We had finished paying off our debt, but we hadn't really established a new direction for our finances. As we talked it out, we finally saw our need to assess our goals for retirement. We asked ourselves questions like:
  • Where do we want to live during retirement?
  • Do we want the traditional retirement, or do we want something else?
  • Do we want to travel during retirement?
We built up our retirement saving plan from that one conversation. We were certain we didn't want to have to work until we dropped. That didn't mean we might not work during our golden years, just that we wanted the freedom to choose how to spend our retirement years. We decided on that car ride home that we were going to open IRA accounts and begin to take action.

What, Now? Do We Have to?

I realize that, if you're in your 20s or 30s, retirement may seem a far way off. But time is the most important gift you have when it comes to investing. Put aside the reasons not to start, like not knowing exactly what you're doing or having little to invest, and start investing as soon as you can. The amount you'll start with may seem small. It did for us in the beginning. The point is those small contributions and low balances will add up over time, and along the way, you'll develop a discipline that will (we hope) help you someday arrive at the kind of retirement, rather than end up in a service job because you have no other choice.

John Schmoll is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting and frugal living. He is a father, husband and veteran of the financial services industry who's passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality. He also writes about wise ways to manage your money at
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