Alison: I saw what I don’t want to become.

Is there a single event that turned retirement from a far-off to-do into a real, stark reality? We asked our Customer Bloggers to weigh in. Here’s what Alison, a 31 year old Saver in Los Angeles, has to say.

When I was finishing up my degree in Michigan, I became a bank teller for a local bank. I was eventually promoted to an account associate and moved from behind the teller line to behind a desk in the lobby of the bank.

The branch I worked for was located near a retirement community. The elderly residents of that community were, for the most part, fairly strapped for cash. Many, if not all of them, depended on Social Security to pay their bills and put food on their tables. Most did not have IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions or even basic savings accounts.

They were, to be frank, broke.

Around that time, the Social Security Administration made a big push for direct deposit of Social Security payments and I would have to verify funds for many of these people on a monthly basis. They were terrified of the new technology and terrified that their money wasn’t going to be there on time.

If they did not get their money on time, then the rent would not get paid. They could not afford to pick up the few grocery items they used on a regular basis and, in the bitter cold Michigan winter, feared that they would not be able to pay for their heat and lights. None of these folks were younger than 70 and all of them were scared on a daily basis that their most basic needs would not be met.

I was 25 at the time, and saw that I never wanted to be that person. I have lived paycheck to paycheck (and am doing so now, matter of fact) but I see that as temporary. I’m sure that many of the residents of that retirement community felt the same way. That their money issues were short-term and eventually they’d get the kind of balance in their savings accounts that would guarantee a long, happy, worry free retirement.

But they didn’t. The problems never went away. The better job never came around, the winning lottery ticket was never purchased or an unexpected illness reared its ugly head and medical bills ate up what saving they could scratch together.

I pray that I didn’t offend any of those people when I was working at that bank. I would never do so on purpose, of course, but young people have a tendency of just not getting it. Not understanding that 70 years of living gives you a heck of a lot more experience than you could dream of having by the age of 25. That having to sit in front of a desk and ask some young whipper-snapper if your money arrived must be a terrible experience.

My father opened a Roth IRA for me when I was still in high school. I added funds to it myself later but have had to put a hold on that for the moment, due to current financial hardships. I still contribute 6% to my 401(k), because it gets matched and I would be an idiot to give up free money.

I like watching my balances tick up with each pay period. I like having five figures in my retirement account. Yeah, that’s right. More than ten thousand dollars, baby, and man, I never thought I would say that. It feels AMAZING when I look at that balance and know that it’s all going towards keeping me out of that proverbial bank branch, praying that my Social Security check has arrived.

Other popular posts:

The 30-Year American Dream? Is home-owning still critical to the American Dream? Circumstances change. Life happens. How might that impact the fairy tale of home-owning—and the mortgage that goes with it?

Matt, on the Retirement Monster under his bed A Customer Blogger’s comedic take on his retirement planning wake-up call.

Women: Reluctant Retireees? Why do women fall so far behind men when it comes to retirement planning?

In a word, Saver: The joy of receiving a tax refund is called ________.

Read what other Customer Bloggers have to say about coming to terms with retirement planning: Alicia, Matt, Nancy, Susan and T.J.

  • Nancy Worrell

    Smart girl!

  • HN

    I agree. Tempus Fugit!

  • A

    Thanks for sharing. That was a great lesson to learn.