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Get Out of the 401(k) Game

Let’s use the example of playing a professional football game with your family against the national champion football team, the New England Patriots.  Let’s assume that you were able to gather 11 of your family members for your team.  Let’s further assume you get to be the quarterback.  You have no experience whatsoever, nor any muscles.  Your equipment is haphazard and poor.  What chance do you have of winning this football game?  What chance do you have of staying alive?
Miraculously by half-time your team is ahead. You go to the locker room excited but pretty beat up.  As quarterback, you discuss your game plan for the second half, but remember the Patriots have 55 experienced players.  They started playing football in grade school, then college and now the pros.  They are angry that you are winning and highly motivated not to let a “rag-tag” team beat them.  They are exceptionally tall and the average weight of each player is 300 pounds. In addition, the Patriots now get to change the rules mid-game and not tell you about them.  Now what are your chances for winning?   For example, they change this rule:  they get 7, not 4 downs to make 5 yards for a first-and-ten. They only have to make 5 yards to get a new set of 7 downs.
Ridiculous you say?  Consider that in real life, you have the same problem when you play financial games with banks, big investment advisers, bond issuers, mutual fund companies, foreign exchange traders and the like.  These large financial institutions have years of experience, talented attorneys, tax accountants, and a huge sales staff.  They can change the rules as they go along and not even bother to tell you.  In the same way as playing football against the Patriots, you are playing against talented financial pros who don’t like to see a rag-tag team like you win.  What are your chances of winning at any financial game?  Is it possible to even level the playing field?
Yes, you can simply choose not to play. You can leave the field and do your own thing any time you please. While most everyone seems to have a 401(k) and is doing what is traditionally expected to save for retirement, if you have consumer debt, like credit cards used foshutterstock_248620027r living purposes, it is rarely wise to invest money in traditional retirement programs until you have paid this debt off. That’s because you’re not likely to be spreading out your investments in your 401(k) in risky funds that have potential for larger returns — you’re likely invested in steady, moderate funds that provide lower returns. The return rate on these lower-risk investments can rarely keep up with the high interest rates you must pay on credit cards, so you’re not even breaking even let alone making any extra money!
There are other ways to keep control of your money and still learn how to create retirement income outside the standard “dump money in a 401(k)” method. Learn to think outside the box by doing the following:

  1. Create a spending plan so you can control your money.
  2. Take the surplus money you find by getting your spending under control and pay off consumer debts quickly.
  3. Once you have paid off credit cards and created surplus cash, then look into small investments that you control.

Here’s a good example of this three-step process:
Jane (name changed), one of my clients, got her spending under control using a spending plan, which allowed her to pay off three credit cards. This created a bit of a cash surplus that allowed her to open a small hair salon in her home.  She makes $22,000 a year working three days a week.  Overhead expenses are very low and she takes this money, net of taxes and saves it.  She has a goal to accumulate $80,000 and purchase a small condominium near her home and then receive rental income to fund her retirement.  This type of investment allows her a lot more personal control over what happens to her long-term savings than simply dumping all her money into mutual funds.

Here’s another example of an alternative way to create surplus and invest it for retirement:
Jeff (name changed) buys older automobiles and fixes them.  He is a good mechanic so he does all the work on the engine and transmission then hires another company to repair the interior. He makes on average $3,000 each time he turns out a car, and can do this part-time four times a year for an annual profit of $12,000.  His goal is to take this $12,000 and invest it in a new shop behind his home so he can do more classic automobile restoration when he retires.

Notice how Jane and Jeff are not on the playing field with large experienced financial institutions like mutual funds companies?  They are in control of their own financial world.

In conclusion, I have watched Jane and Jeff gain confidence in their ability to create surplus money, invest in themselves and forecast a better retirement income.  They are learning about running a small business, tracking expenses, reducing their tax burden, hiring employees and looking for more opportunities to invest their surplus money.  To me, this is fun, to be engaged in such a way that when you reach retirement you have options and more income.  Unfortunately most people feel they have to stay with the big board investments.  They don’t seem to look around and see what other opportunities are out there and become totally dependent upon the “market” or “investment advisers.”  It is always better to keep control of your own money and learn how to make it grow rather than turn it all over to others. Knowing that the big financial entities are always changing the rules on you can be a great incentive for simply leaving the game with some of your investment money and doing something different with it so that you can create a wonderful and predictable retirement.
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