I missed out on 401(k) matching in my 20s and it‘s cost me around $30,000

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  • I spent most of my 20s in debt, working low-paying jobs and ignoring my savings account. However, none of those are my biggest regrets.
  • If I could change one thing about how I managed money in my 20s, I would‘ve taken advantage of the employer matching benefit at my job by .
  • Had I contributed just $2,400 per year to my 401(k) in my 20s, I would‘ve earned thousands of dollars in contributions from my employer, and I‘d now have at least $30,000 more in my retirement savings.

Like most young folks, I did plenty of – especially when it came to money.

I ended up in five-figure more than once. I neglected my savings account completely. I quit jobs without another one lined up.

Amidst all of this financial irresponsibility, my biggest money regret of my 20s has nothing to do with debt, savings accounts, or quitting jobs.

If I could change one thing about the way I dealt with my finances in my 20s, it would be this: I would have taken advantage of the by contributing to my 401(k).

Why you should always take advantage of employer matching

Unfortunately, not all jobs offer benefits like 401(k) matching. However, both of the jobs I held in my 20s did.

Employer matching programs are essentially free money. They‘re part of your compensation package, so not taking advantage of them is akin to leaving part of your salary on the table.

When employers do offer 401(k) matching, a typical offer is that they‘ll match 50% of the contributions you make toward your 401(k), up to 6% of your salary. This was what my employers offered.

This means that to maximize the benefit, I would want to contribute 6% of my salary to my 401(k). My employer would then contribute half the amount that I contributed, simply giving me that money as a benefit of working there. If I contributed 10% of my income, my employer would still only match half of the first 6% that I contributed.

A contribution of 3% or 6% of your salary might not sound a lot, but it adds up over time. It‘s also the easiest way to start saving for retirement.

How much money I‘d have now if I‘d taken advantage of employer matching

I worked at jobs that offered an employer matching benefit for six years in my 20s. If I‘d taken full advantage of that benefit by contributing 6% of my $40,000 salary at the time, I‘d have been contributing $2,400 per year to my 401(k). My employer would‘ve been giving me an extra $1,200 per year toward my 401(k). That‘s essentially a 3% salary increase, which is more than a lot of annual raises.

If I‘d contributed this much throughout my time with these employers, my employer and I would‘ve contributed a total of $21,600 to my 401(k) together by the end of my six years. That‘s a pretty big chunk of change for what would‘ve felt like a very small dent in my paycheck.

On top of that, that money would‘ve been growing all those years. By the time I turned 30, it could‘ve been worth well over $30,000.

In other words, now that I‘m 30, I could‘ve had an extra $30,000 in my retirement fund if I‘d contributed just $2,400 per year to my 401(k) during my first couple of jobs out of college. If I‘d gone so far as to max out my 401(k) contributions, I‘d have a lot more.

It‘s hard to juggle all of your different financial responsibilities in your 20s, especially if you‘re struggling with debt and having a hard time finding a job out of college. However, if you get a job that offers 401(k) matching, I recommend doing anything you can to contribute.

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