Dear Money,

FOR NERD WALLET, MAY 2013 ONLINE EDITION

[This article was part of the NerdWallet 2013 Roth IRA writing contest and received honorable mention and publication.]

In 2007 I was fresh out of college and ready for a high power career with a high paying salary. So of course I found myself working in a pet store for minimum wage. Like so many college graduates, I was clueless about the job market and struggled to make ends meet. “Financial Investing” for me meant buying discount groceries and clearance rack clothes; I could “invest” the rest of my meager paycheck in paying the rent and bills. On the months when I broke even, I patted myself on the back.

 I wasn’t expecting to begin investing until I had my financial feet firmly on the ground. Who thinks about saving for retirement before they’ve even launched their career? As is always the case, my mother knew better than I did. My mom, who is a seasoned investor and a conscientious saver, knew a good match when she saw it. This was a fix-up from the start.  She insisted I begin putting aside some money into a Roth IRA every month. I balked at first. I’m not ready for that serious of a commitment, I whined. I can’t spare extra money each month for this. Retirement is sooo far away. Of course my mother didn’t listen to any of this. She went ahead and opened a Roth IRA account with her mutual fund company in my name and very generously got me started with the first payment. With my reluctant consent, $50 would be automatically shifted from my paycheck each month and into the Roth IRA. 

It’s true that the first few months were hard. Although $50 is a relatively low minimum requirement for an investment, at the time it was difficult for me to pay, but with automatic investment I didn’t have a choice. The investment grew and I scrimped and saved to get by without the $50. Fortunately, over the course of the next few years my career finally started. I moved into a better apartment, bought better quality food and clothing, and still had money left over to add to a savings account. And throughout the years, through the good times and bad, my Roth IRA had been quietly growing. 

Without even realizing it, my Roth IRA had become my first long term relationship. And it’s a relationship that pays. When I earned a promotion at work last year, and a raise to match, I thought of my Roth IRA and everything it was doing for me. I made the choice to increase my monthly contribution. This year, I maxed out my Roth IRA’s yearly allowable payment for the first time and instead of feeling deprived, I felt elated.  Six years ago, as a college graduate, I thought that paying into an IRA would mean having less money. Now I know that it’s just the opposite. I have more saved for retirement now than I ever could have accrued in a regular savings account on my own. 

I’m older and wiser now. I’ve begun investing in mutual funds, individual stocks, and property. However, my Roth IRA is still the solid core of my investment portfolio. I owe my mother a huge thank you for fixing me up with my Roth IRA. Her advice is applicable to almost everyone out there: don’t wait until you think you’re ready— start investing as early as possible. Use automatic deductions to spare yourself the pain of parting with cash. Take the long term approach, because slow and steady wins the race when it comes to investing for your retirement. And lastly, listen to the advice of a more experienced investor, or at least listen to your mother.