For most of us, the thought of listening to someone from Human Resources sends us fantasizing about less painful things, like getting a root canal. But what one HR associate told me over 20 years ago changed the course of my career – and my life.
My money story began at about 5 a.m. on a cold fall morning in 1994 in a small meeting room. It was crammed with myself and 25 or so fellow delivery drivers at the Coca-Cola warehouse in Omaha. Often, the weekly meeting consisted of a grumpy, overweight supervisor barking out orders about keeping clean trucks and meticulous logs.
The 401(k) talk
On this occasion, we were pleased to see two pretty young gals from the Kansas City office. As one launched into her spiel, the other handed out some forms. “Great, more paperwork!” I thought.
The speaker said something about retirement, followed by the words I will never forget: “The company will give you $50 for every $100 you put in.”
She had me at “free money”. Ordinarily, I detested any discussion about finances, even though I had over a dozen college credits in accounting and finance. I knew enough to understand that she was promising a 50% return on my investment, with the potential to earn more – way more.
This was the annual 401(k) talk. In the first five minutes, I heard all I needed to hear and took the plunge. I loved Coca-Cola, so I decided to put 100% into the company’s stock. Now I know that isn’t a wise approach, but it felt good at the time.
A year later I was feeling pretty smart. On top of the 50% match, the company’s stock price doubled. I did the math and realized that if this kept up, it wouldn’t be long before my retirement account was earning more than I was.
Things started to get serious
I quickly became obsessed with the idea of passive income and began learning all I could. In the Fall of 1996, after relocating to Denver, I went to work for a prominent mutual fund company. Training consisted of a crash course in how the market works, why it’s important to diversify and how much you pay the IRS if you don’t make the right moves. I also had to pass the tests to qualify me to sell securities products.
Related: What makes me a retirement guru
After three years with that company, I bounced over to a larger competitor, where I continued my education. I studied and practiced my way up to the industry’s equivalent of black belt expertise, complete with all the registrations and licenses needed to sell virtually any financial product under the sun.
During my first five years in financial services, I experienced these big events that left a huge mark on the industry:
- The great bull market of the 90s
- Online day-trading and the penny stock craze
- Introduction of the Roth IRA and 529 ed savings plans
- Y2K hysteria and subsequent yawnfest
- Dotcom crash of 2000
- September 11
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in those first few years, I learned enough to last a lifetime. All the while, my retirement account continued to flourish and so did my desire to help others get a piece of the action. As my expertise grew, I earned several promotions and found myself helping clients manage larger sums of money than I ever dreamed of.
Taking my message to the masses
When the time came that helping one client at a time was no longer fulfilling, I began training and mentoring other advisers as they came on board. Eventually, I joined the organization’s marketing department so I could share knowledge with thousands of people at a time through financial education seminars, web content and social media.
In my personal life, I have dealt with many of the same financial pressures many of us face while raising a family. With my wife by my side, we’ve saved for retirement, climbed out of debt and tucked away money to pay for our daughters’ college (maybe weddings too).
Having been in the company’s Marketing department for almost 15 years now, I have helped provide information to millions people that helps them have a better financial life.
This blog is a means for me to spread knowledge even further, especially to my GenX peers, who I feel need it the most. My readers and I owe any debt of gratitude to the HR gals that made the trip from Kansas City to Omaha to tell me and a crew of clueless delivery drivers about the company’s 401(k) plan.