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3 things I wish I'd done
If you don't want to learn from your own mistakes, feel free to make hay for yourself out of mine.
August 18, 2005: 5:39 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Here's a phrase that comes to mind a little too frequently: "If I only knew then what I know now."

That is to say, there are some things I might change about my past if I could.

Here's the G-rated, financial version, for those who like to profit from others' foibles:

Wish I'd used a Roth IRA to save for a down payment: When I opened a Roth IRA, I budgeted for it with one thing in mind: retirement.

But Wayne Bogosian, president of the Personal Financial Education Group, and certified financial planner Barry Picker told me they advise young adults to use a Roth IRA not for retirement savings but for a down payment, since the law allows them to withdraw earnings in their Roth tax-free and penalty-free if it's to buy a first home.

Here's how it works: You contribute to a Roth IRA using after-tax money, and earnings on those contributions grow tax-free. Under any circumstance and at any time, you may withdraw your contributions without tax or penalty. But when you're buying a first home, if your account has been opened for five years, you also are allowed to take out up to $10,000 of earnings tax-free and penalty-free once you've withdrawn all your contributions.

So, if you're going to earmark after-tax money for a home, as I did, why pay tax on the earnings when you sell your investments or park the cash in a low-yield taxable account?

Wish I'd been less lazy about saving: When I was in my early 20s and about as interested in retirement as a 10-year-old is in eating okra, I took a job that offered employees a 403(b). I laughed when my sister suggested I put away at least a little money into the plan. But I did it anyway, because my employer made it so easy.

My laziness wasn't foiled in my next job, though. The place didn't offer a savings plan, though I vaguely recall getting some brochure encouraging me to save for retirement.

I remember this, though: I didn't save, despite having a larger paycheck than I had in my previous job.

Even if I had just invested $250 a month for the two years I worked there, that could have generated another $100,000 or so by the time I retire.

Wish I'd valued my work more highly earlier in my career: A very observant friend once told me, "You're really not about the money."

By that, I think he meant: a) I'm not wired for gold digging (true); and b) money has never been my No. 1 consideration when mulling over a job offer (not nearly as true anymore).

I also found it hard to value my work monetarily. Writing and editing well aren't as quantifiable as, say, bringing in new clients, closing deals or meeting sales quotas.

But worst of all, I was slow to realize that my skills, talents, maturity and work ethic made my employer's life so much easier than would the less diligent or less stable people they might (or, in some regrettable cases, did) hire.

So to those who are shy about asking for a raise because you fail to see your own merit, three things:

  • "We tend to devalue anything that we're really good at," said Lee Miller, coauthor of "The Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating."
  • "Other people tend to value you the way you value yourself," Miller said. "If you don't think you're worth it, act like you are." Employers will be more likely to hire you and take your requests more seriously.
  • If, like me, your acting skills rot, take a look at the projects you've done well. "You can show your confidence through your accomplishments. Don't be afraid to brag about them," Miller said. But blowhards beware: "Confidence is not arrogance," he added. "When you cross that line, people hate it."

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Have rising gas prices forced you to take steps to save on gas or to cut back elsewhere in your budget? Have they taken a toll in other ways say, long lines when filling up? We'd like to hear your story for an upcoming feature. E-mail us at gasprices@cnn.com.

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Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at everydaymoney@cnnmoney.com.  Top of page

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