It can be easy for us to fall back on old habits when the consequences of our current decisions will not be fully realized until some point in the future. But, small, committed shifts, repeated day after day, week after week, year after year, will add up. I was recently reminded of this when I ran into an old co-worker.
Early in my career, I worked in the hotel industry. Most of the staff were immigrants whose families still lived in their home country. For many, leaving and working in Boston on minimum wage meant getting creative — not only to make ends meet but to squirrel away money to send home to their family.
It was in that environment that I began making the pitch to one after another of the staff to begin contributing to a 401k. Trust me, they looked at me like I was nuts. They were living paycheck to paycheck as it was. But, here’s the way I pitched it. “When you get your raise, put 1.5% of it into your 401k — before it hits your first paycheck. It will feel like 1% because it is pre-tax and, because of the company match (yes, we had one), you’ll be putting away 3%, and you’ll still see more money in your paycheck each week.”
The first year a few took me up on the challenge. The second year, not only did I convince them to increase their contribution a little bit (they could now see they didn’t miss what they hadn’t had — in other words, because they hadn’t gotten used to seeing the raise in their paycheck, whatever the new paycheck amount was after the 401k deduction still felt like a raise) but they joined me in convincing others.
Fast forward a few decades to my running into this former co-worker at an event. They explained to me how that one decision had had such a profound impact all these years later. How they’d stayed the course and, each year when they got their raise, allocated a small portion of it to their 401k. They talked about how they had been able to send kids to college. Been able to purchase homes. Been able to help their family back home. And, now, they were able to retire!
Even more heartwarming was when they told me they’d shared, “Lisa’s trick” with all of the folks that they’d worked with over the years. While it’s definitely not my trick, when I think about the ripple effect this will have, it is inspiring!
Think about all of the small changes you could make, right now, that would, over time, see you making significant progress toward your goals. Pick one, just one, and start today. I look forward to running into you and learning of the progress you’ve made over time.