You don’t need a 9-5 to save for retirement

Oct 28, 2013

37% of people don't expect to retire, but instead will "work until I'm too sick or die."

That sounds dreamy, but I think I’d rather travel, take up hobbies, and work only when I want to. And even if you’re very far from rich, it’s entirely possible for that to happen. Yes, even on the unsteady income of a freelancer.

Here’s a list of reasons why I made the decision to save so I could retire on time, move to Bali, and live on a boat.

1. My money grows when I’m not looking

The miracles of compound interest! If I start young, contribute a small amount, and slowly increase how much I save, it really adds up.

Just listen to this example from CNNMoney (lots of numbers, bear with me): “Say you start at age 25, and put aside $3,000 a year in a tax-deferred retirement account for 10 years - and then you stop saving - completely. By the time you reach 65, your $30,000 investment will have grown to more than $472,000, (assuming an 8% annual return), even though you didn't contribute a dime beyond age 35.”

I contribute $30,000 and get $472,000? My frugal mind is blown.

2. I don’t have to sacrifice THAT much

Right now, I’m just saving $100 a month. It’s not so bad, just $25 a week. Things I gave up:

1 movie trip


1 book purchase (I went to the library)


1 dinner out


Starbucks (I bought a coffee maker)

If I start making more money, I can always change how much I contribute. If I want to retire on time, I’ll have to increase my savings rate each year. I’ve set a goal to save $200/month next year, even if it’s difficult. I just keep imagining my house boat.

3. I don’t like taxes

Because I put money in a 401(k) before I pay taxes, there’s a larger pile of cash sitting in my 401(k) gaining interest on itself.

Plus, whatever I save is tax-deductible. Because I contribute to my 401(k) before taxes, it decreases my taxable income. It’s like a double saving. Might make up for the fact that you’re double taxed as a freelancer? (Not really, but still.)

4. Social Security isn’t reliable

Social Security currently makes up only ⅖ of a retiree’s income, and that’s expected to decrease as the Baby Boomers retire. Use this calculator to see how much you’d making in SS when you retire. It was enough to pay my rent, but not much else.

5. Saving is good for ‘Merica

It’s called “The Paradox of Thrift.” Some people assume that if you save money, you’re taking it out of the economy. Not true. By saving money in a bank or 401(k), that money is reinvested and fuels economic growth.

6. 401(k) plans are easy to start

Even for a financially illiterate person like me. There were some more sophisticated options, but I chose the easiest. A higher amount of stocks, less bonds because I’m younger. As I age, I’ll invest in less stocks, more bonds.

There are a bunch of great 401(k) programs for self-employed people. Freelancers Union has one!

As a flexible worker, you might expect to work a few gigs to keep things moving when you’re past the traditional retirement age. But I want to work only when I choose to, and because of my 401(k), there will come a day when I can turn down a gig because I need to work on my tan.