Invest Retirement

The Movement to Save 10% for Retirement

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez  |  October 6, 2020

A woman in her early 60s walked into my office, nervous her retirement savings wouldn’t be enough. Bracing for what would likely be a tough conversation, I looked at my computer screen. When the retirement balance came up, I did a double take. I told her the number and that by my calculation, the amount was enough for more than one retirement with her income. Her face lit up and was a mixture of elation and disbelief. Below her account balance was the savings rate: 15%. I asked when she chose that rate and why. She had no idea. Had she ever missed the money represented by the 15%? No, she never even noticed it leaving her paycheck. 

This is the story I want for every woman—to elect to save 10% (or more) into their retirement plans and wake up one day able to retire.

This is hardly currently the case nationwide. We are in a retirement crisis that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight for a few generations. For every story of accidental savers, my guess is there are 50 others who were accidental undersavers. I was one of them. When I signed up for my retirement plan in my first job out of grad school, I didn’t know how much to save. I remember when I hastily wrote down 5% that I was sure I would come back and change it. 

According to Thaler and Sunstein in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Penguin, 2009), I fell into the 90% of people who never change their election (for better or worse).

Many people think that saving for retirement is for math people or finance experts or only for the well-educated. Let me offer myself as the living embodiment debunking that myth, as my contribution rate decision came with a Harvard master’s degree and even equity analysis coursework at MIT. 

What should I have chosen? 10%. In my rush through those papers and in excitement of starting that first job, I should have reflexively written down 10%, the number that every person in their early 20s starting in their career should be writing down (with some caveats for a lower rate to accommodate paying off debt or a higher rate in the case of higher-than-average-earners). 

So many women in our retirement plans repeatedly tell me that no one in their lives had ever told them this. If only we had told them when they were first starting their careers, when saving 10% would have been enough. To catch up on retirement they have to save 20% to 30%+. It requires major and sometimes painful lifestyle changes to achieve. 

And young women? I will personally tell you that all you have to do is ask. They will fill in the blank with 10%. Just. Like. That.

Thus launched the idea for a movement to ask women to save 10%. In 2019, co-founder Stephanie Matthews and I approached the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA) with an idea—let’s find a way to personally ask 10,000 women to save 10% for life.

Our dreams were (and remain) big. The WFA instantly agreed to house this movement, and we settled on an official launch date of 10.10, October 10, the day we would ask women across the state to sign up to save 10% in their retirement accounts. 

We ask women to take the Save10 challenge, committing to save 10% for life, mostly via group presentations, with an army of volunteers. Then, we ask them to save out loud with social media badges displaying their “number” in the movement and join in a Facebook group called Save10 to discuss all money issues.

Save10 is, at its core, education. As Ryder Buttry, aged 25 and badge #34 remarked, “Because of the Save10 education, I will have been saving 10% of my income from the moment I was eligible for my plan. Those years I may have otherwise wasted contributing less than 10% would have cost me a lot of money one day when I sat down to retire.”

Every Save10 talk has a call to action, and this is the secret sauce. Shana Graves, aged 37 and badge #120, not only got to 10%, but she also elected to automatically increase her contribution every year by 1%, opened an IRA to save extra money, and is still actively contributing to an emergency fund. For her, “having a community of women who talk about saving made a difference. It’s something women have been taught not to do, especially in the south. Add the additional layer/nuance of being a black southern woman to it… we just aren’t taught that talking about money openly is acceptable.”

I think of Ashley Jeffrey, aged 27 and badge #463. After she heard a Save10 keynote at a conference, she met our team at the back of the room with her retirement app pulled up and asked for our help as she increased her rate from 2% to 10%. I caught up with her several months later, delighted to find out she barely noticed the difference. “During the talk, I realized how much we, as women, frequently take care of ourselves last [and] we really can’t afford to do this when it comes to our retirement fund . . . I don’t want to reach my time for retirement and still have to work because I can’t afford to rest.”

Our social network of savers creates a healthy peer pressure, and as Maddie Brodell, aged 24, Badge #177, remarked, “Women are stronger together. If we can ask a group of friends to keep us accountable for staying on a diet or going to the gym, why can’t we help each other stay true to the goals we set for ourselves financially?”

As Kate Pendergast, aged 22, Badge #462 suggested, “Most 22-year-olds that I’ve talked to are scared and unsure about investing, retirement savings, etc. but they are willing to have a conversation about it . . . the best thing that comes out of having a community of friends who you have already had the ‘financial ice breaker’ with is that it becomes a part of the normal friend discourse right between recent engagements and new restaurants to try.”

I asked my co-founder, Stephanie Matthews, Badge #1, what seems to make Save10 work, and she said, “Women are eager to talk about money and not in stereotypical ways but in ways that lead us to take action that will alter the course of our lives. What we’re doing in Save10 is going to change the way that women treat money for generations to come.”

Anna Beth Gorman, executive director of the WFA, Badge #112, has been vocal about putting the narrow mission of Save10 into the larger context of the problem the WFA is working to solve–the gender wealth gap. “The gender wealth gap is not going to go away on its own. We need strategies and solutions to break down economic barriers women continue to face in achieving economic security.” 

In other words, together, women can lead us out of this crisis, and it all begins with the 10% commitment. I encourage every reader to take the Save10 challenge. If you are already saving 10%+, then save out loud and receive your personal badge. If not, commit to saving 10% and join this growing movement of women making a similar commitment and supporting each other.

In July, my book But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life was released. What makes me most excited about having a book on the topic is that we can reach exponentially more women to make this life-changing decision and join the movement. 10% of my author royalties are funding the Save10 movement.

It’s time to find our way out of our national retirement crisis. Will you join me? Together we can lead the way.

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