When I was in my 20s, I invested in beer, specifically Milwaukee's Best in my refrigerator. In my 50s it’s Molson Coors in my mutual funds.
This penny-saved transformation was a gift from the late J. Earle Bowden. The J. stood for Jesse, but he went by Earle, and at that time he was the most famous person I knew, other than a barkeeper named Trader Jon and Kenny Stabler's wife. Bowden was the revered newspaperman of Northwest Florida. He was talking to me on the loading dock behind the Pensacola News Journal, where we worked. I covered cops at night, and he was headed home from the editor's office.
“Put a little away and forget about it, as young as you are, and you’ll be set someday,” he said something close to. If Earle Bowden had told me I could be a whit-better journalist by climbing palm trees, I would have been a palm-tree climber.
Once I invested, I had skin in the investment game, even if it wasn’t much. I watched the Dow and read the Motley Fool. I’ve rolled over more than a dog. Like a nut who buries coffee cans, I put money in different pots in the markets and pretended it didn't exist until tax time.
It's all about compound interest.
“He who understands it, earns it,” Albert Einstein is credited with but probably didn’t say. “He who doesn’t, pays it.”
It got started for me by measuring up to Bowden, a man who understood it.
If I don’t wind up a ward of society, that’s good for you, too. You’re welcome.
“You either pay now or you pay later,” said Scott Wasserman, who became president of the Bell Policy Center think tank in Denver.
He cited studies that show Colorado could be on the hook for $10 billion if those not currently saving go on to retire with no nest egg. Perspective? People wail for help on Colorado’s highway needs. That’s amounts to $9 billion in the next decade. Highways or old folks? You decide. It'd be nice to be able to afford both.
In the upcoming session, legislators will again try to hammer out a way to encourage people to save their own treasure, so I don't have to give them more of mine. I'm stingy that way.
“This is a commonsense program that incentivizes people to enroll in low-fee IRAs,” Wasserman said. “They can always opt out, but it makes sure that people who don’t have access to retirement programs at work will automatically have access to well-managed, low-fee IRAs, regardless of where they work. Young people, especially, don't have that, and it keeps a lot of people from buying in that first time."
And that’s the thing. The market will find rich people to sell opportunities to park and profit from their money. Poor people and young people don’t get a red carpet.
Gov. Jared Polis endorsed the proposed Colorado Secure Savings Plan in his State of the State address on Jan. 9, saying State Treasurer Dave Young is leading the way “to help folks retire with dignity.”
Last year Polis signed Senate Bill 173 to create a committee of experts to study a way to amp up individual private market savings, and lawmakers expected to act on those recommendations this coming session.
Not everybody is on board, of course, or it already would have happened. The study committee didn’t attract a single witness in opposition in its Senate and House committee hearing, with such supporters as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the Small Business Majority. No business groups formally opposed it, but the Colorado Bankers Association was neutral.
A few Republicans needled the "up to" $800,000 in studies and consultants called for in the bill. Others characterized the idea as government fluff that is too little too late.
"This really won't help the Silver Tsunami," said Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican from Salida, referring to the tidal wave of Baby Boomers. "The Silver Tsunami is here. The question is: What do we do about it?"
Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read helped pass the first-ever state-sponsored retirement program, OregonSaves, when he was a state representative. It's been in operation for two years.
It's not the government in anybody's pocket, Read told me on the phone the Friday before he came to Colorado to make the rounds with policymakers. He sees it as the government out of people's pockets.
“We’re removing a barrier,” he said. “You don’t have to save. You can opt out, and people do. It’s not a barrier to be removed. The fact that people have to deal with a lot of barriers, though, to do what’s in their own best interest doesn’t make any sense.”
The AARP said people with payroll deductions are 15 times more likely to save than those who have to purchase and pay separately.
“We know that nearly half of Colorado workers don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work,” said Bob Murphy, AARP state director. “This is a huge concern for AARP because when people with little or no savings can no longer work, they will be more likely to struggle financially and also be dependent on social safety net services.”