Invest Like Somebody’s Watching

Last year I doubled my 403(b) contribution. It wasn’t because I read an article or blog post. It wasn’t because a benevolent financial advisor invited me out for coffee to talk about my asset allocation. And it definitely wasn’t because some stranger on the interest shamed me into it.

It was because of my students. 

When I started discussing investment options with my first ever economics classes, I made sure to emphasize the *magic* of compounding interest and tax-deferred retirement plans. Naturally students asked how much they should set aside for retirement. Of course I stress there is no “one formula” for all (yes, personal finance is personal) and encourage them to shoot for the maximums eventually, but they wanted a number. I cautiously explained 10% of gross wages will be a great starting point if they can swing it.

Students getting ready to ask me something personal

Students are notorious for asking personal questions–and they don’t have as much shame around money talk as adults–so of course they asked me how much I contribute. Per our negotiated agreement, 14% of my paycheck automatically goes to my pension but I only put a measly 3% in my 403(b). After lecturing students ad nauseam about taking advantage of the systems available to them, why wasn’t I investing more when I could clearly manage it?


Staying accountable to students has been one of the motivating factors behind my embrace of FI ideas. The last thing I want is to be a hypocrite who speaks down to students about what they “should” be doing for financial independence when I am not following those principles myself. I emailed my HR department that day to find out how to double my contribution. Yes, 3% to 6% isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it can make a difference for me. (Plus I added another percent this year and I’m hoping to continue this trend into 2020. Getting to the max is a dream I would love to achieve.)

And the funny thing about raising my percentage is that I don’t really feel it in my budgeting. It’s worth noting I’ve been so fortunate to have a stable job and no major health or personal issues that can be a serious hurdle for so many others. I realize not everyone is in a similar position, but for those who may be like me I’d encourage them to (1) check their current contribution levels and (2) crunch the numbers to see how much extra money they can stash away (especially if it’s pretax income). Even a percent or two of your income makes a difference over time.

My students kept me accountable for my investing in my 403(b) and even in purchasing individual stocks and ETFs on my own (if you’re not sure what an ETF is, I wrote about some basic investing options here). If I’m going to teach others, I need to know how it works myself.

Knowing somebody is watching and asking is the is key for me, a person who recognizes she struggles with self-discipline 😬. In the same way I know I need to show up for a yoga class because I will always bail on an at home workout video, my students are like yoga instructors for my investing.


If you are struggling to invest (and yes, putting money into a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b) is investing), I urge you to find a system or a person/people to keep you accountable. Whether it’s recording your progress and net worth in a journal, posting updates on Instagram, finding a local investing group, or connecting with a financial advisor you trust, discovering motivation that works for you can go a long way. (You can also just message me if you need an accountability-buddy!)

Note: Please do not start just picking stocks without understanding the systems and processes — and of course investing comes with risk and you should have an emergency fund before throwing money in the markets. There are plenty of books and blogs out there for investing but Erin Lowry’s introduction to investing on the podcast Bad With Money may be a great place to start: Find the podcast here.

Another Note: And, as I say to my students, if anyone guarantees you will make X amount of money by trusting them because they “can predict the market,” RUN. Run away fast because that person is definitely lying to you.

Since most of us avoid talking about money (much to my disappointment!!) and not everyone has dozens of teenagers asking them questions about their accounts, it may be difficult to get a push from peers. Opening up dialogue about investing with your partner, family members, coworkers, or friends may be a great starting point for normalizing money talk in your social circles, but there are also personal finance communities online to find guidance and support.

Be like David…without the sarcasm

Connecting with other PF nerds on Twitter and in ChooseFI groups on Facebook can help create incentives to get investing knowledge, experience, and results. A simple search on any social media platform will introduce a world of people who love talking about money. Although you may choose to dance like nobody’s watching, invest like somebody’s watching.


What motivates you to invest? Do you have the self-discipline to invest on your own?

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