Saving for retirement doesn’t have to be daunting: Grownup Floyd Miller uses a day-to-day approach to help him save.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a saver. Case in point: Flashback to a recent evening at home.

It’s 7 p.m., I’ve got 13 Amazon tabs open, and I’m telling myself it’s OK to buy a $200 toothbrush because I’ll put the money saved on dentist bills into a savings account. Two clicks later, I’m plaque-free but still broke.

Fast forward a few days later: It’s 8 a.m., I’m brushing my teeth with my brand-new toothbrush, I look in the mirror, and suddenly I’m facing my own mortality. An unfamiliar wrinkle surfaces across my forehead, almost maniacally smiling at me as if to say, “Welcome to adulthood.” I run out and buy the most expensive face oil I can find. As I’m slathering it on, I have that same thought we all do while moisturizing: “Oh my God. I don’t have enough money in my retirement account.” After all, what’s the point of aging like Pharrell if I’ll end up broke like Lohan?

I could feel my worry line growing from a smirk to a full-on grin.

So, I decided to face things head on. I took a look at my IRA and was greeted with a pathetic account balance. (Let’s just say I received a statement recently, and I think the paper was worth more than the dividends.)

“All right,” I thought. “I’m going to max this baby out.”

One Google search later and I was crying into my student loans, wondering where to find an extra $5,500 a year. I lit an $80 candle I bought to calm down and sat on the couch, desperately trying to figure out where all my money had gone.

I took a hard look at my budget and all my mindless spending was staring back at me. A daily $6 coffee. The $20 Whole Foods trips for dinner every evening.

I decided once and for all: This stops today.

If you’re a spender like me, you tend to think of your expenses at the daily level (maybe even weekly if you’re really thinking ahead). I figured if I think of my spending that way, why not use the same logic for saving as well? So I took the yearly $5,500 max contribution for my IRA, divided it by 365 days, and realized all I had to do was save $15 a day. Sounds simple enough, right?

While in theory $15 a day should be do-able, I made the mistake of assuming the low amount alone would make it easier for me to save. I hadn’t truly made retirement a priority and it made saving feel like a chore rather than a small step towards a bigger goal. All the coffees and meals I was giving up didn’t feel worth it, and I was growing really resentful towards my 65-year-old self. Why does he get to have all the nice things while I suffer in my 20s?

Melodramatic? Sure. But it didn’t change how I felt towards the creature comforts I had previously afforded myself.

Still, I had made a public declaration to my coworkers I was trying this new savings program, and I couldn’t back out now. As my IRA grew, my desire for those daily conveniences dwindled. I didn’t need to Uber where public transit was available. I didn’t need a kale smoothie three times a day. And about a month in, I realized I didn’t need most of what I was spending my money on. I had gone so long conflating my wants with my needs that I was unable (or unwilling) to tell the difference anymore.

Even the desire to retire in the end is a want and a freedom not everyone is afforded. But $15 a day not only brought me closer to my goal, but it also bought me something infinitely more valuable than anything I’ve ever purchased: gratitude.

In the end, I realized retirement isn’t about reaching a certain age or opting out of the workforce, but simply having the freedom of choice to do whatever makes you happy. I still have no clue if I want to work for the rest of my life or finally start that farm in Hawaii I’ve been dreaming of—but having the ability to consider multiple options truly is worth every penny saved.

I’m sure I’ll still buy overpriced candles and the newest version of the iPhone when it comes out, but I now have a newfound relationship to these material goods. I no longer feel bound to consume every desire I have at the expense of my retired self. And, hey, for $15 a day, that seems like a steal to me.

Grownups, how are you saving for retirement? Share your tips by leaving a comment below!

When Floyd’s not working on
curriculum for Society of Grownups,
he’s working through the giant pile
of used books he bought with
the best of intentions.

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