During a Qualitative Research Methods course, I conducted a focus group on young adults discussing how they view retirement and what, if anything, are they doing about it. Being interested in the topic but finding little besides opinions out there, I wanted to ask the source. My findings are not generalizable by any means, however my participants did bring up a reason for not saving no one has seemed to mention yet.

Financial planners and economists out there are screaming at young adults. Timing is everything, You need a Roth IRA, and Research urges you to start now. And people speculate as to why they are not listening. They have student loans, they are irresponsible, they only care about consumption in the present, they have other financial priorities such as a house, or they are anxious about Social Security and whether or not they can trust our government. Yes, all of these topics did come up in my conversation with the group, but so did something else. Intimidation.

75% of the individuals I spoke with are very intimidated by the thought of a retirement account or a 401(k). They know it is a good idea and feel foolish for “not speaking the the HR guy,” but frankly they are confused and scared. This is their money, what little they have, and they don’t know where to put it. They are listening to the professionals yelling at them to save and are whispering back, “But what does this even mean? What am I getting into?” Why this is interesting to me is because no one is talking about it. Not all young adults have the opportunity to put money in a 401(k), but many young adults who have this option feel uneducated. Think about how many of them were raised, taught to arm themselves with knowledge when making a decision, weigh all the options, shoot for the best and accept nothing less. It’s no wonder they feel they cannot make this significant decision about their future when they are missing information.

It is sad to me that financial education, something that impacts every American’s life, has been cut from the school systems. If not cut, it is an elective course or the “lower-level” math. We teach our children about history, geography, biology, literature, chemistry, and calculus. Proper knowledge of these will get you into college and allow you to acquire a better paying job, but none of these subjects will be a part of every American’s future. None of these subjects affect their life like having good financial knowledge. Too bad they don’t get it, and so we leave them uninformed and intimidated.

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