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Financial Marathon Man

0119 EndresTwenty-seven year old Cody Endres takes the long view of retirement. His goal? Financial freedom. But he knows it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

Financially, Cody’s got it going on. Although he’s just 27 years old, he has already made financial decisions that will serve him well for the rest of his life and give him a good shot at an early retirement. While retirement is the furthest thing from the mind of most people his age, he’s thinking and planning ahead.

The goal, he says, is to have financial freedom—and to have it at a relatively young age.

Financial freedom means you are in control of your finances instead of being controlled by them. It also means that you get to make life decisions without being overly stressed about the financial impact—because you are prepared. Decisions like when to retire.

“If you do it right—build on the Wisconsin Retirement System by saving with a 403(b) or Roth IRA—you can retire well equipped when you are still young enough to enjoy it. I think that is everyone’s goal,” Cody explains.

Indeed, the desire to retire early is shared by the majority of working Americans. Unfortunately, many will be disappointed, because the Retirement Risk Index indicates that 50% of today’s households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65. (Source: 2017 Federal Reserve Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking). The average retirement age in the U.S. currently hovers around 63 years old.

The reality is that to achieve financial freedom and be in a position to retire at a younger age, you have to do some early planning and save accordingly, says Laura Kamps, Financial Planning Specialist at WEA Member Benefits.

Help others, but don’t forget about yourself

Cody is a special education teacher in the School District of Lodi. “This is my fourth year. I teach grades 3–5 at a charter school call OSC. It’s a project-based school with a lot of integrated technology. It has a little different atmosphere, but it’s cutting edge. It’s a pretty cool place to be.”

Like most educators, Cody chose the profession because it gives him the opportunity to help others. “It’s empowering to be in a position to change lives—to do that each day and each year.”

But Cody is aware that the giving nature of those in education has its drawbacks. “Educators are often so focused on their kids that they fail to take care of themselves. There has to be a balance. To be able to take care of your kids, you have to take care of yourself. That includes your financial health,” he says.

For younger educators, debt and student loans add to the challenge. “When you’re on a relatively medium to low income, it’s hard to pay off those debts and still save and have a life. I think it’s important to have a budget, live well within your means, and know where your money is going each month. If it’s going to the right places, it’s easier to pay off those loans and also save for your future.”

Sage advice from a young teacher

“Educators are often so focused on their kids that they fail to take care of themselves. There has to be a balance. To be able to take care of your kids, you have to take care of yourself. That includes your financial health.”

Seize the opportunities

If Cody has any regrets at this early stage of his career, it’s waiting until year three to start saving.

“When I first started at Lodi, the district provided information about Member Benefits’ programs—auto, home, and renters insurance, Roth IRA403(b) savings—and the payroll deduction option. The first two years I was so flustered and busy in my new position, I didn’t take advantage of it. But in year three, a colleague of mine, who I look to as a financial mentor, said, ‘Hey, check them out, take advantage of a financial consultation.’ So I did, and it has been a huge benefit.”

Cody could be the poster child for what educators need to be doing to take control of their financial future. He is taking full advantage of all the resources and benefits available.

“My first experience with Member Benefits was the financial consultation. I met with Laura and had a great conversation, and I learned a lot. We talked savings options and insurance.

“I read the monthly e-mail Member Benefits sends out through my district religiously. I also downloaded two free eBooks, 10 Money-Saving Tips New Teachers Want to Know and 20 WRS FAQs. I haven’t attended a financial seminar yet, but would be inclined to do so in the future.”

Cody started a 403(b) through Member Benefits last year. “I’m starting small, but as I go along, I hope to increase my contribution. While it’s important to start early, I know it’s equally important to contribute more when I can.”

Opportunities to increase retirement contributions come in a number of forms. It’s not always a pay raise. “Any time you’re able to get extra hours at work, or you have summer work, and you realize you have a surplus of money, that’s the time to take advantage of a savings opportunity. Recognizing the long-term potential for that money—not using it for a vacation or to buy the newest thing—is a great way to chip away at debt, add to your reserve or emergency fund, or increase retirement savings. Over the course of time, all of those opportunities add up and will help you reach your goal sooner.”

Cody’s right. And he’s also right about increasing your retirement contribution over time, says Laura. “When your discretionary income gets a raise, either from increased income or reduced expenses—say you pay off a loan—think about redirecting that money in a way that will impact your financial future.”

“I’m looking forward to watching my balance grow. Hopefully by the time I retire, it’ll be a nice sum,” says Cody.

Financial security made simple

Insurance is another aspect of financial security that is often overlooked or misunderstood. “I worked with Steve Schofield at Member Benefits. We played phone tag for a while over the summer, but he was persistent on getting back to me and making sure we had time to meet up. He made the process simple. He guided me by saying, ‘You need this form today and that form tomorrow, and I’ll take care of the rest.’

“Sometimes dealing with insurance stuff can take a long time and there’s a lot of red tape. Steve made it really easy. I would recommend working with him.”

In it to win it

“I’m on my way. I’m finishing up paying off student loans, saving, building an emergency fund, talking to investment people, and making sure my money is going to the right places and I’m on track. Obviously it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There are many decades to go. But I think the outlook is good.”

Unfortunately, saving for retirement is not a priority for most 20-somethings just starting out in the workforce. “It’s a mind set that needs to change,” says Laura.

The benefits of early saving are many. Of course there’s compounding interest. “It’s a beautiful thing,” she adds. “But on a very basic level, you are doing two important things when you save for retirement. First, you’re putting money away for your future; and second, you’re learning to live on less. Both will help you in the long run.”

Members helping members

We’re really glad Cody’s name found its way to us last summer. Finding members to interview for the magazine can be difficult when you are not rubbing shoulders with Wisconsin public school employees on a regular basis. There’s also a shy factor that comes into play from time to time (the interview typically includes a photo shoot). Cody was not only willing to share his story, he was enthusiastic about it. In his e-mail response to our inquiry, he said, “Thanks for reaching out to me. I would enjoy the opportunity to help in whatever way I can to better educate other educators and share what WEA Member Benefits represents.”

As a member organization, we rely on you to help us get the word out about our programs and what we offer to help Wisconsin public school employees and their families. And, we can’t say it better or with more authority than someone like Cody, who has first-hand experience.

Take it away, Cody. “They make it easy to talk about the great benefits they offer. The service was great, the programs are high quality, and the prices were better. For example, the insurance premiums were lower for me and I have more coverage. So making a switch made good financial sense.

“Everyone was understanding of my busy schedule and willing to work with me to provide the services. I have a lot of appreciation for that.

“Plus, Member Benefits was started by teachers for teachers, and there’s a trust factor with that. We all support each other as educators, so that’s a huge thing.

“I definitely recommend Member Benefits. I look forward to having my story put out there so I can share what I’ve learned and my first-hand experience.”

>>MORE: Free eBooks from Member Benefits

Member profile

0119 cody endresCody Endres

Cody is a special education teacher in the Lodi school district. He teaches grades 3–5 at a charter school called OSC. This is his fourth year.

Why he’s in education: “What I like best about being an educator is the opportunity to help individuals—struggling students or students who are new to OSC. It’s empowering to be in a position to change lives—and to do that each day and each year.

“Whenever kids improve upon their reading, that’s like, ‘This is why I do this.’ I don’t think there is anything more impactful than teaching someone how to read, especially for someone who has struggled for years. When they finally have that breakthrough and can read, write, and spell, that’s one of the most powerful things. It’s so gratifying because you know you are giving them the keys to be successful in whatever they decide to do after they leave school.”

Cody’s best advice: “It’s really important to pay attention to your finances in your early 20s so you’re not worrying about it and trying to catch up in your 40s. There are two points I want to drive home, especially for newer and younger educators. One, as soon as you get in there, start saving. And two, pay down your debt.”