Even after you begin to save, you might still struggle with the idea of putting money in a retirement account. Many people do. You may fear tying up your money for such a long time.

You: You got that right.

That’s understandable.

You: It is?

Yes. After all, with rare exceptions, once you put your money into a retirement account there is no way to access it without significant income taxes and penalties. At least not until you are 59½ years old.

You: Okay, but that doesn’t really help with the whole “fear of tying up my money for a long time” thing. Actually, I think you made it worse!

I know. But your fear of not being able to easily get at your retirement money is actually a good thing and here’s why:

Making a contribution to a retirement account is like moving money from your right pocket to your left pocket.

When you take money from your right pocket, you take it from your wallet, where you would surely spend it. When you put the money into your left pocket, you cannot spend it without all those taxes and penalties. I say it’s your left pocket because the money is still yours. You aren’t spending it and you aren’t giving it away. It is going to the future you.

You: Is this kind of like science-fiction?

Personally, I prefer comedy. Have you ever seen “The Office” episode where Dwight Schrute receives faxes from “Future Dwight,” compliments of Jim?

You: Yes. I loved that one.

Me too. Well it’s the same principle.

You: C’mon, it’s a little different.

True enough, but it’s awfully close. By saving for retirement, you are sending money to your future self.

You: Whereas Dwight receives faxes from his future self.

But you’re getting it, right?

You: That’s what she said.

Not bad!

The important thing to remember is that all those negatives from accessing your retirement plan money before retirement will make you think twice, maybe even more than twice, before raiding your account. Imagine if there were no penalties or taxes on early retirement plan distributions?

You: I’d probably tap into it like I do my checking account.

Exactly. In fact, most people would be unable to resist the temptation.

You: That’s what she said.

Mr. Scott, I can’t believe they let you in here.

You: Sorry, but you just keep laying them up there.

Fair enough, but the moral of the story is that a retirement plan’s restrictions help to restrain your spending. So put as much as you can in your left pocket. It won’t be long before you measure the size of your left pocket and don’t remember the sacrifice of a somewhat smaller right pocket.

You: That’s what —

I know, it’s up there again. Thanks for restraining yourself. Now that’s living Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck.

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