In many ways, April Blum is a typical American teenager. She loves texting, spending time at the mall, and hanging out with friends. But there’s one big difference between her and her peers. At 19, April is already a successful entrepreneur and saving for retirement.
Fueled by her income as a freelance photographer, April is among the 34% of self-employed recently surveyed by Aegon globally, who say they make sure that they are always saving for their retirement. "I'm a hoarder" she says. "I hate spending, I love saving. Every time I swipe my ATM card, it physically hurts!"
She credits the origin of her saving habits to the ceramic pink piggy bank her father gave her on her tenth birthday. She stuffed it with coins and small bills collected on family holidays and birthdays, which she would diligently turn over to her savings account every few months. By the time she was in high school, she had already opened a Roth IRA (a U.S. retirement savings account with tax-advantages). She felt she needed it, given the financial insecurity she anticipated in her future career.
Without access to employer-sponsored retirement benefits, the self-employed have a greater personal responsibility for funding their retirement than employees, something April was aware of even as a senior in high school.
April started her business by convincing her classmates to hire her to take their senior yearbook portraits. She also persuaded local rock bands to hire her to photograph their live concerts, enabling her to gain valuable experience, and score free tickets.
Between her part-time job scooping ice cream, her dizzying schedule of concert shoots, and her high school clientele, she had amassed $5,000 by the end of her senior year. That nest egg meant she could afford to take an unpaid internship with an internationally renowned photographer during her freshman year at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
"Most of my classmates have to take part-time jobs between classes and have no extra time to do anything else. I knew I didn't want that," she says.
According to Aegon's global 'Retirement preparations in a new age of self-employment' report, the majority of self-employed people globally and in the United States have largely positive aspirations about their retirement, a quality April shares. But she is also remarkably proactive about achieving her financial goals.
How does a millennial defy gender and age norms by becoming a habitual saver?
"I give credit to my dad" she says.
Changing female roles
As a stay at home dad, April's father, Steven, was very aware of the need to keep on top of the family's finances and prepare for retirement. Her mother, Holly, a graphic designer at a large advertising agency, happily surrendered financial matters to her husband, admitting she still felt it was a 'man's domain'.
But a new story is emerging. Unlike her mother, April is unintimidated about handling her own finances.
Is it possible that male homemakers are changing the financial literacy of the women they raise?
April thinks so.
"As a woman, I'm naturally closer with my mom and I always listen to what she has to say. But because my dad was home with me, we have this amazing relationship. From the time I was little, he always talked about savings. Mom gets my artistic side. But dad was the voice of reason. When I was offered my internship, Mom said 'How wonderful!' Dad said, 'Are you getting paid?'"
Self-employed approach to retirement saving
Thanks, in large part, to the influence of her financially savvy dad, April is defying the odds. According to new research from George Washington University, women in many countries are still flunking the basics when it comes to financial literacy. However, she conforms with the norms of the self-employed who identify more potential sources of retirement income than employed workers.
At her father's suggestion, she recently opened a brokerage account where she contributes a small portion of her income to a variety of mutual funds whenever she can. She spends judiciously, a habit which has helped her navigate the cost of living in New York City and the expenses associated with her profession.
"My father told me I should aim for $10,000 in savings by the time I graduate from college because equipment can break, and there may be upfront costs for studio rental, travel or all sorts of other unexpected things. And believe me, he was right!"
But April believes her father's influence goes beyond money. "One of the cool things about the way I grew up was that I learned to think more like a man. To know my worth, to think big, but also to be grounded. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams, but not without a safety net."
No plans to ever retire
Only 39% of the American self-employed in the survey say they have a backup plan if they need to stop working before their planned retirement date. April isn't bothered by such a statistic. Like 56% of self-employed in the US, she plans to retire after age 65, or possibly never to retire at all.
"I want to do this for as long as I physically can. By the time I'm in my seventies, I hope I'll be successful enough that I can hire young kids to drag my equipment around so I can just focus on the work I love, the photography."