Success Story: Megan Marlena

Highway sign with the words Retirement-Next Exit

With surprisingly little effort, you can find ways to put 10% of your income into a retirement plan -- and build real wealth.

Megan Marlena did.

When the publicity coordinator for a book publisher opened her 401(k) account five years ago, she began contributing 5% of each paycheck.

But three years later, she stopped making contributions.

Megan had no reason, no plan for spending the money that she should have been investing in her 401(k) -- the 28-year-old simply liked seeing a bigger balance in her bank account.

Of course, Megan wound up spending the extra cash on car payments, vacations and decorating her Walnut Creek, Calif., home.

That's not a recipe for success, and in January 2008, that all changed.

Over Christmas, she read Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams by David Bach.

The book had been a college graduation gift from her mother. "It took a while before I actually decided to read it, but when I did, it really opened my eyes," Megan says.

In the book, Bach stresses the importance of women putting away 10% of their income. Megan immediately thought 10% of her income was too much to sacrifice.

Then she asked herself what she would do if she had to suddenly take a 10% pay cut.

Megan knew she would -- and could -- make the necessary cuts to live on 10% less, given that circumstance.

"Logically, if I could make it work with a pay decrease, I could make it work for retirement contributions," she says.

After the initial shock of having a smaller number on her paycheck, Megan found it easy to reduce her spending by 10%. Cuts included brown bagging her lunch each day, making coffee at home and taking advantage of sales when buying clothes.

She also tries to conserve fuel by not driving as much or running unnecessary errands.

"My wine selections might have gone down a shelf as well," Megan adds.

Overall, she doesn't feel as if contributing 10% to her 401(k) has affected her quality of life.

And even though most of Megan's single women friends don't have retirement plans, she's now determined to be a "smart woman who finishes rich."

"Sometimes seeing your full paycheck is much more attractive than watching so much of it go somewhere where you can't access it for 40 years," she says. "But I don't want to have regrets."

Megan's tips for those looking to find money to invest in a 401(k):

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