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Published: Nov 23, 2020 13 min read
Money; Zach Sprung: Kyle Dorosz for Money; Courtesy of Eric, JaVon, Isabel.

JaVon Colbert hides his money from himself — in his car, in his room, in all his bags. Storing those dollars helps the 18-year-old feel safe from the financial struggles he experienced earlier in life.

When Colbert was young, his mother went into debt after buying an apartment to rent out for some extra cash on top of her main job as a factory worker at Toyota. After a few years, though, the rentals at the apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio, dried up.

"It hurt," Colbert says of realizing that his family wasn't as fortunate as he thought. "The things I wanted, like toys, they don't fall out of thin air."

Colbert's mother wasn't deterred, and she turned to hobbies like jewelry-making for extra money. But the reality Colbert faced that sometimes things don't go as planned — and more recently his experience being unemployed during the beginning of the pandemic — pushed him to not just think about the day-to-day needs anymore. The Northern Kentucky University freshman also wants to build generational wealth. So he's begun saving for retirement.

Courtesy of JaVon Colbert

Colbert has the kind of foresight that even many adults lack. While 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, 15% have absolutely no retirement savings, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study. And the current state of the world has made this even worse: nearly a quarter of those 56 and older are postponing retirement because of the pandemic, according to a survey by The Harris Poll on Behalf of The Nationwide Retirement Institute.

While some millennials have given up on saving for retirement because they think there's no future to save for (thanks, climate change), the generation below them may be more optimistic. Teens who funnel money into a savings account are definitely helping out their future selves. Someone who makes the maximum Roth IRA contribution each year from age 15 to 70 would have nearly double the retirement account balance of someone who started at age 25, according to Fidelity Investments.

To be sure, a term like generational wealth might seem outside most teenagers' vocabularies. But a high school class on personal finance, plus worrying about covering expenses for so many years, made one thing clear for Colbert: he doesn't want his money to stop with him. He wants to be able to help out his kids, and his kids' kids.