The Retirement Savings Coach You Already Know

Alannah NicPhaidin, a consultant in international trade compliance who lives in Aurora, Colo., has become an accidental adviser to her friends. She loves crunching numbers and reviewing investments, and eagerly shares her experience. “It made me realize the importance of financial security, particularly for women — particularly making sure you have that protection for yourself,” she said.

Questions from friends tend to crop up when Ms. NicPhaidin, 32, declines invitations to expensive outings — if she can’t afford them, she isn’t shy about saying so, which often prompts a discussion about saving and investing. If her friends are still interested, she helps them scour their financial statements, showing them the kinds of accounts she herself has set up for automatic investing.

Ms. NicPhaidin tries to make the conversation more palatable by serving wine or chocolates before getting into the spreadsheets. “If you’re excited about providing them with their financial security, and you’re able to show how you needed it and what it could do for them in the future, then they get pretty excited too,” Ms. NicPhaidin said. “And it doesn’t just have to be some boring thing of some old guy telling you, ‘You have to budget better.’”

Helping her friends feels personal. When she was 9, Ms. NicPhaidin said, she saw her mother struggle as a single parent after the two emigrated from Ireland with nothing more than one suitcase of clothes and one suitcase of teddy bears to start a new life in Florida. She remembers the hardships they encountered from her mother’s irregular income and how her paltry paycheck sometimes meant eating food discarded by their local supermarket.

Ms. NicPhaidin said she never wanted to experience that kind of financial insecurity again. Now, she saves 65 percent of her income, fueled by a frugality that began after she got her first job as a grocery bagger at Winn Dixie at age 14.

“I would get my paycheck and most kids would be like, ‘I’m going to the mall, I’m going to do this,’” she said. “And every paycheck was cashed and put into an envelope and not looked at again, and then if I was feeling stressed I would count it and go, ‘Oh I have a little bit more,’ so it was a kind of way to make sure that there was security.”

Ms. NicPhaidin’s enthusiasm for saving and investing was hard to resist for Juliet Swanson, a landscape designer in her mid-20s from Falls Church, Va., who says Ms. NicPhaidin helped her turn her finances around.

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