When we asked our blog readers to share what they considered to be their biggest investing mistake, the "failure to begin investing at an earlier age" was one of the most frequently mentioned investment-related regrets. They're not alone. In Take Charge of Retirement Now—or Be Sorry Later, Ric Edleman reported on a 2012 survey of retirees by Bankers Life and Casualty's Center for a Secure Retirement:
When asked to give younger people just one piece of advice, 39 percent of survey participants said "Save for the future." That answer beat out every other, including finding work you enjoy, being responsible for your own life and continuing your education.
And when asked about the most important piece of financial advice they'd give, 93 percent of those retirees said start saving early, and 84 percent urged younger people to contribute to their workplace retirement plan.
That's the voice of experience speaking eloquently.

While publishing this newsletter for almost 25 years, I've had my moments of frustration when we survey readers who don't renew their SMI subscription and the answer comes back, "I don't have the time to read it." Or, not taking the time to dig into the guide we send new readers, report "I didn't understand how to apply your advice to my situation."

For a few, those might be justifiable reasons. We all go through seasons of life where we're stretched to the max, and just can't take on anything new. But for the majority, it seems to me they simply haven't assigned a very high priority to learning the basics of this budgeting-saving-investing thing. It falls into the "important but not seemingly urgent" category.

The different kinds of responses from our readers remind me of Jesus' parable of the four soils from Matthew 13:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.
23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Now, obviously my intention is not to equate our teaching with the gospel. I'm just looking at the way people respond to our particular message. I start with the assumption that a new reader has a degree of interest in getting control of their financial and investing lives. Why else would they subscribe in the first place?

But when the learning doesn't come easily and quickly (don't understand the message), or they encounter a few investing losses along the way when following our strategies (trouble comes), or their busy schedules push the task of learning more about saving/investing down the ladder of priorities (the worries of this life), they give up. On the other hand, we have readers who have been with us for 10, 15, and 20+ years who testify to the difference following our counsel has made in their lives in building their retirement assets (the good soil).

The "seed" was the same in every instance. Only the condition of the soil differed in whether there was a great harvest. We want to help everyone who comes our way, but have yet to figure out how to plow up and change the various kinds of unproductive soils. I hate losing a subscriber because it means we've failed to get them "over the hump" and on the way to producing a bountiful financial crop. And I know that, for many, if their reluctance to engage in this challenging area continues, there will be painful regrets later in life...and it will be too late.