TIAA’s Thasunda Brown Duckett Shares the Gift of Paying Yourself First

Originally published on LinkedIn. Thasunda Brown Duckett is the President and CEO at TIAA. TIAA ranked No. 8 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.


We are entering the season of gratitude and giving — the perfect time to reflect on what we’re thankful for and how to pay it forward.

I feel so fortunate that I get to surround myself with incredible people every day. You might even say that I’m jealous of me, because I wake up with gratitude for my colleagues, our inspirational clients and the purpose that brings us together at TIAA — we exist to secure retirement for millions of people. When you think about the problem to be solved, that 40% of Americans expect to run short of money in retirement, I’m jealous of me because I get to be at the table. I get to make an impact.

The most important thing for me is who we serve — people from groundskeepers to university presidents, all of whom are trying to figure out how to pay bills and manage to keep saving through inflation and market volatility. Everyone is looking at their account statements, and they’re not looking great. People are worried about parents who are on the verge of retiring or are already living in retirement. People early in their careers have never seen inflation and markets like this, and their struggles to pay off debts and buy their first home are real.

As I’ve said before, I believe it’s important to stay focused on what we can control, and that extends to this season of giving. It’s wonderful to give to others, especially at this time of year. But please consider this: The best gift you can give to your family is taking care of yourself. When you are strong — mentally, physically and financially — you free your family from having to take care of you.

We know that when people retire without adequate savings, their children and other family members step in to help. And those adult children, the people sandwiched in the middle supporting elderly family members and their own children while trying to maximize their career at the same time, may wind up repeating the cycle. Here’s why: If you can’t save enough for retirement, your children may need to help support you. And so on. And so on.

We have to break that cycle — and I am confident that we can, starting by paying ourselves first.

So in this season of uncertainty, I hope you will consider giving yourself the gift of building toward financial security, whether it’s an extra contribution to your retirement plan at work, an IRA, an emergency fund, or simply making an intentional plan to pay off your bills. If you haven’t done it already, please consider giving yourself the time to sit with a financial advisor, or with online financial tools, to thoughtfully make a plan for the future.

And as you think about how to invest, consider allocating at least a small portion of your portfolio to lifetime income, so that part of your gift to yourself is the peace of mind that comes with knowing you will have guaranteed income in the future.

This is an especially critical message to hear early in your financial life. I know it’s hard to think about retirement, because it feels so far away. But the small gifts you make to yourself early on can add up to a secure future.

All guarantees are based on TIAA’s claims-paying ability. 


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