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Worried about your financial future? This selfie could help turn things around

Robert Exley, Jr., a CNBC staffer, now and at some possible future time.
Robert Exley, Jr. | CNBC

It's fun, it's Russian, it's potentially dangerous.

FaceApp, the amusing smartphone app that gives you a sense of what you might look like in 20, 30 or 40 years, can also help you better save for retirement.

Celebrities including the Jonas brothers and LeBron James have posted their own aged faces, and the comments are telling. "Equal parts hilarious and terrifying," said Mindy Kaling on Instagram.

Most people have a difficult time projecting how they'll look or live in 30 years.

That future self is a stranger, and "we tend to discount their pains, pleasures and needs," said Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group, an investment advisor in Omaha, Nebraska.

When an individual's life trajectory is a question mark, it can be harder for her to plan for it, said Sarah Raposo, a researcher at the Stanford University's Life-span Development Laboratory.

Before FaceApp came along, Raposo and other Stanford researchers used virtual reality technology to show people their aging avatars, in the hopes they'd develop empathy for their 70- or 80-year-old self.

In other words, one of the best ways to connect with that older person you'll become in a few decades is to see a picture.

Start by checking out your older self, wrinkles and all, with FaceApp — just be sure to do it safely so you don't give up valuable personal data. Other apps, such as Oldify and AgingBooth, work similarly.

Once you get over the shock, try to imagine your older, future self living in retirement on what you're putting away now.

Hannah Goldstein, a CNBC staffer, now and in the (possible) future
Hanna Goldstein | CNBC

A little pictorial reminder can't hurt and may even help.

A.J. Jacobs, author of "Drop Dead Healthy," a retelling of his quest to become the healthiest man in the world, kept a photo of himself created with aging filters using the app HourFace to remind him why he was subjecting himself to rigorous diet and exercise regimes.

Robert Exley Jr., a 30-year-old CNBC video producer, says short- and medium-term goals were taking up more of his attention than the long-distance future.

FaceApp was an eye-opener. "Putting a face to it makes me feel like I should get more serious about my 30- to 40-year-plan," said Exley.

Hannah Goldstein, 24, a member of CNBC's social media team, says the app didn't change the way she feels about money, savings and retirement. "I'm already thinking about those things," she said.

It makes sense that a lot of young people can't easily imagine where they're headed. A Forbes article titled, "The Young and the Restless: Millennials On The Move," describes how it's uncommon for millennial generation members to stay planted in one spot for long. A Gallup survey found that millennials are more likely to hop from employer to employer than prior generations.

Stanford University's age progression technology

Here's how to take the right steps toward financial fitness in the face of uncertainty.

Focus on what doesn't change, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at personal finance website Bankrate.com. "There are certain steps that are fundamental to financial security, regardless of the path you ultimately follow," he said.

McBride defines those basics as the following:

  1. Spend less than you make.
  2. Build an emergency savings account (ideally, six months' worth of expenses stored away).
  3. Resist debt.
  4. Save for retirement.

It's totally normal not to have clearly defined long-term goals, said Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida. "We can't predict the future," she said.

When her clients are unsure of where they see themselves in 20 years or 30 years, McClanahan said she focuses on their near-term aspirations. That might be paying off a credit card or eventually returning to school for another degree.

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It can be helpful to write down those goals.

For young people who don't know exactly what they're saving for, a Roth individual retirement account is likely the best place to park your money, McClanahan said. Even though a Roth IRA is technically a retirement account, you can pull out any money you've put in at any point without paying any penalties. (You can easily open one online or at Fidelity, Charles Schwab and elsewhere).

"If you end up not buying a house, now you've got a nice head start on your retirement savings," McClanahan said.

It can be anxiety-producing to sacrifice your quality of life now for the future, but it'll be really encouraging to see your savings accumulate.

You can up your chances of being prepared for whatever lies ahead by nailing down healthy routines now, said Liz Weston, a CFP and personal finance columnist at NerdWallet.

According to NerdWallet, the first steps to financial security involve creating that emergency fund, taking full advantage of any retirement plan you have at work and aggressively paying down any credit card debt.

Once you've checked those boxes, gradually turn up your savings. You can also invest for goals other than retirement (consider one of the many robo-adviser apps that make doing so easy).

Ponder the deeper questions, Weston said, but don't let them delay you.

"The most important thing is to start," she said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.


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