We all know the scariest stories are true stories, so gather 'round kiddies as I tell a tale of investing horror that will haunt your dreams and send shivers through your portfolio.
Here's a scary thought: how much richer could I be?
It's not uncommon knowledge throughout Fool HQ that I've only been a 'stock market investing convert' since I started working here, just over two years ago. Certainly, being surrounded by seasoned investors made me feel much more comfortable about buying my first stock.
I must confess that before this, saving money was pretty far down on my priority list. In fact, it probably didn't exist on it at all. But now, a little wiser, I save a chunk every month to go in the pot. And it was only the other day that it dawned on me...
... How much extra money would I actually have, if I had been saving a similar amount ever since I started earning a wage? And at the risk of breaking down in tears, dear Fool, I'll now try and figure it out for your amusement.
I started work at 18, and it would be an educated guess that this would have been in October. So, quick maths tell me that as of this month, I've been employed consistently (pretty much) for 13 years. Actually, that's a scary enough thought on its own! Now luckily, my wage has increased steadily over this time, so I wouldn't have been able to save as much from my first pay packet, to what I can do today. So let's take an average amount. £200 a month is fair.
So where would I have put this cash if I had decided to invest at such a young age? Well, I would have certainly been risk-averse for a start. And the idea of being paid to own a stock would have been very attractive. So let's take a popular big-dividend hitter: Unilever (LSE: ULVR) (NYSE: UL.US), currently residing on a 3.8% yield and with a history of consistently raising its dividends.
Unilever has a strong cash flow, which helps underpin its dividend in times of turmoil, while it easily covers any debt obligations. Yes, I realise now that putting all my eggs into one stock is not great investing practice. But without my recently learned Foolish knowledge, I wouldn't have known this at the time. So I'm going to base my calculations on if I had invested solely into this one share.
So to break it down, that's (£200 x 12) x 13. A total investment of £31,200, drip-fed over 13 years. And let's say that I decided to reinvest all those lovely dividends in that, too. Now over to our superstar analysts to do the hard part...
It turns out that my small, junior investment pot would now be worth £83,799. Eighty-three thousand, seven hundred and ninety-nine pounds. Heartbreaking. I'd love to say I have a lot to show for my frittered-away £31k, but I haven't. I'm off for a stiff drink and a lie-down.
But I suppose if there's a positive to be drawn from this, it's that I now know how important investing is, and how much difference it can really make to your personal finances. This surely is a good thing, as I'm now looking at how I can supplement my lagging pension pot with my current portfolio.
If you're looking to do the same, be sure to check out our hugely popular FREE investment guide "5 Shares to Retire On". In it, you'll find a detail analysis on Unilever and four other shares that our analysts think are just perfect for any retirement portfolio. Click here to download it now.