Experience has taught these folks a harsh lesson. Fortunately, though, you have a choice. Your future can be like theirs—filled with regret—or it can be like the one they wish they had.
If you have a retirement plan at work, you need to join it. Contribute the maximum now if you can; if not, increase your contributions incrementally until you do reach the maximum on a pretax basis. Once you're there and can afford to save even more, contribute to an IRA, too.
And you need to do this right now. Don't delay another day. Why? Because the sooner you start saving, the less you need to save each month, the more wealth you'll accumulate, and the sooner you can quit saving and start enjoying a life of leisure.
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Here's an illustration showing why that's true: Suppose you're 30 years old and for the next 35 years you contribute $5,000 a year (well below the maximum), earning 8 percent per year. At age 65 your account will be worth $861,584.
But if you delay your participation just one year, starting instead at age 31, your account will be $68,451 less! If you contribute $1,000 a month and wait a year to start, your loss will be more than a quarter of a million dollars!