Start Saving for Retirement Early

It is essential to set aside money for retirement beginning with your first job.

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Retirement saving is a long-term game, and we need to start preparing as soon as possible. It is getting more difficult every year to retire. Pensions are disappearing and Social Security payments might be reduced. And, according to Vanguard, the average 401(k) balance is less than $80,000, far below what is needed to retire comfortably.

[See The 10 Best Places to Retire in 2012.]

It is essential to keep retirement in mind as soon as you get your first full time job. You might not be able to save a lot right away, but there are two key things you can do to set aside funds for your retirement:

Avoid lifestyle inflation. Most of us are not saving enough. From new college grads to mid-career office workers, we are spending too much of our income without knowing where it all goes. There are so many things to spend money on, including luxury cars, expensive clothes, and the latest gadgets. All these things were not necessary 20 years ago, so why do we feel the need to spend so much money on such items now?

I’m not saying you need to live like a pauper. But if you carry a credit card balance, then you should re-examine your spending habits. Cutting back on unnecessary luxuries can allow you to save more for your future and avoid lifestyle inflation. One easy thing that you can do is to allocate a portion of any raises or bonuses you may receive toward your savings instead of spending it. This way you will increase your savings rate every year.

[See How to Save for Retirement on a Low Income.]

Build wealth. The other essential component to retirement saving is to build wealth. There are many ways to accomplish this over the long term. Many people focus on doing a great job at work and subsequently climb the corporate ladder. But it is important to be aware of other avenues of wealth building, too. You could learn to invest in the stock market, become the landlord of a rental property, or freelance on the side. Many people return to school and invest in an advanced degree to increase their earning potential. Some of us even make a bit of extra money from blogging and other online ventures.

Once you have increased your personal income, you need to learn to invest it. That way the funds will keep on growing with a minimum amount of effort on your part.

[See How to Take Advantage of New 401(k) Fee Disclosures.]

Building retirement savings is not easy, so the earlier you start, the better off you will be. A new college grad may not earn enough money to save much of it, but if she keeps her lifestyle inflation down and takes advantage of wealth-building opportunities, then she will be able to grow her retirement savings steadily over her working life. If we increase our efforts to save a bit every year and also take steps to earn more, retirement may not be so far out of reach.

Joe Udo is planning an exit strategy from his corporate job by reducing expenses and increasing passive income. He blogs about his journey to early retirement at Retire by 40.