Planning and saving for retirement may seem like goals that are far in the future. Yet saving, especially for retirement, should start early and continue throughout your lifetime.

Did you know that the average American spends 20 years in retirement? That’s a lot of years to plan for!

So, if you haven’t started saving for retirement yet, now is the time. Remember, by saving early, you have time on your side. Your savings will grow and your earnings will compound over time.

Here are the top five ways anyone can prepare for retirement.

  1. Participate in the retirement plan offered by your employer. If your employer offers a retirement plan, join it as soon as you can and contribute as much as the plan allows. Most employers with a 401(k) plan match a fixed percentage of the employee’s contribution. The
    most common match is 50 percent of the employee’s contribution up to a maximum percentage of wages or salary (usually 6 percent). The majority of employers who provide matches offer 50 percent or more. That’s like getting free money! Don’t leave money on the table.
  2. Save for retirement even if you don’t belong to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Anyone receiving compensation or married to someone receiving compensation can contribute to an
    IRA. In addition, if you are self-employed, you can start a Simplified Employment Plan (SEP) or a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE).
  3. Make sure you’re saving 10-15 percent of your income for retirement. Whether you’re using your employer’s 401(k), an IRA, another savings vehicle, or a combination, saving 10-15 percent of your income should allow most people to save enough for a comfortable retirement. Most
    financial experts recommend contributing up to your employer’s match into your company- sponsored 401(k), then making up the remainder of the 10-15 percent by contributing to an IRA.
  4. No matter how you’re saving, make your contribution automatic. You are much more likely to stick to it when the contributions are automated. (This is true of any kind of saving – not just
    retirement).
  5. If you owe debt, pay it off as quickly as possible. If you all of your income is eaten up with debt payments, it’s pretty difficult to set aside the needed 10-15 percent for retirement.

For more in-depth information about retirement planning, please check out this guide to preparing for retirement from Money Crashers.