I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively across the U.S. and around the world.  Although I have met many different people along this journey, I have heard the same poor advice spread throughout many circles and I want to set the record straight—it’s never too early to start planning for retirement.

We should stop listening to those who tell us that retirement planning is only for old folks, and since you are still young, you should just focus on making the most of today. I have heard people say this more than once and it’s a big mistake.

According to the World Health Organization, people are living longer and so we will need more money to support ourselves in the future. Hence, we need to start preparing for retirement earlier than the generations before us.

When you are young, you think that you have a lot of time to wait before you have to worry about your later years. I know about this short-sided way of thinking because when I was that age, I did the same. I thought that my retirement days were far in the future, but the smart people knew this was a myth and didn’t follow that notion.

It’s important to also know that one day you will wake up and discover like I did, that time has gone by faster than you realized. At that point, you will ask yourself, what happened to time as it has escaped you and you didn’t see the change.  As a result, you will be way behind in saving for your retirement. Since I don’t want that to happen to you, I hope that these six measures will prevent you from falling into that trap that so many people under the age of 35 do.

  1. Immediately pay down those high-interest credit cards.  If you don’t get rid of them, it will block you from buying some of the big-ticket items that you may want in the future like a home, a nice car, or a good vacation with your family and friends.
  1. Open a Roth IRA and fund it by purchasing some progressive low-cost mutual funds. We have to stop saying to ourselves “not now because I want to live it up while I’m still young”. When I was your age, I said the same thing and when I woke up in my late thirties, I was behind on building up my retirement funds.
  1. I know that owning a home is not for everyone, as renting is likely the ideal option for now. Nonetheless, if you can, this is one of those investments that is tough to acquire but will pay off in the long run. Fortunately, I got some good advice to buy a house when I was very young and it paid off for me and my family. To be truthful, many of the people who I knew for years had preferred to rent and had a great time living their lives, but when they got older, many of them regretted that critical decision.
  1. If your company has a 401(k) plan and you are still not contributing to it, start NOW.  In the late 1970’s, when the 401(k) program was introduced, most people didn’t know much about it so they chose not to take full advantage of this opportunity. However, today there is absolutely no excuse not to contribute to this tax-deferred opportunity. If you don’t do it, you will potentially be turning down free money that many of the companies are matching for the employees that are enrolled.
  1. Even though you may have some outstanding bills, you still have to start saving money. The goal should be to save 10 percent of your salary. If you can’t save a lot, start with something you can afford and work your way up to this percentage. The sooner you get used to saving, the easier it will be to do it in the future.  Also, getting in the habit of saving will also make you more self-sufficient. If you want something bad enough, you won’t have to ask your parents or your friends for money since you will be able to get it for yourself.
  1. If you have money in bank CDs or bonds, make sure that you don’t lock up your money in these investments too long. You shouldn’t own a fixed security that has a maturity greater than three years. You shouldn’t do so because if interest rates rise, the value of these financial products will fall in value. Plus, if you are under 35 years old, being invested into bonds is not a wise decision for growth.  When you are young most financial professionals will advise you to invest into aggressive products such as blue chip stocks or equity mutual funds since these products have historically grown faster when you reinvest your dividends.

If you are over 35 years old and have started saving for your retirement yet, don’t panic. As I mentioned earlier, I started saving for it late. Fortunately, I took advantage of the retirement catch-up option in the 401(k) and in the IRA for people who are 50 plus and want to put away extra money for retirement. I did this when I was working and it has helped me build up my retirement resources. But for those 35 and younger, who have parents that didn’t plan well for the later years, you may have to make provisions for them to live with you. I know that is an unexpected expense that many young people are not planning for, but it’s a reality that many people will have to face so you better start saving now just in case.

In closing, if you are under 35 years old, I hope that this article has inspired you to start saving for your retirement NOW.  You don’t want to wake up years from now and realize that you started too late and now you can’t afford to retire. If you follow any of the six tips I outlined above, you will be on the road to securing a happier future.