Retirement Basics
An egg and money in a bird's nest with at $1 bill in the background
retirement
The magic of compounding

Talk to financial types about money and you'll invariably see their eyes get misty when they discuss "the value of compounding."

Why? Compounding describes how reinvested earnings accelerate your savings over time. It has the potential to make you very rich.

Let's say you save $2,000 every year for 20 years, and your investments earn 8 percent annually. If you start at age 25 and contribute until age 45 and then save nothing further, by age 65 you'd have roughly $426,000. But if you wait until age 35 to begin saving $2,000 a year for 20 years and then retire at 65, your kitty would amount to about $198,000. In both scenarios your out-of-pocket contribution is $40,000.

The compounding equation:
Lots of time + Savings + Interest rate above inflation = Lots of money potentially

Put another way, the more time you have to save, the more compounding will work to boost even paltry amounts into significant savings, says Certified Financial Planner Amy Whitlatch, a fee-only practitioner in Cincinnati, Ohio.

For example, let's say you save $50 a month by brown-bagging it instead of buying lunch. If you put that money away for 30 years, earning 7 percent annually, you'll wind up with $61,000.

"A small change in mindless spending can translate into serious retirement savings," says Whitlatch. "You do it regularly, and the compounding works miracles."

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