The ads make a good point. Here are five things about prioritizing that I wish I had known when I was young enough for this kind of knowledge to matter.
Saving more is possible, even if it doesn't seem that way. For most of my life, I never seemed to have enough money. What extra cash I did have went for the little luxuries -- an annual vacation and Friday night dinner out. If I had known then what I know now, I would have compromised -- dinner at home, a few days less at the shore and a few more bucks in savings.
Choosing the right employer is important. A generous retirement plan is an incredibly valuable benefit. I took jobs without ever considering -- or even asking -- about the retirement plan details. In retrospect, that was just plain dumb.
Good advice is worth a lot. For years, I made my 401(k) investment picks by closing my eyes and pointing. If I had been smarter, I would have gotten some expert help -- even if I had to pay for it -- because a few points more in earnings or interest could have made a big difference over time.
Taking money out is usually a bad idea. I have a friend who a few years ago was eager to buy a retirement home on the lake, but he needed thousands more to seal the deal. The easiest way to get it was to take it out of his 401(k). He bought the house, then he had to pay taxes and penalties on the money he pulled out of savings. All of this borrowing ate a big hole in his retirement account. Now he has to work longer at a job he doesn't like much to compensate.
Don't overspend on college. My kids went to public schools and never owned the most stylish sneakers, but when it came time for college, I splurged on the expensive private schools they wanted to attend because I thought I was giving them the best start in life. In retrospect -- 10 years after their graduations -- I think that indulgence was a waste of money. A bachelor's degree from a state university would have been just as good, and I would have had thousands more stashed in my retirement fund.
The bottom line: Make retirement a priority.