Actor Tony Goldwyn said, "people are pretty chill and respectful on Twitter." And that may be true -- unless those people are millennials discussing retirement. A quick browse of tweets containing #millennialretirementplans reveals anything but a chill mindset. What you will find is a mix of sarcastic and anxiety-ridden predictions like "Work until you are death's door" and "The millennial retirement plan is dying." 

A 2019 Wells Fargo retirement study reflects the same attitude. The study indicates that only 13% of millennials expect to rely on Social Security benefits as their primary income in retirement. In the study, 45% of millennials said they planned to rely on a 401(k) or an IRA as their primary source for paying retirement expenses. And without a Social Security cushion or a big savings balance, millennials don't see a clear path to retirement. In fact, just 55% of millennials said they are saving enough for retirement, according to the study. The remaining 45% are left, well, freaking out.

A woman at her computer indicates panic

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Chances are, you don't love the idea of working indefinitely. But there is some good news. If you have a few decades left in the workforce, you can use that time to your advantage. And the bad news? You face tough choices today to secure those golden years tomorrow. Here's where to start. 

1. Understand the time value of money 

In the simplest terms, the time value of money means that $1 today is worth more than $1 a year from now. The reason it's worth more is that you can invest that $1 and earn interest on it for the next 365 days. 

Let's say you have $1,000. You decide to invest that cash in a fund earning 5%. After a year, you'll have earned $50, and your balance will be $1,050. After another year, assuming consistent earnings, you'll be sitting on $1,102 plus some change. The fun part is that $50 you earned in the first year is now earning interest too. Run this math out for 20 years and your nest egg grows to $2,653.30, without adding any more money to the pot. This is called compounding and it's the magic that makes investing work.

What if you forgo saving for a year, instead spending your $1,000 on a luxurious vacation? This hits you in three ways. First, you use your cash. Second, you miss an opportunity to earn an easy $50. And lastly, you miss out on the potential to earn 20 years of interest on that $50. 

And debt works the opposite way. By charging living expenses to a high-interest credit card, you are tying up your future funds to pay off that primary debt plus the interest it racks up. This is part of why debt can get out of control quickly.

The takeaway is this: Save early and save often. It's just easier.

2. Know your own spending 

If monitoring your spending is among your least favorite things to do, you're not alone. Studies show that millennials make $411 in unbudgeted purchases each month. While that's not ideal, it is a potential goldmine for your retirement savings plan. 

Set aside some free time to review your bank statements for the last two months. Highlight any purchases that were non-essentials, as these will point you to savings opportunities. Perhaps you could skip every other Food Truck Friday or take one fewer weekend trip every six months. Redirect that cash into your savings or investment account, and get it earning for you now.

There are plenty of budgeting apps to help get you started tracking your expenses. 

3. Look hard at your income potential 

It's also important to take a realistic look at your future income potential. If you're on a great career track at work and expect raises going forward, you'll have an easier time stashing money away. You should plan on increasing your savings deposits every time you get a raise.

But if your future income potential is less certain, it's crucial to be disciplined about your savings today. You might think about skipping Food Truck Fridays altogether or picking up a side gig on to pad your savings account. 

4. Max out your employer-sponsored plan 

If you have access to an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k), make the most of it. Usually, the money you contribute to your 401(k) is both automatic and pre-tax -- meaning the money is taken straight from your paycheck and you don't pay income or payroll taxes on those contributions. Unless it's a Roth 401(k), you also aren't taxed on the earnings in the account until retirement. 

Your regular, automatic deposits into the 401(k) will grow to a nice sum over 20 years. But you can earn even more by maxing out any employer-match. Employer-matching means your employer puts money in your account based on your own contribution activity. Some employers will match your contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary, and others will match up to a specific dollar amount. Either way, it's free money. Make it work for you by contributing at least enough to your 401(k) to max out those employer contributions. If you don't get your full match, you're leaving free money on the table. 

Don't wait to start saving 

Don't let those gloomy #millennialretirementplans tweets get you down. You have time on your side, and the sooner you start saving for retirement, the more fruitful the process will be.