There's a more foolproof way to become a multi-millionaire than playing the lottery or trying to found a huge corporation. It starts with something you probably already have -- a retirement account. But just owning one and contributing some of each paycheck isn't enough. You need to make retirement savings a priority.

Here's a look at five things you should start doing now if you hope to retire with a seven-figure nest egg.

Senior couple on boat looking out at horizon

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Start saving as early as possible

The earlier you begin saving for retirement, the easier it will be for you to reach your multi-million-dollar goal. That's because when you're young, you're probably investing in stocks and funds at a much lower price than what they'll be worth when you retire. This increase in value over your working years results in substantial investment earnings for you. Your later contributions will still provide some investment earnings, but probably not as much because there will be less time for them to grow in value.

If your retirement account is currently worth $25,000 and you didn't contribute another dime for 30 years, you'd end up with over $190,000 with a 7% average annual rate of return. The extra $165,000 comes from investment earnings. If you left your money alone for another year, your balance would jump to over $203,000, assuming the same annual rate of return. The longer your money remains untouched in your account, the more it'll be worth in the end if you've made wise investments.

2. Max your retirement account contributions if you can

You're allowed to contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) in 2020, or $26,000 if you're 50 or older. You may also contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. Try to hit one or both of these limits, if you're financially able to. Large contributions will help you grow your nest egg more quickly, especially when coupled with the investment earnings discussed above.

If you cannot afford to max out your retirement account, just contribute as much as you can. Set a goal for yourself to raise your contributions by 1% of your salary per year if you're not happy with the amount you're currently saving. You may have to reduce your expenditures or try a side hustle to give you additional cash for retirement savings.

3. Get your company's full match

Contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement plan first if your company offers a match. This is free money for your retirement, but you only get it if you use your company retirement plan. Take advantage of it unless you need all your income for your living expenses. 

Ask your HR department if you're not sure how your company match works. Some companies do a dollar-for-dollar match, while others only match $0.50 on the dollar. Virtually all systems cap your match at a certain percentage of your salary. Try to contribute at least enough to your workplace retirement plan to get your full match before putting money into any other retirement account.

You should also familiarize yourself with the company's vesting schedule. This determines when you can keep employer-matched funds if you leave the company. Leaving before you're fully vested costs you some or all of your employer match.

4. Keep debt to a minimum

Debt reduces the amount of cash you have available for retirement savings each month, so you should borrow as little as possible and always shop around before taking out a loan to make sure you're getting the best rate. Avoid high-interest credit card debt at all costs. The high APYs can cause your balance to swell rapidly, jeopardizing your immediate financial security as well as making it more difficult to save for retirement.

If you already have a lot of debt, make paying it down a priority. Now is a good time to refinance your mortgage or take out a personal loan to pay off your credit card debt. You may want to put credit card debt ahead of retirement savings, unless your company offers a 401(k) match. Always get your match first if one is available to you. Once you've paid off your credit card debt, you can then put all the money you were spending on payments toward retirement.

5. Have adequate emergency savings

A lot of people have had to tap their retirement savings this year because they didn't have enough emergency savings to cover a job loss or whatever other unexpected expenses have arisen because of the pandemic. Making an early retirement withdrawal is better than losing your home or ruining your credit, but it will set you back in your quest to becoming a multi-millionaire.

You should have an emergency fund containing at least three months of living expenses, and six months is better if you can manage it. Replenish this every time you use some of it so you're always prepared for the next emergency. That way, you have something other than your retirement plan to fall back on.

Following the five tips above can help you on your way to retiring a millionaire, but the key is consistency. Doing these things for one or two years isn't enough. You need to follow these principles every year and stay abreast of any updates to the rules surrounding retirement plans, like changing contribution limits, that could affect you.