Want to know how to retire early? The two most important steps are simple. First, find your level of "Enough." Second, spend less than you earn and invest the difference.

I wish I could tell you that this alone could lead to an early retirement, but there's one caveat that can dash the dreams of many super-savers: penalties incurred for withdrawing your tax-advantaged savings early. Though there are some circumstances in which you can withdraw money from your 401(k) or IRA early, you generally need to wait until you reach age 59-1/2 before taking your money out penalty-free.

No matter what, you simply can't avoid paying some taxes on your retirement savings. But there are ways to reduce them. More importantly, there is a way to get your money far before you turn 59-1/2 and never pay a dime in penalties. In the slideshow below, you'll see how this process works. Thanks to the Mad Fientist blog, which first brought this method to my attention.

Photos: Hartwig HDK via Flickr, American Advisors Group via Flickr, 401(k) 2012 via Flickr, Calita Kabir via Flickr, eFile989 via Flickr, Pudgeefeet via Flickr.

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