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If you want to retire a millionaire, one of the best ways to get there is to save and invest your money throughout your career. A little bit per paycheck consistently saved over time can add up to a cool million or more in retirement. How much you need depends on a small handful of factors. The key ones are:

  • How many more years you can reasonably expect to work.
  • What average rate of return you could earn over that time.
  • How consistently you can actually save money toward that goal.

With a decent handle on those three factors, you can develop a plan to give you a very good shot at winding up a millionaire by the time you retire.

Your key numbers
The table below shows how much you need to save each month, depending on how many years you have left to work, and what rate of return you earn over that time:

Years to Go

10% Annual Returns

8% Annual Returns

6% Annual Returns

4% Annual Returns

45

$95.40

$189.59

$362.85

$662.48

40

$158.13

$286.45

$502.14

$846.05

35

$263.39

$435.94

$701.90

$1,094.41

30

$442.38

$670.98

$995.51

$1,440.82

25

$753.67

$1,051.50

$1,443.01

$1,945.04

20

$1,316.88

$1,697.73

$2,164.31

$2,726.47

15

$2,412.72

$2,889.85

$3,438.57

$4,063.55

10

$4,881.74

$5,466.09

$6,102.05

$6,791.18

Calculations by the author.

Over the long run, the stock market has delivered average returns near that 10% level. Of course, there is no guarantee that future returns will equal those of the past, but past performance gives a reason to believe that such returns may very well be possible in the future. In addition to the returns, though, investing on a regular basis is also a critical part of reaching millionaire status, including investing the small amounts seen in the upper left part of that table.

What if you've got other commitments?
What should clearly pop out in that chart is that, the sooner you get started, and the closer you can get to historical stock-like returns, the less money you have to sock away to retire a millionaire. Still, life has a way of getting in the way of investing.

If you can't invest at a millionaire-maker level today, start with what you can invest, and work your way up as your resources allow. Just remember that the longer it takes you to ramp up your investing, the farther down that table you'll go, and the more you'll need to save to reach that ultimate goal.

You'll likely pass several key milestones in life that offer you a great, relatively painless opportunity to ramp up your investing. Make a commitment to increase your investing every time you pass one of these opportunities, and you can set yourself up to have a much better shot at reaching millionaire status by retirement. For instance:

  • Every time you get a raise, it represents money you weren't living on before that you can put toward investing.
  • Every year, the income tax brackets get adjusted for inflation. All else being equal, your first January paycheck will likely be higher than your final December paycheck. As long as you were making ends meet before, that bracket adjustment gives you more cash available to invest.
  • As you pay off debts, you free up money that you can put toward investing. While you shouldn't invest at all while carrying any high-interest consumer loans, it might be OK to invest while carrying a mortgage, student loans, or potentially even an ultra-low interest rate car loan. As those get paid off, that frees up money to invest.
  • Any time you come across "found money" like a bonus, an inheritance, or a month with three paychecks if you get paid biweekly, that's money you can put toward your plan. Unlike other milestones, "found money" provides more of a one-time burst rather than an opportunity to increase your investing on an ongoing basis. If you're close to a debt-payoff milestone, though, paying off the debt with the found money would free up ongoing cash to invest.

How will you reach your $1 million?
The time you have to invest, the money you're able to sock away, and the rate of return you receive are the three most-important factors you have to work with on your path to $1 million. Whether you're able to get completely on track toward that goal right now, or whether you need to work your way there, the most important thing you can do is to get started down the path as quickly as feasible. The sooner you get started, the more time is on your side, and the better your chances are of retiring a millionaire.

Chuck Saletta has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.