At allfinancialmatters.com, I ran across an interesting calculator titled "The Cost of Waiting." Examples of how it pays to start saving early rarely fail to amaze me. Here's one example, featuring an expected annual return of 10% and annual inflation of 3%:

Save Now ...

or Pay Later ...

Age to begin saving

25

Age to begin saving

40

Retirement age

65

Retirement age

65

Number of years until retirement

40

Number of years until retirement

25

Amount saved per year

$2,000

Amount saved per year

$9,001

Expected amount at retirement age before inflation

$885,185

Expected amount at retirement age before inflation

$885,185

Expected amount at retirement age after inflation

$399,270

Expected amount at retirement age after inflation

$399,270

Source: allfinancialmatters.com

Notice how you end up with the exactly same sums at retirement, whether you start saving and investing at age 25 or 40? Well, keep studying the table. See anything jarring? Look closely, and you'll see that the amount you can amass by investing just $2,000 per year if you start when young is the same sum you'll end up with if you wait 15 years -- though you'll have to more than quadruple your investments, to over $9,000 annually, if you opt to wait.

The difference is striking, even with shorter delays. If you save $2,000 per year starting at age 40 and earn 10% on it, with 3% inflation, by age 65, you'll have accumulated more than $125,000, after inflation. If you put off that saving and investing for just five years, commencing at age 45 and ending at age 65, you'll have to save and invest $3,434 each year. That sum is more than 70% higher than $2,000 -- and due to simply putting things off for five years.

If you're late to the game, that's no excuse to keep waiting. Remember that while the market has averaged 10% growth annually (excluding inflation), you may be able to do considerably better by investing in some carefully selected mutual funds or stocks. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), for example, has averaged 12% annual growth over the past decade, while Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) has averaged nearly 18%.

If you don't think you can find those winning stocks on your own, hire someone to do it for you. Many mutual funds have put together impressive track records. For instance, the T. Rowe Price Media and Telecommunications (PRMTX) fund has averaged more than 13% since 1998, and was recently invested in Leap Wireless (Nasdaq: LEAP), Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS), and International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT).

For more great fund recommendations and much more, try a free 30-day trial to the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Yum! Brands. Electronic Arts is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.