Start early. Save often. Such are the keys to successfully saving for retirement. But it's not the size of your brokerage account balance that matters; it's the length of time that you spend building it.

According to a recent study (free registration), preparedness contributes more to peace of mind than net worth. The longer you've spent saving for the after-work years, the more comfortable you are, says the "Re-Visioning Retirement" report, sponsored by AIG Sun America.

So what constitutes "early"? It seems that 24 years of preparation is the defining number that separates those who are happy with their retirement savings status from those who are not. The least happy retirees, according to the study, had been saving an average of 11 years. So starting your savings regimen before age 40 can do wonders for your senior citizen psyche.

We'll venture to guess that establishing a pattern of saving -- instead of scrambling to do so at the last minute -- helps put money in perspective. Those who have fashioned a nest egg during good times and bad know that a market downturn doesn't mean the end of the world for their retirement dreams.

But when retirement is a distant goal, how do you motivate yourself to start a savings habit? How about dangling an official title and tantalizing prize? Take a cue from Fool Community member Moobey. She and her significant other developed a point system and tangible prizes to motivate themselves to maximize their retirement savings. They review their finances quarterly and assign points based on their finances. Points are awarded for brokerage balances, home equity, short-term savings. Points are subtracted for each dollar of debt.

Check out a page from her rulebook on the Eight Levels of Moguldom -- the final stage being $1 million in savings.

Start your own savings competition. Use the link below to forward this article to a friend. Or nemesis. We don't care, as long as you're socking some money away for the future.