You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right in front of your nose. It  could mean the difference between spending your retirement traveling with the grandkids, or eating ramen noodles and watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.

This opportunity will be available only for a limited time, but it's probably too boring to get your attention. It doesn't promise instant riches. It will not let you quit your job tomorrow. It can't cut through a tin can and still slice a tomato. Nevertheless, it's one of your best opportunities for a comfortable retirement.

The startling statistic
I'm talking about your mundane, everyday, boring old IRA.

Here's how I know that you're ignoring this opportunity: Only 14% of households made contributions to an IRA in 2006, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Let's assume that a few of the other 86% have a good reason for not plunking money into an IRA -- maybe they're already retired, for example. Even so, that still leaves a whole lot of people missing out on one of the best opportunities for creating abundant wealth for retirement.

Worse than that, when you miss the opportunity to deposit money into an IRA, it's gone forever. There's no catching up later. Well, that's not exactly true. If you're age 50 or older, you can catch up a little bit by making extra deposits, but virtually no one takes advantage of that bonus.

Why wait?
Here's what you're missing. First, by passing up on your chance to save money in an IRA, you lose the chance to make things easy on yourself. I won't repeat all of the many, many, many reasons that it's to your advantage to start saving early. Just take this one to heart: When you start early, you will need to sacrifice less than you will if you wait.

Second, you miss the chance to maximize the value of each and every dollar you save, making your money work harder than it might in your employer's retirement plan. It's no secret that your 401(k) may be riddled with expensive fees. You're pretty much stuck paying them.

An IRA, on the other hand, puts you in control of your costs. You can choose a discount broker. You can choose investments with very low expense ratios. You can choose to trade infrequently and minimize the amount of money spent on transaction fees.

The potential
You're also missing the opportunity to be the person who takes control of retirement, instead of standing on the sidelines waiting to see whether you will retire wealthy, whether you will maintain your standard of living --  heck, whether you will retire at all.

Let an IRA turn you into an investor, someone who harnesses the power of time and knowledge to fulfill your goals. Before you know it, you'll think of everything in investment terms. Instead of just using its search engine, you'll think about putting some money into Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) stock. The DVDs you watch while you're cozying up on your couch will make you consider Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) as an investment rather than just a service. And Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) won't just be the company that made your software -- you'll see it as a cash engine.

Take the time right now to put some money into your IRA. The window of opportunity for 2007 won't close until the tax filing deadline on April 15. Then start looking for the companies that can create the retirement you dream about.

Don't stop there. Keep reading and ...

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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple likes to cozy up on the couch, but she does not own any stock mentioned in this article. She welcomes your feedback. Netflix is a Stock Advisor recommendation, and Microsoft is recommended in Inside Value. The Motley Fool has a warm-hearted disclosure policy.