I don't know anyone, except an old friend who became a Zen monk, who doesn't dream of being wealthy someday.

Even those who have been financially successful sometimes dream of hitting it really big -- of hundredfold stock returns, of lottery wins, of finding out that their long-lost uncle has the initials W.B. and runs a successful company in Omaha.

For most of us, the odds of such windfalls are pretty low. If we want to be rich someday, we'll have to make our own windfall.

Use what they give you
The U.S. government has made it awfully easy for to us to become rich. You only need two things: a job and some common sense. With those, you can become rich using only what the government gives you.

What have they given you? IRAs. Workplace savings plans like 401(k)s. Tools, in other words, that let you park money in investments and watch it grow -- completely out of reach of the tax man.

These tools can help you fund incredible retirement dreams -- if you use them the right way.

The right way
Effective retirement saving -- which is what we're really talking about -- isn't that hard.  No matter how old you are, if you have an income -- and some common sense, as I said -- you can make your retirement years more comfortable.

And if you're young, and just getting started, you can build some very serious wealth -- even on an ordinary income.

How? Here's the formula:

  • Spend less than you earn. This is the real key to wealth, has been for thousands of years. Whether you earn a little or a lot, you'll have a lot more later if you spend less now.
  • Use those retirement tools. If you're spending less than you earn, you have extra to save. Enroll in your employer's workplace savings plan, if you haven't already. Learn about the power of IRAs, and start contributing.
  • Take everything they give you. Maybe you're already enrolled in your employer's 401(k) or 403(b). But are you taking full advantage of the match? Nearly all employers match your contributions up to a certain amount. That's free money. Get it all.
  • Invest Foolishly. Not foolishly, Foolishly. Use the Fool's investment research and educational resources to find good investments, learn how to take risks sensibly, and build a solid long-term portfolio.

And yes, long-term is the key. Sure, some people have done well with short-term trading strategies, but that kind of success requires luck, intense focus, and a full-time commitment. Is that how you want to approach retirement planning?

Or would you rather buy a few great companies and hold them? Blue-chip superstars like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Altria (NYSE:MO), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), and General Electric (NYSE:GE) have built fortunes -- or just nice nest eggs -- for thousands of savvy investors over the years.

With the recent market turmoil, now could be a great time to buy the next century's blue chips, whether from a list of perennial outperformers your grandfather would recognize, or from the best of newer companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), or Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN)

While spending less than you earn might be the key to wealth, buying great stocks and holding them over the long-term may well be the greatest secret of all.

The Foolish bottom line
But it's not something you can set and forget. You have to stay on top of it. I don't just mean watching your investments, although that's important. You have to continue to monitor your whole financial picture, think about your future, and do the planning necessary to realize your dreams.

Intimidated? We can help. Our Rule Your Retirement service provides how-to articles, interviews with the best minds in investing, and news updates that help you stay on top of things, without having to do hours of research.

Want to check it out? Try it out free for 30 days. The road to wealth begins with the first step.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Apple. Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor choice. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick. Apple, Garmin, and NVIDIA are Stock Advisor recommendations. Garmin is a Global Gains selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.