Millennials tend to get a bad rap on the savings front, and that includes retirement. And to some extent, it makes sense that younger adults would lag on the latter. Those in their late teens, 20s, and early 30s are decades away from their golden years, and as such, may not be so quick to prioritize their nest eggs.

Still, some millennials are doing a fantastic job of building long-term savings. An impressive 9% of U.S. adults aged 18 to 34 say they've already socked away $300,000 or more for retirement, according to a GOBankingRates survey. On the other hand, 18% of millennials have $0 saved, while 39% say they have less than $10,000 set aside for their golden years.

If you're in the early stages of your career, it pays to capitalize on the opportunity to build wealth for retirement. And the sooner you start, the more impressive a nest egg you're likely to accumulate.

A smiling short-haired young woman in glasses.


The upside of starting young

When you're young, it's easy to look at retirement as a far-off milestone that doesn't really deserve your attention. But if you make a point to build a nest egg from a relatively young age, you'll have a solid opportunity to take advantage of a secret weapon called compounding.

Compounding is the concept of earning interest on interest. In the context of credit cards, it's a bad thing, because when you carry a balance, compounding works against you. But in the context of retirement savings, it's a good thing, because it allows you to turn a series of modest contributions into a pretty large sum.

Imagine you're able to set aside $300 a month for retirement starting at age 25 through age 65. After 40 years, you'll have $719,000 if you invest your savings at an average annual 7% return, which is more than doable with a stock-heavy portfolio. At the same time, you'll have contributed just $144,000 of your own money ($3,600 a year x 40 years). That translates into a $575,000 gain, and it's all because you gave your savings four decades to grow.

But if you wait 10 years to start saving that $300 a month, your results will look very different. In that scenario, you'll contribute $108,000 of your own money to end up with $340,000. That means you're looking at a gain of $232,000 -- decent for sure, but not nearly as substantial as $575,000. And if you put off retirement savings until your 40s or 50s, you'll limit your ability to benefit from compounding even more.

Prioritize your nest egg

It's hard to focus on retirement savings when you're young and other expenses loom, like rent, credit card debt, and student loan payments. But if you miss out on the chance to start a nest egg at a young age, you'll likely regret it later in life.

The 9% of millennials who are sitting on $300,000 or more in retirement savings are in a great position to enjoy their golden years. If you want to join their ranks, cut back on discretionary spending, get a side gig to generate extra cash, and make lifestyle choices that will allow you to consistently save money. It'll require some effort at present, but you'll be grateful for it when you're older.