Many older Americans nearing retirement regret their saving behavior when they were younger. In fact, around seven in 10 people age 40 or older wish they'd begun socking away more money sooner. 

Current financial obligations can make it hard to think about what's best for your future self. Unfortunately, the longer you wait to start investing, the harder it becomes.  

Instead of delaying (and ending up wishing you hadn't), implement a smart retirement savings plan today. Here are five steps to get on track for a much more secure future.

Smiling woman putting money into piggy bank.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Consider healthcare costs

Retirees can spend a significant portion of their income on healthcare, especially in late retirement. Unfortunately, far too many people forget to plan for medical expenses or wrongly assume Medicare will pay for everything they need. Without dedicated savings for healthcare, you could be forced to scrimp in other areas and spend your savings too quickly.

Estimates vary on exactly how much you'll need to cover that Medicare premium and out-of-pocket costs, but most experts suggest you'll need more than a quarter-million dollars to cover the care of a senior couple throughout retirement. You have to take this into account when figuring out how much to save for retirement. 

2. Set a clear savings goal

Besides healthcare expenses, you'll need to supplement Social Security. It's important to have an idea of how much you'll need saved. There are multiple approaches to set a retirement savings goal, but one of the simplest is to figure out what your final salary is likely to be, and assume you'll need 10 times that amount.  

3. Establish a minimum monthly contribution

With an idea of the amount you need to save, online calculators can tell you how much to invest each month to achieve your goal.

Set this as the minimum monthly contribution. You can increase it later if your salary goes up unexpectedly or put aside some extra if you get a bonus. Just ensure your baseline savings will enable you to hit your target. 

You'll probably need to do some budgeting to afford the necessary minimum contribution. This should be a priority, so you may need to cut spending in other areas. 

4. Open a tax-advantaged account

You'll want to invest your retirement money in an account that provides tax breaks, such as a 401(k) or an IRA. By taking advantage of tax savings, you can more easily hit your savings goals since your taxable income won't be reduced as much. 

If your job offers a 401(k), this account is usually the simplest approach. You also have the option to open an IRA with any discount online broker, whether your work offers a retirement plan or not. Contributions to your IRA are deductible up to annual limits, provided you don't exceed income limits that apply if either you or your spouse has access to a workplace retirement plan. 

5. Automate your savings

After you open a tax-advantaged retirement account and you know how much you want to contribute each month, set up automatic contributions so you never miss one.

If you're contributing to a workplace 401(k), you can sign up to have money taken out of your paychecks. If you've opened an IRA with a brokerage, you can usually set up these contributions through either your bank or broker. 

Do these 5 things and your future self will thank you

Taking these five steps may seem challenging -- especially setting minimum contributions for your retirement savings. But you can't live on Social Security alone and need supplementary savings, so implement a comprehensive plan for your future.