Retiring comfortably can be incredibly expensive, and many older Americans will need at least $1 million to achieve that goal. But saving $1 million isn't easy. Retiring a millionaire takes decades of consistent saving, and it's crucial to start early. 

How early do super savers begin saving?

It's never too early to begin saving, because the sooner you start, the easier it will be to build a healthy retirement fund. But just how early should you begin?

Couple sitting in lounge chairs on the beach

Image source: Getty Images.

In a recent survey from Charles Schwab, the average savings among participants was $920,400. Among that group, around 70% of people began saving in their 20s or 30s, according to the survey. Nearly one-quarter began saving in their 40s, and just 7% started in their 50s.

While $920,400 is a lot of money, it's not quite $1 million. To reach that goal, you'll need to start saving sooner or save more each month.

The exact age you'll need to begin saving will depend on the age you plan to retire, as well as how much you can afford to save every month. For example, if you expect to retire at age 67 and have $400 per month to set aside for retirement, you'll need to begin saving at age 29 to retire with $1 million, assuming you're earning an 8% annual return on your investments. 

What to do if you're off to a late start

If you're past your 20s or 30s and haven't started saving yet, that doesn't mean your retirement dreams are dashed. You can still save enough to retire -- but you might need to adjust your goals.

First, think about whether $1 million is even the right goal to aim for. Depending on your general living costs and your financial expectations in retirement, you may not need to save that much to live comfortably. Using a retirement calculator, you can determine how much you should be saving based on your personal situation. That will result in a more accurate goal than saving toward an arbitrary number.

Next, consider whether you can slash your budget to find extra savings. Saving more money is easier said than done, but every little bit counts. Even if you can only spare a few dollars per week, saving anything is always better than saving nothing.

Finally, if you're drastically behind on your savings, you might need to rethink your retirement plans. This doesn't mean you can't retire, but you may have to consider pushing your retirement date back or finding ways to cut costs and live on less during your senior years. Also, remember to keep saving right up until retirement. No matter how far behind you are, those savings can add up more than you think.

Saving $1 million by retirement age isn't easy, but it's more achievable when you start as soon as possible. Even if you're off to a late start, it's never a bad time to begin saving.