Saving for the future isn't easy, especially as costs are continuing to rise, retirement is becoming more expensive, and many people are struggling just to get by.

But even if you can't afford to save much right now, it doesn't necessarily take a lot of effort to increase your retirement savings. What you will need, though, is time.

With enough time, it's possible to grow your savings by 10 times (or more) while barely lifting a finger. Here's how.

Two people sitting at a table looking at a laptop and documents.

Image source: Getty Images.

Taking advantage of time

Thanks to compound earnings, your savings will grow exponentially the more time they have to grow. That means that even small amounts can turn into large sums over time, even with zero effort on your part.

For example, say you can afford to invest $1,000 right now and your investments are earning a modest 8% average annual return (which is just below the market's historic average). Even if you make no additional contributions, that $1,000 will turn into $10,000 within 30 years -- again, with no effort on your end.

Of course, not everyone has 30 years to let their money sit. But if you can afford to save even a few dollars a week, you could earn exponentially more.

For instance, say that in addition to your $1,000 contribution, you're also investing $100 per month. Assuming you're still earning an 8% average annual return, here's approximately how much you could accumulate over time:

Number of Years Total Savings
20 $60,000
25 $95,000
30 $146,000
35 $222,000
40 $333,000

Data source: Author's calculations via

The more you invest each month (and the longer you have to save), the more you'll earn. While it's still not easy to save for retirement, taking advantage of time can make it far more attainable.

What if you're falling behind?

In difficult times like these, saving even $100 per month can sometimes feel unmanageable. That's OK. It's easy to feel discouraged when planning for retirement, but saving even a small amount now is still better than putting it off.

Say, for instance, that along with your initial $1,000 investment, you're only able to save $50 per month. At an 8% average annual return, that would add up to around $78,000 after 30 years.

In another scenario, say you put off saving for 10 years, but at that point, you begin investing $125 per month, all other factors remaining the same. Although you've nearly tripled your savings rate, you'd only have around $73,000 within 20 years. In that case, you'd have been better off investing less per month but giving yourself more time to save.

Regardless of how much you can afford to invest each month or how many decades you have until retirement, it's wise to start saving now. Time is your most valuable resource, and the better you take advantage of it, the easier it will be to build a robust retirement fund.