According to a 2014 Gallup poll, having enough money for retirement remains Americans' top financial worry: 59% of people are concerned about having enough to retire, which outpaces every other financial worry -- even paying for major medical expenses.

Retirement funding is often a classic case of "youth is wasted on the young." If you start early enough and invest consistently enough throughout your career, it's almost trivially easy to retire comfortably. The longer you wait, the tougher and more expensive it gets, and the more your focus will need to shift toward figuring out ways to live on less in retirement.

How life gets in the way of saving
Of course, in the earlier stages of life where a little bit of retirement savings could go a long way, other more immediate priorities tend to get in the way of a solid retirement plan. Setting up a household, starting a family, paying off school debts, and even taking care of aging parents can all be more immediate priorities that put retirement savings on the back burner.

On top of those key life priorities come lifestyle choices like vacations, new cars, cable TV, Internet service, local entertainment, and other ways to spend your money. Those things, quite frankly, offer much more immediate fun than saving for retirement does. For many people, it's not until years later -- when the easy compounding years are long gone -- that the benefits of saving earlier in life become apparent.

Those benefits come in the form of years of life spent in retirement -- younger, likely healthier years. A separate 2014 Gallup poll of baby boomers sums it up nicely. Those who have the money to do what they want to do in life are looking forward to retiring around age 66. Those who don't have the cash expect to retire closer to 73. That's about seven younger, healthier years of retirement, lost to insufficient savings.

What you can do about it
No matter where you are in life, as long as you're still drawing a paycheck, you can take steps to set yourself for a more comfortable retirement. From a nest egg perspective, you may even still be able to reach a $1 million retirement, if you've got enough time and are able to put some serious savings toward it. The table below shows you how many years it will take to reach $1 million, depending on how much you invest each month and what rate of return you achieve:

Savings Goal

Monthly Investment

10% Annual Returns

8% Annual Returns

6% Annual Returns

4% Annual Returns

Max out 401k & IRA, age 50+






Max out 401k & IRA, under 50






Max out 401k, under 50






Max out IRA, under 50






Table from author's calculations

Even if you've passed the age where reaching $1 million for retirement is feasible, getting yourself in a position to invest and then doing it will do wonders for you. A comfortable retirement may very well be feasible with less than a $1 million nest egg, and any amount you invest now creates a pot of money that can be put to use during your retirement. Perhaps as importantly, the act of putting yourself in the position to invest helps you prioritize your spending and focus on what's really important to you.

Your retirement is still within reach
No matter how close your retirement date may be, you can take steps right now to improve the quality of your golden years. Get yourself in the position to invest, and then start investing, and build a plan around the priorities in your life that really matter to you. Between what you can save and what you can cut from your expenses, you're likely to find that a comfortable retirement is still in you reach.