Retirement never comes early enough, but it is something that you can start planning for today. The further out you prepare for retirement, the more comfortable you will be when the time comes.

We all dream of the day when we can quit our jobs or close up shop and enjoy retirement from a sunny beach in Florida. But for many Americans, the leisurely life they envision once they retire isn’t a reality, simply because they don’t plan ahead. According to the US Department of Labor, half of all Americans don’t calculate how much they need for retirement. If this includes you, read on to make sure that you build enough of a nest egg to live happily after age 65.

1. Figure Out When You Can Retire

While 66 is the average age for retirement (when you can start drawing social security), when you actually retire will depend on several factors:

  • How much money you have saved
  • When you started saving for retirement
  • What your employee pension or other retirement benefits are
  • What your quality of life costs

If you start saving for retirement at age 50, you may have to wait a few more years past age 65, or take a part time job to keep from struggling financially. The earlier you start, the earlier you can retire.

Calculate What You Will Need to Live

If you are accustomed to yachts and designer clothes, you’ll need more money to retire than the average American. But the more you can cut down your costs of living, the smaller your retirement budget will be, and the easier it will be to save for it.

Determine what’s really important to you. If being able to travel frequently is important, or eating out multiple times per week, make sure that your savings factor in these luxuries.

3. Start Saving

Whether you are 26 or 56, start saving today. Even if you can just put away $50 a month, do it. Over time, that amount will grow, and interest will help it grow further. Look into what your retirement savings options are, as you can participate in employer sponsored 401ks and IRAs, or set up your own, or both. Increase how much you contribute as you are able, and don’t touch your retirement savings!

4. Eliminate Debt

Since you will be living on a reduced income, you certainly don’t want to struggle with debt. Work to pay off credit cards, mortgages, student loans and cars before you retire to bring down your monthly expenses.

5. Look at Your Social Security Benefits

Each year the Social Security Office mails you a report on how much money you have paid into social security. It also shows you how much money you will receive once you retire. Add this to the amount of money that you are saving for retirement as part of your income.

6. Talk to a Financial Advisor

While your money will grow in an IRA or 401k if you let it be, there may be better ways to structure your investments that will net greater returns over the long-term. A financial advisor can best suggest what to do with your retirement money to ensure that it lasts. He/she can also answer questions about what your tax situation will look like after retirement. There are restrictions regarding the withdrawal of certain amounts of money from specific retirement accounts, so it’s best to speak to an expert to understand what your financial situation will look like once you retire.

Beyond these financial tips, think about what you’ll do during retirement. Many people find themselves bored and idle, and eventually decide to return to work, but there are a variety of activities that you can do during retirement, such as travel, volunteer, spend time with family and take up new hobbies. Set goals that you want to achieve during your retirement years, and enjoy!