NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Saving for retirement isn't a big priority these days for young adults who face huge student loans and poor job prospects, but experts say "Millennials" who skip 401(k) and IRA contributions today will regret it tomorrow.
"There'll be a drastic difference [in your retirement nest egg] if you start at age 25 instead of waiting until you turn 55," says Jinnie Regli of
, a Seattle-based firm that administers 401(k) plans for businesses.
Milliman recently ran the numbers and found that 25-year-olds who make $25,000 a year and put 4% of their pay into 401(k)s will have $491,000 by age 65 -- but only $68,000 if they start saving at 55. (The firm's figures assume a 2.2% company match, 3% yearly raises and 7% annual investment returns.)
But Rachel Cruze, the 24-year-old author of
The Graduate's Survival Guide
(and the daughter of personal-finance guru Dave Ramsey), says few in her generation think about retirement savings at all.
"Millennials have been brought up in a world of smartphones and the Internet and just don't have a long-term perspective," Cruze says. "Some of them don't even know what a Roth IRA or a 401(k) is."
In fact, a recent
poll found that just 29% of Millennials -- Americans who came of age around the year 2000 and are now mostly in their 20s -- said they were "trying to grow [their] savings."
By contrast, 43% said they were either "just living from one day to the next [financially]" or "working hard to get out of debt."
How can Millennials get their 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts on track?
Here's a look at Cruze and Regli's top retirement-savings tips for people in their 20s and early 30s.
Get on a budget
You won't have any money to put in a 401(k) or IRA if you don't get on a monthly budget first to make sure your savings and spending match up with your income.
"Having a budget puts you in control," Cruze says. "You tell your money what to do instead of the other way around."
Lots of websites offer free tools to help you create a monthly budget online. Not surprisingly, Cruze likes the one at
You can also easily draft a budget on any piece of paper.
Cruze suggests starting by estimating how much money you plan to spend next month on everything -- food, clothes, gas, rent or mortgage, etc. Then update your estimates with hard numbers as you actually spend money each month.