It can be hard to plan for a future that seems years away, but starting early can make a startling difference to your retirement savings.

And it’s all because of the wizardry of compounding. When you start saving early, your money has so much more time to make money for you.

Even if all you do is stick $5,000 in an account earning 5 percent interest and pay no attention to it ever again, 40 years from now you’ll have over $70,000. That’s some money magic right there.

But let’s say you want to take a slightly more sophisticated and thoughtful approach. How should someone decades away from retirement approach saving for the golden years?

There are certain steps anyone can take. Here’s how to start saving for retirement now.

Address debt

Pay off credit card debt, tackle college loans, don’t go near payday lenders, and live within your means. It’s hard to build up any kind of savings when you’re in the red, so handle that first, and then move on to future planning.

In addition to this making sound financial sense, there’s a hidden emotional advantage to this approach. By paying down your debt a set amount each month, you quickly get used to having less discretionary income in each paycheck. Once your debt is paid, you can easily start saving that same amount without feeling deprived.

Set up retirement accounts

If you’re traditionally employed, take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) plan. Most employers match employee contributions, so you’ll be saving more without any effort.

You should also start an individual retirement account (IRA). Make sure you understand the difference between a traditional IRA (get a tax deduction on contributions now; pay tax upon withdrawal) and a Roth IRA (pay tax now; withdraw tax-free).

You can have more than one IRA, but no matter how many you have, you can’t contribute more each year than the set amount (currently $5,500 for those under 50 years old, and $6,500 for those 50 and over), whether you stick the whole sum in one IRA or split it among 10.

Invest in index funds

Equity index funds are higher risk because they’re tied to the stock market, but you can expect to earn substantially more in interest than you would in online savings accounts (which are currently offering 1.5 or 2 percent interest rates). If you have decades to build wealth, you’re in an excellent position to take on some risk — and the rewards are potentially life changing.

The bottom line

By the time retirement is on the horizon, it’s almost too late to start saving. By starting early, you’ll be setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement with less fuss, less upfront cost and less stress.

In addition, you might find that by planning early, you can retire early. And that is definitely something to look forward to.

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