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The #MillennialRetirementPlans tweets are grim, but your future doesn't have to be

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The hashtag #MillennialRetirementPlans was trending on Twitter earlier this week, and the conversation got pretty dark pretty fast.

"We all know we'll never be able to retire," read one tweet. Another read, "Watch as the environment disintegrates and move to Mars, where we will yet again, destroy another planet."

A third read, "Work myself to death since healthcare is a debt sentence & social security won't exist by the time I'm of 'retiring age'. Or just wait for the nuclear apocalypse."

Those accounts have only a smattering of followers, but their sentiments have been retweeted thousands of times. Clearly, they have struck a nerve.

While these and other postings were mostly satirical and tongue-in-cheek, they tapped into legitimate doubts about the future among today's 20- and 30-somethings.

Tweet 2

"Millennials are going to change the way people prepare for retirement," says certified financial planner Eric Brotman, chief executive officer of BFG Financial Advisors in Timonium, Maryland. He attributes potential shifts in retirement preparation to changes in Social Security and the fact that millennials change jobs more often than previous generations did.

With 44 million Americans burdened by student loan debt and the cost of living at an all-time high, lots of young people especially are finding it hard to get by, let alone plan for the future — so it's fair for millennials to be concerned. But that doesn't mean preparing for retirement is hopeless. By starting early and planning ahead, you can put yourself in a better position.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Start saving early — and be consistent

If you can start preparing for retirement as soon as you begin your first job and make consistent contributions, you could save upwards of a million dollars by the time you retire, thanks to compounding interest. In fact, if you start investing for retirement at age 25, you could end up with more money in retirement than someone who starts at age 35 and contributes three times as much over the years until age 65, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

"Money invested now has the best chance to increase with time," Fred Creutzer, president of Creutzer Financial Services in Maryland, told Grow earlier this year. "That's why it's also important to start saving as soon as possible."

"Millionaires are made in their 20s and 30s, not their 50s and 60s," he continued. "The reason being, they have decades of compounding growth."

Run the numbers

Saving for retirement can feel overwhelming. The first step is figuring out how much you actually need to put away annually, and how that breaks down to monthly or even weekly contributions.

Let's say you start at 25. You'll need to set aside at least 10% of your earnings each year to be able to retire at 65 with financial security, according to figures from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

"What I suggest to young people is to start saving for the long term, and for financial independence, even if they are not thinking of it as retirement [savings], as soon as they get their first job," says Brotman. "If you can live off of 85% of your salary, I think a good rule of thumb is to save that 15% each year for retirement."

What I suggest to young people is to start saving for the long term, and for financial independence, even if they are not thinking of it as retirement [savings], as soon as they get their first job.
Eric Brotman
Chief executive officer of BFG Financial Advisors

Don't just save: Invest

Granted, there are risks associated with the market. But over the past 40 years the S&P 500 has posted an annualized return of 11%. With the average savings account interest rate of just 0.09%, meanwhile, savers are earning just 90 cents for every $1,000 they put away. Inflation, meanwhile, has recently averaged around 2%. So you could actually lose money over time if your retirement fund is sitting in a basic savings account.

If you don't have a workplace retirement account, one way to start investing is by opening up an IRA. The account offers tax advantages, can be low-maintenance, and takes just minutes to set up. If you do have a 401(k) plan through your employer, take advantage of matching contributions — essentially, free money! — to maximize your investments.

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Brotman suggests enlisting a close friend, family member, or financial advisor to keep you on track with your retirement goals.

"Have a plan, have an accountability partner, just like when you go to the gym, so that you know that you're going to do it and you know that down the line, you'll check in with someone to confirm that you've taken steps toward those larger financial goals."

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