A lot of people got kicked in the retirement because they couldn't "sit on it" for 3 years.
Pensions went belly up & that's another story. This is about an individual & their ability to do what I certainly did not. I also don't suffer fears about getting old & feeble or a desire to retire. I enjoy doing things to occupy myself, an occupation. Yet many not only want to retire they want to do it as young as possible.
Retiring young is luck & risk & diligence & preparedness. You can't invest what you don't have (you can, shouldn't) so we start at 18 with $500. Play with $200 & keep $300 in savings to help pad your on hand cash. From the very beginning we need to keep a cushion of more than 3 months expenses. Get an investment account, learn to read the financial page. Invest in IPOs, what we used to call penny stocks, commodities & foreign markets. Big risk & Big rewards, but you're young & can take it to make it. As you get closer to 25 you want to own actual shares of a few blue chip (S&P 50-100 companies) stocks. As you experience capital gains you translate them into additional shares of whichever of these blue chips that you feel is most under valued & if you think none are a good buy, expand to another blue chip, mayve even sell a few shares of the others to fund a more significant purchase. The point is that while you watch your investments daily, we only want to touch them when they've seen significant change based on our holdings.
After 25 you should have a job with a 401(k) if you're an average or above average earner, contribute the minimum to get the maximum contribution from your employer, same with your pension should they offer that. You can still tolerate risk at 25, but if you want a house & family your tolerances have shrunk, it's time to invest in a strong mutual fund & whole life insurance (you should have been using whole life since you could 1st justify squirreling $5000 away "forever") if you haven't begun that already. Mass Mutual is THE company for whole life, period. Between 25 & 40 about 1/2 of your long term savings should be in agressive mutual funds. Whatever percentage you can get a match for in whatever vehicles are offered. The rest should be in safer vehicles with lower guaranteed growth rates. You've bought or are buying a home, raising a family.
After 40 if you've done all this right, you're in a position to figure when you can retire & what you can expect to have each year unto the end. This is the time to figure out when you'll retire because this is when we begin drawing down our risks at a significant rate. After 40 we're still contributing the minimum to get the maximum match from our employers on anything they'll match. We're still growing our blue chip portfolio & we're structuring our mortgages to be paid off the year before we retire or sooner. We're finalizing our Whole Life plans because after 45 the rates jump. Less than 50% of our portfolio is in aggressive growth funds, commodities or IPOs (unless it's our own IPO :) ).
At 49 we buy a term life policy that expires 5 years after we retire & returns a portion of premiums when it expires. This will help us deal with pension questions about how the benefits are disbursed. By 50 we want to have less than 30% of our portfolio in aggessive growth & more than 50% in guaranteed return vehicles, matched funds & real property. The rest should be split between blue chip stocks with the best p/e ratios. Some will be retiring now & they need to be down to 10% or less in aggressive growth, you cannot depend on growth to survive after retirement, you have to be able to weather hits that you will take if you retire at 55 & live to 90.