By William Musoke

It’s often said that experience is the best teacher. If that’s true, nothing I can teach you today about the importance of saving for retirement—and the importance of starting to do so right now—will compare to the life lesson you’ll have learned by the time you actually reach retirement.

When you get there, either you’ll have saved enough money to live comfortably or you won’t (and wish that you had).

This is amply demonstrated by a by Bankers Life and Casualty’s Center for a Secure Retirement. When asked to give younger people just one piece of advice, 39 percent of survey participants said “Save for the future.” That answer beat out every other, including finding work you enjoy, being responsible for your own life and continuing your education.

And when asked about the most important piece of financial advice they’d give, 93 percent of those retirees said start saving early, and 84 percent urged younger people to contribute to their workplace retirement plan.

That’s the voice of experience speaking eloquently.

Clearly, some of those retirees are now filled with regret for not having saved more. Many said they were shocked by the financial surprises they have encountered in retirement.

It’s likely they believed the myth that they’d need less income in retirement because their children would be grown and the mortgage might be paid off. But they found out that, in reality, they want or need to spend about as much as they always did—except that now it’s on different things, including rising health-care costs.

Experience has taught these folks a harsh lesson. Fortunately, though, you have a choice. Your future can be like theirs—filled with regret—or it can be like the one they wish they had.

If you have a retirement plan at work, you need to join it. Contribute the maximum now if you can; if not, increase your contributions incrementally until you do reach the maximum on a pretax basis. Once you’re there and can afford to save even more, contribute to an insurance scheme, too.

And you need to do this right now. Don’t delay another day. Why? Because the sooner you start saving, the less you need to save each month, the more wealth you’ll accumulate, and the sooner you can quit saving and start enjoying a life of leisure.