Have you ever thought about retiring early, but wondered if it’s a realistic goal or something only wealthy people can achieve? Good news! Retiring early is within your reach. If you’re just starting your career, then now is the perfect time to plan ahead. You’ll just need to remember that the earlier you retire, the more money you’ll need. That’s where careful budgeting will be crucial to achieving your goals.

A couple of things to keep in mind is to plan for the unexpected (like increased health care costs) and remember that the earliest age you’ll be able to collect Social Security is 62. That means that if you do decide to retire early, your retirement savings will be your primary income until at least then.

Not sure where to start? Here are 5 shortcuts that can help you realize the dream of early retirement:

  1.  Max them out. That is, make the maximum contributions to your retirement savings—especially if your employer makes matching contributions. The yearly limit for 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the Thrift Savings Plan is $18,000. Those age 50 and older can contribute an extra $6,000 in catch-up contributions (for a total of $24,000; this limit doesn’t include employer matches). For individual retirement accounts (IRAs), the yearly limit is $5,500.* Those age 50 and older will be allowed an extra $1,000 contribution (for a total of $6,500).*
  2. Save in unexpected ways. If you live in an urban area, biking to work can help you save the costs associated with owning a car. Consider taking advantage of public transportation. Should you decide you don’t want to own a car, many areas have car-sharing services that offer affordable rates for those times when biking or public transportation doesn't fulfill your needs. Are there other areas where you can save? Cable TV costs can make a dent in your budget, so consider whether streaming services make sense for your needs.
  3. Manage your credit debt and see the benefits. How much debt you carry will make a huge difference in how much money you have to spend on your retirement. If you have debt to pay off, then you’ll have less to cover your retirement expenses. If you plan to use a credit card, then find one with low rates and great rewards. Want to pay less interest? Pay off the balance each month.
  4. Get your partner on the same page. If you’re sharing your life (and expenses) with a partner, then it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page so both of you can achieve your goals. You can each make a list of your retirement goals and then compare the lists. This will help you to develop a plan that works for both of you. Then, you can agree to a more modest way of living and work diligently to save for retirement and minimize your debt.
  5. Consider working for an employer who offers a pension plan. Some companies and many government agencies offer pension plans that contribute toward your retirement. Under some of these plans, employees can retire after 20 years of service.

It may seem daunting now, but with a few careful planning steps, you'll be ready for retirement long before you thought. Learn more about retirement planning and preparation today and enjoy a bright tomorrow.

*Contribution limit for 2015, and is indexed to inflation for future years. Maximum contribution is $5,500 or your taxable compensation for the year, whichever is less. Non-wage-earning spouses of wage earners may also contribute to an IRA.