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4. Max Out on the Company Match
In a 2008 survey of nearly a million 401(k) participants, the investment advisory firm Financial Engines found that 33 percent don't contribute enough to their company plan to collect the maximum employer matching contribution. That's literally turning down free money. The way a match works is that if you contribute to your retirement account, your employer will throw in some money, too. One common system is for an employer to give 50 cents for every dollar the employee contributes to her 401(k), up to a specified limit, such as 6 percent of a salary or a certain dollar amount per year. Under those terms, if the employee contributed $3,000, the employer would kick in another $1,500. Hello! That's a guaranteed 50 percent return on your investment. And $3,000 spread out over 26 pay periods is only $115 every two weeks. That's a small step toward a big goal.

If your company doesn't provide a match, you may still qualify for a Roth IRA. I recommend funding the IRA completely before you contribute to an unmatched 401(k). Without the match, a 401(k) is still a good deal, but a Roth IRA is even better. Details follow in the next small step.