Some of the best financial advice I’ve ever gotten was something it took me a long time to believe—that saving small amounts on a schedule would add up to something big. When I was starting my career and family, other things always got in the way—bills, entertainment, things for our son. I kept thinking that there would be a big windfall coming, that we’d save the entire tax refund and or pay off all our credit card debt. But it seemed like every time I made those kinds of plans, the transmission in the car would bust, or our central air would break.

And saving for retirement? It didn’t happen until my mid- to late thirties. I began to save small amounts in a retirement account, probably a 401(k), which was “new” at the time. These accounts allowed employers to provide a match under certain circumstances, as well as containing the funds that we contributed on our own behalf. Since I’m not a financial advisor, I’ll stop there. Here’s some practical advice for saving for retirement:

Start saving for retirement now

Save small amounts each and every payday. Set up automatic deposits into your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) plans, allocate it, and walk away from it.

Always invest at least the amount to equal your employer’s match. If your employer will match funds up to 4% of your salary, you are walking away from free money if you don’t put your 4% into the retirement account. Never walk away from free money!

Take advantage of the automatic option to raise your contribution 1% or 2% at a time. Many retirement plans have an automatic feature that you can set and forget. Each year at pay raise time, my 401K contribution goes up 1% or 2%. I don’t miss the money, although I thought I would.

DO NOT borrow from your retirement plan. I know, I know. You want to start that business, or you really need it for this, that, or the other. Don’t touch!

Take a look at the investment fees and keep them low. Check out no-load mutual fund companies like Vanguard. The fees that you pay to a broker come out of your pocket. Low-expense ratios save you money, and you have more earning interest and dividends in your account.

Women live longer and are frequently single by choice or by death of a spouse more frequently than men. Understanding your finances will lead to a life of independence whether you choose to be with a partner or not. You owe it to yourself to get started as early as possible!

Some of my favorite resources for financial education are Suze Orman at www.suzeorman.com, Vanguard mutual funds at www.vanguard.com, and www.investopedia.com. Always do your due diligence before you invest.

This article has been written from my experience in the industry; I am not licensed to give financial advice. Please check with your tax advisor or Certified Financial Planner.

Are you saving for retirement? How did you formulate your plan? Share your tips in the comments!

Ask Melissa Bradley, Founder and CEO of Tides, for her best financial advice!