Do you have a question about your financial affairs? Financial planning consultant Robert S. Pennartz takes calls at 1-302-654-5556, extension 138 or 1-800-366-0632, extension 138. A selection of these questions and Pennartz's responses are published in this column. Anonymity is assured.Q. I'm 24 years old and have just become eligible for my company's 401(k) plan. Should I start investing in it now, or can I wait a few years before I start? I'm not really interested in retirement. That's 40 years away.

A. I understand your feelings, not being interested in something that you don't plan on using for 40 years. There are lots of other things to spend your money on that you can use right away. You can always start saving "tomorrow".

Unfortunately, too many people get caught in the trap of waiting until "tomorrow" to start their retirement savings. That's why we have a looming retirement savings crisis in this country. Many people will be forced to either delay retirement or take a big pay cut when they do retire, and have to live frugally in retirement when they should be enjoying themselves.

Here's a concept you can use. It's a mathematical short cut that estimates how long it takes for money to double in value. It's called the "Rule of 72." When you divide the rate of return you expect on an account into 72, that tells you how many years it takes to double your money at that rate. For example, if you have an account that earns an 8 percent return, it will take 9 years (9 x 8 = 72) for that account value to double. A 10 percent return takes 7.2 years, etc. Please note that the Rule of 72 is a mathematical concept and does not guarantee investment results or function as a predictor of how your investment will perform.

So getting back to your situation, since you have 40 years until retirement, if you assume a 9 percent return, your account can double five times. For example, if you have $5,000 in your 401(k) at age 24, that money could grow to $160,000 by retirement. The biggest jump in value comes in the last doubling. If you wait to start your saving, you lose the effect of that fifth doubling.

So the message is "start early." Even if you have to cut back your savings later on, the early savings dollars can grow to a significant amount.

o Robert S. Pennartz is a certified financial planner practitioner at the Financial House, a Registered Investment Advisor, in Centreville, Del. He has been named a top advisor by Reuters, the global information company. He lives in Pocopson Township with his wife and children. He is a registered representative offering securities through Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation, Member SIPC. Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult your individual tax or legal professional regarding your individual circumstances.

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