IF YOU JUST ENTERED the workforce, it’s time to start preparing for retirement. Over the next four decades, you might pull in tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. It’s lucky you have all that income coming in, because ahead of you lies life’s toughest financial task: amassing enough money so you can retire in comfort. In dry economic terms, your working career is about accumulating enough financial capital, so that one day you’ll no longer need the income from your human capital.

This, alas, is a task that most Americans are not good at. Want to do better? As you ponder how to pay for retirement, it’s helpful to think about your life in three stages—your 20s, 30s and 40s, your 50s and early 60s, and age 65 and beyond—which is how this chapter is divvied up.

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