When I was in college, I often burned the midnight oil, staying up late to write an essay or cram for an exam. I was born to procrastinate.

Sometimes, I imagine going back in time. I did some dumb things in college–things I would like to set right. You might think improving time management would be on my list of things to fix. But I’m not sure. After all, I still passed those exams, finished those essays, and earned the same degree as my more responsible peers.

Perhaps you can relate. After all, many of us procrastinate. But when it comes to saving for retirement, procrastinating is crazy. Early birds don’t just get the worm. They get five star buffets for almost zero effort.

Let me introduce three fictional couples that live on the same cul-de-sac. In each case, they earn the same as the typical U.S. household. For example, based on data from the U.S. Consensus Bureau they earned $13,572 per year in 1977. In 1982, they earned $20,171 per year. By 1987, they earned $26,071.

The couples had grown up together; they were the same age. But they didn’t all begin to save for their retirements at exactly the same time.

In 1977, Joe and Lisa Jay were 25 years old. They decided to save $175 per month ($2,100 per year). It would have represented 15.47 percent of their annual income.

They bought low-cost mutual funds, putting 70 percent of their money in U.S. stocks, 30 percent in bonds. The couple’s funds matched the returns of each respective market. In other words, their stock market mutual funds matched the S&P 500. Their bond market funds matched the performance of a broad government bond index. But this couple was lazy. As their income increased, they didn’t increase what they invested. They continued to add the same $175 per month.

By 1982, their income had increased to $20,171 per year. As a result, their investment of $175 per month no longer represented 15.47 percent of their income. It was now just 10.41 percent. By 2007, that same $175 per month represented a paltry 4.18 percent of what they earned.

By 2007, the other couples on the cul-de-sac were investing a lot more money than Joe and Lisa Jay. But that didn’t matter. These early birds soared. According to portfoliovisualizer.com, the Jays would have had about $1 million by the time they were 65 years old.

Chris and Kathy Hummingbird lived next door to Joe and Lisa. But they didn’t start to invest until they were 35 years old. They invested $600 a month ($7,200 per year) in 1987. It represented 27.62 percent of their income. By the time they were 65 years old, they also had about a million dollars.

Chris and Kathy saved more than three times what Joe and Lisa saved each year. As a result, they weren’t able to spend as much of their income on the finer things in life. When Joe and Lisa asked the Hummingbirds to join them for a Bali beach vacation, the Hummingbirds couldn’t afford it. Their monthly retirement savings ate up far too much of their income.

But they were doing much better than Tim and Tammy Crow. This couple began to save for their retirement when they were 45 years old. At age 65, they also had a $1 million portfolio. But to reach that goal, they had become slaves to their savings. The couple saved a whopping $1,800 a month ($21,600 a year). Such savings represented 58.37 percent of their pre-tax annual income. That’s why, to reach their goal, they had to rent out their home and move into their car.

Of course, I made these stories up. But the numbers are real. I used actual investment returns between January 1977 and July 2017. The lesson here is massive. If you start to invest later, you’ll have to save a lot more money. For example, Joe and Lisa Jay began to invest in 1977. They would have saved a total of $85,225 to amass $1 million.

Chris and Kathy Hummingbird started to invest 10 years later. They would have invested $220,200 to reach a $1 million portfolio.

Tim and Tammy Crow didn’t invest until they were 45 years old. As a result, they had to save $444,600 to reach their million-dollar milestone by age sixty-five. If they had started to invest ten years later (at age 55) they wouldn’t have reached that goal–even if they had invested every penny that they earned.

I’m not saying everybody needs $1 million to retire. I’m just showing the power of investing early and the pain of procrastination. This isn’t like cramming for an exam, writing an essay last-minute or waiting an extra week to mow the lawn. It’s life-changing stuff. If you haven’t started to invest, it’s best to start today. Consider, also, sharing this story with the next generation. The lucky ones will listen and enjoy an easier ride in life.

Investment Required To Reach $1 Million
Ending July 31, 2017

Investment Starting Year U.S. Median Household Annual Income Monthly Investment Savings As a Percentage Of Median Household Income Total Amount Invested To Reach $1 Million *Compound Average Annual Return
1977 $13,572 $175 15.47% $85,225 9.99%
1982 $20,171 $330 19.63% $140,910 9.39%
1987 $26,061 $600 27.62% $220,200 8.70%
1992 $30,636 $1,050 41.12% $322,350 8.16%
1997 $37,005 $1,800 58.37% $444,600 7.61%
2002 $42,409 $2,700 76.39% $504,900 8.54%
2007 $50,233 $4,800 114.65% $609,600 9.58%

Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.