When it comes to financial security, retirement is a monumental aspect that needs to be studied and discussed thoroughly — years before you even plan to retire.

A previous article on Money and Markets, “7 Tips to Help Make Your Money Last in Retirement,” covers the numerous ways to stretch your money once in retirement, ranging from cutting down on expenses to prioritizing your health.

Yet preparing for retirement is an altogether different topic. Fortunately, there also are a number of different ways you can ensure a financially stable retirement early on.

Understand retirement’s different needs

A guide by the Department of Labor states that retirement can require between 70% and 90% of your pre-retirement income in order to maintain the same standard of living.

However, the high costs of retirement are often underestimated as many fail to take into account possible healthcare expenses. These tips on retirement expenses point out that 58% of those ages 65 and up think a married couple retiring today would need between $50,000 and $200,000 set aside for healthcare. Yet an estimate by Fidelity Investments puts the actual amount at $280,000 — a staggering difference of up to $230,000 that has the potential to break the bank and ruin your retirement.

Save with retirement savings plans

An employer’s 401(k) plan helps lower your taxes by putting your pre-tax savings in an account, but many companies will add more automatic deductions through employer match programs. Investment advisory firm Financial Engines also estimates that as much as $24 billion in 401(k) company matches go unclaimed by Americans every single year. So it is always best to check yours, and also take advantage of the full company match — or you’re just leaving free money on the table.

Alternatively, those without access to a 401(k) plan may want to consider a Roth or traditional IRA. Either way, both of these options present effective opportunities to save for retirement.

A financial plan vs. a retirement financial plan

It can be easy to confuse a simple financial plan with a retirement financial plan. The difference between the two is that a financial plan focuses on a work-life cycle and making sure you have enough savings stashed away once you finally hit retirement age. In contrast, retirement financial plans deal will expenses after the paychecks stop and how to leverage any assets so they create an income stream big enough to cover these costs.

Both are important, but it pays to start your retirement planning as early as possible because there will be no income safety net.

Get professional help

It also pays to invest in a good financial adviser. A good financial planner will advise you on where to invest and help you in areas like the best insurance to get. Additionally, they’ll also be able to recognize whether you need additional protection for any income-generating assets you may have, and will ensure that your taxes and estate are not affected.

In today’s climate where the cost of living is always increasing, more and more people are turning to professional help to manage their finances. This is being reflected in the increasing number of job openings for financial planners. A Maryville University post outlining the current options for finance students reveals that the number of financial planner positions will grow by 30% by 2024.

This increase shows how more people are seeing the benefit of using planners to help consolidate their savings. If you are struggling to put money aside, this could save you a lot in the long term.

Overall, planning for a secure retirement is no easy task. There are countless road blocks that must be considered along the way. The good news is there are solutions as well, and it’s about finding the right ones for you.

— By Josie Bowers, solely for the use of MoneyandMarkets.com