What's the best way to save for retirement?

We hear a lot about the importance of retirement planning and saving for the future. Since Social Security won't pay all of your bills in retirement, you'll need to take matters into your own hands. While there are different ways to build a nest egg, this three-step method will show you how to save more money -- and where to put that cash so it grows efficiently.

Step one: Create a budget

It's hard to save for retirement when you don't know where your money is going. If you're serious about planning for the future, you'll need to create a budget that maps out your various expenses. But don't just guess at those numbers -- review several months of bank statements and credit card bills to get an accurate sense of how much you spend in each expense category. The more precise your budget, the more it'll help you identify opportunities to save.

Senior couple sitting on the beach

Image source: Getty Images.

Step two: Live below your means

Once you have your budget in place, take a look at how much money you have left over to save. If that amount equals 10% or more of your typical paycheck, you're in good shape. If not, then you'll need to start cutting back on expenses to free up cash to sock away. You might achieve this objective by downsizing your living space or moving to a less popular neighborhood to lower your rent. Or you might try making smaller changes, like limiting your leisure spending.

The more you're able to live below your means, the greater your chances of saving enough to eventually retire on time and in comfort. In fact, you should plan to live below your means in retirement too, as doing so will help you stretch your limited income even more.

RELATED: The best states for early retirement:

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Best states for early retirement
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Best states for early retirement
51. Connecticut

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.7%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,945

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 120

Median Annual Housing Costs: $16,776

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.1%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.4%

Index: 0.00

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50. North Carolina

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.7%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $10,272

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 100

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,392

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.9%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.9%

Index: 5.83

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49. Minnesota

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,816

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 107

Median Annual Housing Costs: $12,192

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.1%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.3%

Index: 10.83

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48. Massachusetts

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $5,306

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 119

Median Annual Housing Costs: $16,920

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.2%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.3%

Index: 13.06

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47. New Jersey

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,347

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 113

Median Annual Housing Costs: $18,000

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.4%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.0%

Index: 13.89

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46. Oregon

Average Effective Tax Rate: 7.1%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,991

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 117

Median Annual Housing Costs: $12,432

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.0%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 0.0%

Index: 15.00

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45. Wisconsin

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.4%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,726

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 100

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,884

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.9%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.4%

Index: 16.39

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43. Nebraska

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,862

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs:$9,900

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.85%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.8%

Index: 41.71

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43. Maryland

Average Effective Tax Rate: 6.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,418

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 100

Median Annual Housing Costs: $17,280

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.1%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.0%

Index: 21.39

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42. California

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.6%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,346

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 111

Median Annual Housing Costs: $17,256

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.5%

Index: 26.11

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41. Missouri

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.7%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,757

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 96

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,744

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.0%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.9%

Index: 27.22

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40. Hawaii

Average Effective Tax Rate: 6.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,672

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 145

Median Annual Housing Costs: $18,396

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.3%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 4.4%

Index: 28.33

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39. Georgia

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.9%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,286

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 97

Median Annual Housing Costs: $11,364

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.9%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.0%

Index: 30.83

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38. South Carolina

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.6%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,757

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 102

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,756

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.2%

Index: 32.22

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37. District of Columbia

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.7%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,300

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 108

Median Annual Housing Costs: $18,924

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.5%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.8%

Index: 35.56

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36. Oklahoma

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.8%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,603

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,072

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.9%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.8%

Index: 36.11

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35. Rhode Island

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.6%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,708

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 117

Median Annual Housing Costs: $13,740

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.0%

Index: 36.39

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34. New York

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.9%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $4,428

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 111

Median Annual Housing Costs: $15,060

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.5%

Index: 38.06

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32. Maine

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,817

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 112

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,608

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.4%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.5%

Index: 39.72

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32. Indiana

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,027

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 93

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,636

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.9%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.0%

Index: 39.72

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31. Alabama

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.1%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,380

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $8,724

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.4%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.0%

Index: 40.56

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30. Vermont

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.1%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $5,616

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 112

Median Annual Housing Costs: $13,020

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.2%

Index: 40.83

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29. Idaho

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.9%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,121

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 96

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,948

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.0%

Index: 43.06

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27. West Virginia

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.1%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $9,358

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 104

Median Annual Housing Costs: $6,864

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.2%

Index: 44.17

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27. Kansas

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.3%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,547

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 94

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,056

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.4%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.6%

Index: 44.17

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26. Arkansas

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,409

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 96

Median Annual Housing Costs: $8,172

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.3%

Index: 45.56

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25. Virginia

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.4%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,390

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $14,520

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.6%

Index: 45.83

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24. Illinois

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,766

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 99

Median Annual Housing Costs: $12,624

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.3%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.6%

Index: 46.94

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23. Utah

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.6%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,163

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $12,576

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.7%

Index: 50.56

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22. Washington

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,166

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 106

Median Annual Housing Costs: $14,400

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.0%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.9%

Index: 51.67

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21. Arizona

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.5%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,054

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 98

Median Annual Housing Costs: $11,436

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.3%

Index: 51.67

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20. Iowa

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.2%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,375

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,324

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.5%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.8%

Index: 52.50

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19. Montana

Average Effective Tax Rate: 4.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,239

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 98

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,540

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 0.0%

Index: 52.78

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18. Alaska

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $18,300

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 127

Median Annual Housing Costs: $15,012

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.1%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 1.8%

Index: 53.89

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17. Delaware

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.1%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $9,060

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 106

Median Annual Housing Costs: $13,176

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.5%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 0.0%

Index: 55.00

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16. North Dakota

Average Effective Tax Rate: 1.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,340

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 102

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,276

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.0%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.8%

Index: 55.83

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15. Colorado

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.4%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,166

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 97

Median Annual Housing Costs: $14,340

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.5%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.5%

Index: 56.94

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14. Michigan

Average Effective Tax Rate: 3.2%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,622

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 96

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,152

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.0%

Index: 58.33

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13. Ohio

Average Effective Tax Rate: 1.7%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,494

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 97

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,912

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.1%

Index: 58.61

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12. New Hampshire

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,792

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 115

Median Annual Housing Costs: $15,168

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.2%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 0.0%

Index: 59.17

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10. New Mexico

New Mexico is tied with Nevada as the 10th best state for an early retirement. New Mexico ranks well in the cost of living measures. It has the second-lowest average healthcare expense at $5,200 per year, as well as the 10th-lowest average housing cost at $9,300 per year. A potential drawback to retiring early in New Mexico is the lack of doctors’ offices. According to data from the Census Bureau, New Mexico has only 4.7 doctors’ offices per 10,000 residents, which ranks 43rd in the nation.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 2.9%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $5,244

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 99

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,324

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.5%

Index: 64.17

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10. Nevada

High rollers may be pleased to see Nevada crack our top 10. Nevada offers a 0% effective tax rate on income and has the sixth-most doctors’ offices per resident, meaning help is never far away. Living costs in the Silver State can be fairly steep though, including a combined $20,000 per year on housing and healthcare costs on average.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,016

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 110

Median Annual Housing Costs: $12,312

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.0%

Index: 64.17

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9. Louisiana

Louisiana has a lot to offer as a state for an early retirement. The third-lowest property taxes, seventh-lowest housing cost, ninth-lowest non-housing cost of living and eighth-highest rate of doctors’ offices in the country are all on offer for people looking to retire in Louisiana. Unfortunately, Louisiana is not a utopia for early retirees. There are relatively few arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 residents and it has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 1.9%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $9,002

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,060

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.5%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.0%

Index: 65.00

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8. Texas

Texas has a little bit of everything, meaning just about anyone can find themselves at home there. The Lone Star State has no income tax and the non-housing cost of living is low. The average cost of an annual silver healthcare plan in Texas is $6,626. That’s the 14th-lowest. However housing costs can get pretty high relative to everything else. The average Texan pays $11,600 per year in housing costs.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,626

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $11,616

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 8.2%

Index: 65.28

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7. Pennsylvania

Like many in the top 10, Pennsylvania is another state which does not tax retirement income which makes it a great option for an early retirement. Pennsylvania also has the 10th-lowest average healthcare costs in the country. The average cost of a silver healthcare plan in Pennsylvania is only $6,500 per year.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,547

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 103

Median Annual Housing Costs: $11,184

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.3%

Index: 74.17

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6. Florida

The state that is famous for its retirees and bad drivers comes in sixth place for best states for an early retirement. Florida ranks well because of its 0% income tax rate and the 9.15 doctors’ offices per 10,000 residents. But living costs in Florida can get pretty high. Average housing costs are almost $12,000 per year and the non-housing cost of living sits at 102 which rank 30th and 31st respectively.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,243

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 102

Median Annual Housing Costs: $11,976

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.0%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.7%

Index: 75.56

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5. Tennessee

The Southern theme continues with Tennessee claiming the fifth spot for best states for an early retirement. Tennessee is another state with a 0% effective income tax which is only partly offset by the nation’s highest average state and local sales taxes at 9.5%. Tennessee also has 6.55 doctors’ offices per 10,000 residents and 36 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 residents.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $7,447

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $9,576

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.7%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 9.5%

Index: 77.78

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4. South Dakota

The Mount Rushmore State is another great option for an early retirement. Other than the gorgeous scenery, South Dakota can offer potential early retirees a 0% effective income tax and some of the lowest housing costs in the country at $8,900 per year on average. Besides gazing at Mount Rushmore, there are plenty of things to do. There are 79 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 residents – the second-highest in the nation.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $8,208

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 95

Median Annual Housing Costs: $8,964

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 1.3%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.8%

Index: 87.22

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3. Mississippi

Mississippi is the second-highest-rated Southern state and third-highest overall for best states for an early retirement. Mississippi is similar to Kentucky in that it is a cheap place to retire. It has a 0% effective tax on retirement income. It also has the lowest non-housing cost of living as well as the second-lowest housing costs in the nation. So why isn’t it first or second? There are only 22 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 people – the lowest in the nation. There are also not as many doctors’ offices in Mississippi as there are in other states. Our data shows that it ranks 33rd in this measure.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,922

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 89

Median Annual Housing Costs: $8,136

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 7.1%

Index: 95.28

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2. Kentucky

The Bluegrass State comes in a close second, thanks to six metrics scoring in the top 20 and its tax-friendly environment. Particularly attractive for prospective early retirees are the low costs of living. Kentucky ranks fourth in average housing costs per year at $8,600 and fifth in non-housing cost of living. But early retirees in Kentucky may need to develop some personal hobbies. According to data from the Census, there are only 28 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 residents, 44th best in the country.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 1.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $6,593

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 94

Median Annual Housing Costs: $8,628

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.8%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 6.0%

Index: 96.67

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1. Wyoming

Wyoming jumps two places from last year to take the top spot in our study of best places for an early retirement. This state offers an effective tax rate of 0% on retirement income and has the third-lowest non-housing cost of living. To go with the relatively cheap living costs, Wyoming also has 73 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per 100,000 people. That score ranks fifth in that metric. What hurt Wyoming (although not enough to prevent it from snagging first place) is the relatively high average healthcare costs. Wyoming ranks second to last in this measure paying an average of $11,000 per year. Only Alaskans pay more.

Average Effective Tax Rate: 0.0%

Annual Health Insurance Cost: $11,705

Non-Housing Cost of Living: 93

Median Annual Housing Costs: $10,296

Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 0.6%

Average State and Local Sales Tax Rate: 5.4%

Index: 100.00

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Step three: Invest with a tax-advantaged retirement account

Following a budget and living below your means should free up money for you to save. Now all you need to do is put it in the right place, and that's where tax-advantaged retirement accounts come in. Whether you opt for an IRA, a 401(k), or both, these plans offer tax benefits that traditional savings and brokerage accounts don't.

Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are funded with pre-tax dollars, so the more you contribute, the more you'll lower your taxes up front. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars and therefore don't offer the same immediate benefit, but they do offer tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Traditional IRA and 401(k) distributions, by contrast, are subject to ordinary income taxes.

But one benefit that traditional and Roth retirement plans share is the ability to grow your assets on a tax-deferred basis. When you put money into a savings account and earn interest on it, you're required to pay taxes on that interest income year after year. Similarly, when you invest with a traditional brokerage account, you're subject to taxes on investment gains the same year you realize them. IRAs and 401(k)s, however, don't require you to pay taxes on investment gains along the way. In fact, with a Roth IRA, you won't pay taxes on those gains at all if you wait until retirement to withdraw them.

Now you should know that IRAs and 401(k)s come with annual contribution limits. If you're under 50, you can contribute up $5,500 a year to an IRA and $18,000 a year to a 401(k). If you're 50 or older, there's a catch-up provision that raises these limits to $6,500 and $24,000, respectively. Furthermore, if you sign up for your company's 401(k) and your employer offers a match, you'll get extra money in your account just for contributing.

So just how much do you stand to save in one of these accounts? That depends on how old you are when you first start saving and how well your investments perform. But let's be optimistic and assume that over time, your investments will generate an average annual 7% return, which is a couple of points below the stock market's historical average. The following table shows how much a $300-a-month contribution can grow into, based on the age at which you begin saving:

Start Saving $300 a Month at Age...

...And Here's What You'll Have by Age 65

25

$719,000

35

$340,000

45

$147,000

55

$50,000

Table and calculations by author.

As you can see, the sooner you start saving and investing, the more you'll accumulate over time thanks to the beauty of compounding. And since you won't need to worry about paying taxes on your investments along the way, you can reinvest your gains year after year to accrue quite the impressive sum.

Saving for retirement is often a fairly simple matter of keeping tabs on your finances, living below your means, and capitalizing on the tax benefits offered by 401(k)s and IRAs. Remember, too, that no matter how far away retirement might be, it's never too early to plan for the future, and the sooner you get started, the better your chances of meeting your goals.

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