Go big. Why not?

But before you get there, consider this recent study conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR). The study, authored by Andrew G. Biggs, Alicia H. Munnell and Anqi Chen, dealt with broader policy implications like universal coverage and leakage.

That’s all fine if you’re a wonk. A quick look at the underlying numbers, however, reveals something much more interesting and infinitely more practical for young adults just starting out in the workplace.

The researchers used validated data from several sources including the Cornell Virtual Data Center and the U.S. Census Bureau. From this, they were able to build a retirement savings projection for a 25-year-old median earner who began deferring 6% of his salary into a 401(k) in 1981. They assumed a company match of 3% (50% of the earner’s deferral). At age 60, this hypothetical retirement account would have amassed $364,000.

Leaving aside whether this is enough, here’s the unfortunate reality. The typical 60-year-old has only saved $92,000. The study goes on to offer an explanation for the $272,000 gap between the reality and the projection.

Of greater significance to workers in their early 20s, however, is this question: “Am I destined to make the same mistake?”

With the aid of a little reverse engineering, you can quickly discover the answer for yourself. Assuming an average annual return of 8%, you will need to have accumulated $36,250 in your retirement plan by age 30 in order to attain the projected average of $364,000 at age 60.

What does it take to get to $36,250 in your retirement account by the time you turn 30? Well, if you’re starting at age 25, you’ll need to save $4,575 a year. (Again, this assumes an 8% average annual return.)

But wait, that $4,575 isn’t all coming from you. Let’s use the same assumption the CRR study used and say your employer matches 50% of what you put in. Given this, you only need to save $3,050 a year (or roughly $250 a month) to achieve the projections from the study.

The study assumed the deferral percentage was 6% of your salary. This means you’d need to make $50,833 per year (because 6% of $50,833 equals the $3,050 you’ll need to save every year).

“Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” as they say. So why not, then, go big.

Forget shooting for $36,250 by the time you’re 30. That’s too easy. Stretch your goal to the max. Why not make your target $100,000?

OK, this really is a stretch, especially if you’re starting at age 25. To reach $100,000 by age 30, a 25-year-old would need to save $12,700 per year. Even with a 50% company match, your contribution would still be hefty at $8,466.67 per year. That would require an annual salary of $141,111 if you want a 6% deferral rate. (If you increase your deferral rate to 15%, you’d only need a salary of $56,444, but that assumes your company would match the entire amount and you are probably living in your parent’s basement.)

To get things manageable, let’s assume you start contributing to your company 401(k) plan at age 22 (the age many graduate from college and start working). In this case, you’ll only need to save $7,450 a year ($4,967 from you with the rest being a company match). If you want to defer only 6%, you’ll need a salary of $82,778, but if you opt to defer 15%, your salary requirement drops to $33,111.

That gives you a sense for what it takes to reach $100,000 in your retirement plan by your thirtieth birthday. Yes, you can attain this lofty goal. It’s easier if you start early, defer as much as you can and work for a company with a generous company match.

You might be wondering why pick a seemingly random number like $100,000.

It’s not (just) because it’s a nice round number. It’s because $100,000, with no further contributions and growing at an average rate of 8% a year (about 3% less than the long term average growth rate of stocks) becomes more than a million dollars when you reach age 60.

That’s well above the average for the hypothetical 60-year-old in the CRR study.

But don’t stop there. You likely won’t retire until you are 70 years old. By that time, this same $100,000 you had at 30 years old will have grown to in excess of two million dollars.

And that’s if you never save another penny past age thirty.

Which of course you will not do, so that your continued savings will only pad your comfortable retirement even more.