It starts with the dream of a secure retirement. Yet many people think it is an impossible dream. How, can you actually achieve that dream when you have to pay for daily living expenses – maybe even buy a car, pay off debts, save for your children’s education, take a vacation, or buy a home. Perhaps you may have aging parents to support. You may be going through a major event in your life such as starting a new job, getting married or divorced, raising children, or coping with a death in the family.

So, how do you manage all these financial challenges and at the same time try to “buy” a secure retirement? How do you turn your dreams into reality?

First of all, take a dose of reality. Understand that your retirement is probably the most expensive thing you will ever buy in your lifetime. Maybe you never thought of “buying” your retirement. Yet that is exactly what you do when you put money into a retirement nest egg. You are paying today for the cost of your retirement tomorrow.

Here’s another reality check: the cost of living in future years is getting more expensive for most Americans, for two reasons. First, we live longer after we retire with many of us spending 15, 25, even 30 years in retirement and we are more active.

Second, you may have to shoulder a greater chunk of the cost of your retirement because fewer companies are providing traditional pension plans. Many retirement plans today, such as the popular 401(k), are paid for primarily by the employee, not the employer. You may not have a retirement plan available at work or you may be self employed. This puts the responsibility of choosing retirement investments squarely on your shoulders.

A final reality check: more than half of all workers are not earning retirement benefits at work, and many are not familiar with the basics of investing. Many people mistakenly believe that Social Security will pay for all or most of their retirement needs. The fact is, since its inception, Social Security has provided only a minimum foundation of protection. A comfortable retirement almost always requires Social Security, employer-based retirement plan benefits, personal savings and investments. In short, to have a comfortable retirement, you must take charge and realize that you are the architect of your financial future.

Sound impossible? Fortunately, it can be done. And, here’s free help, courtesy of the US Department of Labor who has provided a new booklet entitled, Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future. It is a simple and easy-to-read guide to improving your future financial fitness.