Don't Panic: Realistic Retirement Savings Goals for Millennials

If you started laughing (or laugh-crying) at this headline, let me stop you there. Yes, millennials have been handed an incredibly (and well-documented) raw deal economically. Retirement seems both impossibly distant and conceptually impossible right now. And when personal finance writers start tossing out prescriptions for how much you should have saved by age 30, no wonder the entire internet piles on to eyeroll.

Whether you're not convinced saving one year's worth of salary represents anything substantial or that saving is possible at all (it is!), don't just shake your head and close this tab. The best time to start saving for retirement is way before now; the second-best time, of course, is now. Even with loads of debt, even with sky-high rent and four side-hustles, it is possible.

CNBC recently spoke with the asset management firm T. Rowe Price about a more realistic trajectory for retirement savings. While you can't know how macroeconomic factors like inflation or stagnant salaries will change (or not), you can shoot for these kinds of savings:

Again, it may seem like a pipe dream right now. But something is better than nothing. Even if you can't sock away half your annual salary by the time you hit 30, you can try for a quarter — or even $50 a month. Your 401(k) is all about appreciation; it's the fine wine of personal investments. If your employer can match your contributions, so much the better — that's half your work cut out for you.

One reason we often find it hard to commit to long-term payoffs is that we don't mentally conceive of our future selves as the same person as us. But even if you can't put aside 6 percent of your salary right now, give your future self a leg up however you can.