I started contributing to my 401(k) in 1999 with my very first paycheck at my very first job straight out of college. Of course, I made such a teeny, tiny salary when I first began working that I couldn’t max out my contributions, but in 2002 and 2003 I got really close and in 2004 I finally reached my goal.

• 1999 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $898.49
• 2000 — Limit $10,000 — My Contribution $4042.65
• 2001 — Limit $10,500 — My Contribution $6521.03
• 2002 — Limit $11,000 — My Contribution $10,452.81
• 2003 — Limit $12,000 — My Contribution $11,843.89
• 2004 — Limit $13,000 — My Contribution $13,000.00
• 2005 — Limit $14,000 — My Contribution $14,000.00
• 2006 — LImit $15,000 — My Contribution $15,000.00
• 2007 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
• 2008 — Limit $15,500 — My Contribution $15,500.00
• 2009 — LImit $16,000 — My Contribution $16,000.00
• 2010 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00
• 2011 — Limit $16,500 — My Contribution $16,500.00

When I added up the numbers I was amazed to see a total of $155,758.87 in savings! I think this is one of the reasons automatic savings is so valuable. You start out small and increase the percentage ever so slightly with every raise and wham twelve years later you wind up with a large chunk of change!