The stock market can be a powerful ally but also a destructive foe. When it feels as fickle with its affections as it has __this year__, many investors wonder why invest at all?

The answer, quite simply, is that without investment growth to sustain your nest egg, retirement may be relegated to a dream rather than a reality.

The following charts show why investing today is the key to retiring on your own terms. Each assumes a 7 percent annual __rate of return__ based on the long-term average stock market return of 9 percent less average inflation of 2 percent.

### How Skipping Starbucks Can Get You Over $800,000

The power of investing is to turn seemingly insignificant amounts into massive sums of money.

Take, for instance, a daily $5 latte from Starbucks (ticker: __SBUX__). If you were to skip the latte and instead invest that $5 a day in the stock market, your coffee fund could grow to almost $11,000 in 5 years. Keep investing $5 a day for 50 years, and you could have more than $800,000 – just by making coffee at home.

**[See: 8 Great Investing Apps and Sites for Millennials.]**

### Investing $15 a Day Is the Easiest Way to Become a Millionaire

What if you took your home chef skills one step further and started brown bagging lunch?

An investor who put $15 a day into the stock market could grow her portfolio to more than $1.2 million in 40 years. If she kept investing $15 a day for 50 years, she could amass almost $2.5 million. Makes you wonder just how good those food truck tacos are.

### Why Investing Early Is the Key to Financial Success

The stock market is kindest to those who stay faithful to it longest. To see this, consider investors Jack, Jill and Joey.

Jack starts investing $200 per month when he’s 25. By age 65, his portfolio is worth more than $520,000.

Jill doesn’t __start investing until age 35__. She also contributes $200 per month, but by 65, her portfolio is only worth about $245,000. By waiting ten years to start, she ends up with less than half what Jack accumulates.

Joey, the late bloomer, starts investing $200 per month when he’s 45 and after 20 years has only $100,000.

### When You Start Investing Matters More Than How Much You Invest

__Time invested__ is so important that Jack can even stop adding to his investments and still have more than Jill at age 65.

If Jack were to contribute $200 per month from age 25 to 35 – contributing only $24,000 total over 10 years – his investments would be worth almost $300,000 at age 65.

Jill continually invests $200 per month between ages 35 and 65 but still ends up with only $245,000 at 65. Even though she contributes three times as much as Jack over her lifetime ($72,000), because she missed those first 10 years of investing, Jack amasses more.

### When Your Investments Earn More Money Than You Contribute

Jack is able to stop contributing at 35 but still accumulate more than Jill thanks to the power of compounding.

At first, Jack’s $200 monthly contributions don’t earn much interest: $14 in the first year and $30 in the second year. But by his tenth year of investing, his money is earning more than he puts in. In year 11, Jack contributes only $200 but earns $231.

And it’s only up from there: Over time, his earnings will exponentially exceed his contributions.

### The Secret to Financial Freedom Is Investing Over Time

Jack’s earnings will grow so large, they’ll exceed all of his contributions combined. After 20 years of investing, Jack contributed $48,000 total. That same year, his $48,000 earned over $56,000. By year 25, his earnings ($103,000) are over 70 percent larger than his total contributions ($60,000).

This is why time is so important in investing: Given enough time, your earnings can compound to take on a life of their own. Even better is they can become self-sustainable. When your money is earning enough money that you no longer need to work, you’ve achieved financial independence.

**[See: 16 Investing Questions That Scare You, But Shouldn’t.]**

### I May Be Small, But I Earn Mightily

When you start investing, it can feel like your efforts are all for naught. After five years of investing $200 per month at a 7 percent return, you’d have put in $12,000 and only earned $2,400. But over time, those earnings compound until the amount you contribute looks paltry in comparison to your returns.

If you keep investing that $200 every month until age 70, for instance, you’ll have contributed $120,000 but could have amassed almost $976,000 in earnings for a total portfolio of $1.1 million.

### Invest More, Grow More

While $200 per month is a fine starting point, financial experts advocate saving at least 15 percent of your salary for retirement.

If you invest $200 per month starting at age 20, you could have almost $763,000 by age 65. But if you invest $500 per month for 45 years, your portfolio could be nearly $2 million. __Maximize your 401(k) contributions__ each year – which are $18,500 in 2018 – by investing $1,541.67 per month, and you’re looking at potentially retiring with more than $5.88 million.

### The Benefit of Increasing Your Contributions

You don’t have to start investing $1,500 a month right away. It’s OK to start small, as long as you start. You can always increase your contributions later.

Say you start with $200 a month. If you maintained those contributions for 40 years, you could accumulate $500,000. But if you were able to increase your contributions by 5 percent each year, your portfolio could grow to more than $1 million in that same timeframe.

**[See: 9 Cheap Dividend Stocks for Bargain Hunters.]**

Just imagine how much you could accumulate starting with $200 per month and increasing your contributions by 10 percent each year? (Hint: It’s more than $2.6 million in 40 years.)