The most important key to wealth is often mentioned only in passing.
Every day, you can see, hear and read long discussions of what to
invest in  stocks, bonds, real estate,
gold, etc. Yet the choice of investment vehicle is almost irrelevant if
you have the greatest ingredient of wealth  time.
It is often said that compound interest  adding accumulated interest to the principal so that interest is earned on interest as well  is the key to wealth.
True, but compound interest is impotent without time  it needs time to do the compounding.
Time is the key.The more time you have to attain wealth, the lesser rate of return is
necessary. If you start with $1000, and wish to be a millionaire in 5 years, you
have to reinvest all earnings and your rate of return has to be around 325% per year 
such rates of return are achievable by doing something like starting a business and taking it public during those 5 years  a most difficult task.
On the other hand, if you have 45 years to reach a million dollars ( if you are just graduating from
college, you have exactly 45 years before the official retirement age of 67), then
reaching a million dollars, if you start with $1000 and reinvest earnings,
requires a rate of return of 17%  not easy, but within a realm of possibility.
Problem with time is that it passes almost unnoticed. It's easy to
spend years going to school, working for a new company,
all with vague expectations of some large payoff that will set us free.
Job after job, decade after decade...
Every stock market rally brings us closer to freedom, only to be set
back by a sudden fall in stock prices.
A new promotion, or a job offer from a competitor, gives us wings 
only to find out that it is the same grind as
in the previous company  just different faces of executives,
demanding customers, and immediate supervisors who expect we will
work 100hr weeks. Before long, we are 30, 40, 50 years old, often with very little to
show for it.
There is a better way. Long term investments of small amounts. We can think of it as an insurance policy  in case the IPO does not happen,
or the great American novel you write does not sell, or the investment banking job you counted on does not work out.
The time to start investing is NOW. Even if you have no clue about investing, start putting money away in a
savings or money market account. Do not worry about the rate of return at first  just get some capital.
You can spend a year studying stock market, or real estate, or commodities  in
the meantime, accumulate capital. Once you are confident that you know something about investing, you can
create a strategy, a wealth plan, and start implementing it with the capital you saved.
Here are some numbers to consider:
To reach a goal of 1 million dollars, you need following:
Starting capital: $1000 $2000 $3000 $4000
Years to reach $1 million: 45 45 45 45
Required rate of return: 17% 15% 14% 13%
However, these are still pretty high rates of return  stock market
may, or may not provide such rates of return over the next
45 years. Government tax liens may or may not provide such rates of
return over the next 45 years.
Bonds will certainly not provide such rates of return over the next 45
years.
Maybe we can then improve the strategy  notice that we start with a
set amount of capital, and never add more capital 
we rely entirely on earnings from the original investment to bring us to $ 1
million.
What if each year we added some fixed amount of money  it will require
some planning, and
perhaps foregoing some consumption, but maybe a million dollars is
worth a few sacrifices...
Here is the same table, but with addition of capital each year:
To reach a goal of 1 million dollars, you need following:
Starting capital: $1000 $2000 $3000 $4000
Amount to add each year: $1000 $2000 $3000 $4000
Years to reach $1 million: 45 45 45 45
Required rate of return: 11% 8.6% 7.25% 6.3%
Notice that required rate of return plummets when you start adding
money every year.
11% per year is actually about what stock market has historically
returned over extended periods of time.
If you can scrounge up $4000 per year, required rate of return drops to
6.3%  this is bond territory.
You could simply buy bonds, without putting your principal at risk in
the stock market.
So why isn't everyone a millionaire? Because most people do not invest
early in their life.
The longer you wait, the more capital you will need, and higher rates
of return.
If you start when you are 30 years old,
in order to reach 1 million at 67, assuming 8% rate or return,
you will need to start with $ 5000 in capital, and will need to add
$5000 every year.
If you start when you are 40 years old, at 8% rate of return, you will
need
starting capital of $ 10,500 and will need to add $ 10,500 every year.
Look at the table above  if you start at 22 years old, assuming a rate
of return around 8%, you only need to start with $2000
and contribute $2000 per year to reach the same result as a 40 year
old starting with $10,500 and contributing 10,500 each year.
So is it really this easy? Well, there are 2 problems that can lessen
the amount you make.
Problem #1  Taxes.
Fortunately, in the United States, if you have earned income, you can
put up to $4000 per year in an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or up to $15500 in an 401K 
you get a tax
deduction in the year of contribution, and money in an IRA or 401K grows tax
free until you take it out at retirement  then you pay regular taxes.
If you use Roth IRA or Roth 401k  you do not get a tax deduction when you
contribute, but your money also grows tax free, and when you take
it out at retirement  there is no income tax to pay.
So if you start early, taxes are not a problem (many countries outside
of the United States have similar plans allowing their citizens
to save for retirement tax free; some countries do not tax long term capital gains at all, other do not tax stock market gains).
Problem # 2  Inflation.
None of us has control over how fast our governments will inflate the
currency  thus making it worthless 
resulting in higher cost of everything we buy. There is no easy way around it  that's why governments throughout history have been
using inflation to steal wealth from their citizens. However, this problem can be at least partially handled through judicious choice of investments.
Worst case scenario, you may end up with a million dollars that's worth a lot less than a million  but this is still preferable
to not having that million at all.
BOTTOM LINE: Start saving capital right now. Put it in an interest
bearing savings account or a money market account.
In the meantime, study various investments, then decide what your
investment strategy should be. Once you decide on a strategy, start
employing your capital.
And remember  you do not have to stick to the same strategy. If over
time, say 5 years from now, you come up with a better strategy,
you can simply shift the capital to this new strategy.
But the most important step is to start NOW.
300 years ago, Baltasar Gracian, in his superb book "The Art of Worldly Wisdom" said:
"Time and I against any other two"  so start now, get Time on your side.
