Want to know the fastest way to identify a personal finance amateur? They only think about saving, budgeting, and investing in terms of dollars.

It's an understandable error: Financial planning is all about seeing those numbers following the mystical "$" climb and climb, as much as possible. What are these folks forgetting? Time.

Large dollar amounts are seductive, but they mean little without context. True masters of personal finance recognize that time is one of their most crucial considerations — if not the most crucial. It's both a resource and a metric for assessing goals.

A helpful illustration: if your goal is to save $1 million, I guarantee anyone can do it. Just invest $5,000 in a standard bank account with 0.06% interest and add $5,000 more each year. Thanks to your dedication and foresight, you'll reach your goal in just under 188 years!

Not quite satisfactory? Sophisticated financial targets don't just set parameters based on one-dimensional numbers. That's why when we hear about somebody who saves enough money to retire comfortably at 65, we think, "Good for them" — but when we get news of somebody pre-40 comfortably resigning from a 9-to-5 so they can go explore the world at their leisure, we think, "Give that to me!"

Here's the rub: To finish early, just starting early isn't enough (though it's vital). You also have to know what strategies to pursue based on the stage of your life, your comfort zone, and your present opportunities. Think retirement at 35 sounds nice? Below are five secrets that can help you stick your landing, decades ahead of schedule.

Long-Term Opportunities Can Yield Higher Returns

Even if your plan is to level-up your bank account to retirement bliss relatively quickly, that doesn't mean you need to live and breath in the world of short-term investments. If you have a fifteen year horizon, you can afford to make investments designed to mature over five or seven or even ten years. An illiquid investment might seem inconvenient, but over-valuing liquidity is often impulsive and amateurish — if you already know you have definite goals that need to be met later rather than sooner, then illiquidity has some real advantages.

How? Long-term financial opportunities often have higher potential returns, similar to opportunities with higher risk. Liquidity is actually a very expensive service for many investments to provide — when you opt for lower liquidity, those expenses end up in your pocket. As you're charting your route to early retirement El Dorado, figure out how much money you can lock away for longer periods. It'll be worth more to you then anyway.

Diversification = Multiplication

When you hear about diversification in relation to finance, it has a pretty specific meaning: give your investment portfolio some heterogeneity, make sure that you've put your money in a variety of spots. Forbes says that common investment types are assets like stocks and bonds; an alternative but classically wise investment is something like real estate; and something more radically alternative — still unproven, controversial — is an investment like Bitcoin. The ideal cocktail of assets changes from person to person, but the benefit of deploying your money across many types is that if one part of the market takes a downturn, it's less likely to have a catastrophic effect on your entire portfolio.

Understand the Reasons You're Investing — and Love Them

Good financial performance depends on consistency and dedication. Like so many things, it's much easier to make a plan than to actually execute it — especially when external forces challenge that plan day after day, week after week, year after year. To be successful, you'll need discipline and resolve, and both of those are easier to hold onto when you're sincere about your motivations.

There's another, more pragmatic motive here too points out Time: you make better financial decisions when you understand exactly why you should do something and why you should not. Again and again, we've seen people make bad choices because they've tried to follow the cues of people with totally different goals than their own. If you see somebody making bank, but their goal is to buy a boat in two years, you might be tempted to imitate them. Resist! Their goal is so radically different than yours that their diversification breakdown, risk tolerance, and financial horizons constitute an entirely different paradigm. Keep your own goals in mind, love them, and be true.

Have a Healthy Mix of Risk

One reason the 188 year bank account example above falls so far short is that it fails to balance time with risk. In general, the risk of a financial venture should correlate directly with its potential returns. Investors will sometimes find that there's a positive correlation between an investment's riskiness and its potential return.

A bank account is reliably secure; its returns are minimal. If you want to retire by 35, you need to understand risk and how to balance it so that you can reach your targets — without also making bad decisions. That does not mean taking unnecessary gambles. It does mean diversifying your financial risk, just like everything else, so there's something that can drive big growth at speed. Some investment platforms automatically do this for you, and help you define acceptable, strategic risk, based on goals.

Have a Plan - as Early as Possible

If you're a Turbo user, you already understand the value of financial awareness. You can't improve what you can't measure! You can't measure without intent! You can't have intent without a goal!

The earlier you define a goal, the earlier you can map a route to achieve it, and the earlier you can measure whether you're on track. (The real hack here? Write everything down, in detail. And then use a tool like Mint to make sure you're following your own roadmap.)