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Hello, I am 24 and will start investing in the near future. At this time I am examining my investment opportunities, as well as deciding how to start on my (early) retirement.

Note that I have read the fool.com investment/retirement sections until my head aches (whether it is from the content or delivery I won't say), and so I feel that I am now at least an official 'beginner' Fool.

Anyway, I am not in a rush, but would like to hear any advice from this board.

To begin, currently the following life-plan is my overall assumption/target: begin investing for my future, own a home, raise 2 kids and send them to college, and live a comfortable existence when I retire -- I would like to be [able] to retire at 50, although I may not elect to do so until much later.

I am trying to decide on how to best begin investing without hurting my near-term financial needs. I would like to start investing money now so that in 30 years I'm laughing my way to the bank. However, I have to consider, among other things, the following:

1. I rent now, but want to own a home in the future (my rent is dirt-cheap at the moment fortunately)
2. I very well may start a business in the next 3/5/10 years

Thus, I am afraid to tie up too much money into retirement plans that are hands-off until 40 years down the road because I [may] need the money in the near-future. Yet, I realize that money needs to be invested for retirement now so it will be a painless process.

In your opinion, at my age is it best to use normal investing rather than 401(k) or IRA's? I realize that 401(k)'s offer FREE MONEY in most situations, but my current employer only matches the first $100 (small company). The problem with an IRA is that if I withdraw for any reason other than a home purchase I will be penalized, which will hurt the overall investment.

Just looking for comments, links, and leads.

Thanks!
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