Much has been made about the changing face of the workplace as the baby boomer generation gets older. The number of men and women ages 45 to 54, for example, jumped from 16.9 million in 1980 to 26.4 million in 1996. And because of the changes, a renewed focus has been placed on reforming Social Security, which is wise.

However, in the rush to accommodate this aging work force and alter Social Security to meet new needs, it is important not to overlook the key ingredient for a successful retirement - personally saving and investing wisely.While these are challenging times, they are also strong economic times. Individuals need to take advantage of them by making specific plans and then following through to ensure an adequate if not healthy retirement.

The biggest obstacle to providing for retirement is procrastination.

People should not wait until 55 or 60 to plan for their golden years. Then it's too late to utilize a number of programs and benefits in place to aid retirement.

That kind of procrastination may also force some people to postpone retirement. Particularly at risk are those without adequate savings or lacking an adequate pension.

A number of seminars - offered by both the private and public sectors at minimal cost - provide information on how to plan for retirement. There also are a number of financial planning consultants able to offer assistance. Basic principles besides adequate saving and investment include avoiding excessive debt.

Six months ago, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reiterated the need for Americans to save and invest their money wisely. Unfortunately, history has shown that his "save now or suffer later" message is easy to forget during times of economic prosperity and easy credit.

An easy trap to fall prey to, particularly it seems for young couples, is the "buy now, pay later" mind-set that results from easy credit. People often find themselves burdened with debt, which makes it difficult to save and even harder to invest.

Regardless of how effective the Social Security system is, it should be considered merely a supplement to a personal benefit plan. Just as the early bird gets the worm, those who plan well and plan early are those who will reap the greatest retirement benefits.