En Español | If you've ever read Alice in Wonderland, surely you remember the Cheshire Cat's advice to Alice, who had asked for directions to nowhere in particular. "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," replied the cat.
A new survey shows that too many Americans are applying Alice's aimlessness to their retirement: They're putting off the most rudimentary financial planning, neglecting to save and vaguely planning to work longer — without knowing whether that's a realistic goal.
As a result, nearly half of American workers are not confident they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, according to the latest Retirement Confidence Survey put out by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
That's a huge difference from the 1995 survey, when only 27 percent of respondents expressed that fear.
Debt, cost of living and job uncertainties all contribute to the problem, according to the survey, but here's another factor that undermines their confidence: A whopping 54 percent of respondents haven't even tried to figure out how much money they'll need to save to live comfortably in retirement.
It's hard to be confident about your destination when you don't know where you're going.
Only 18 percent of the survey's respondents had sought the advice of a financial adviser. Another 18 percent said they did their own estimate of how much money they needed, and only 8 percent used online tools to help with their calculations.
The rest just guessed at how much money they would need.
Of course not everyone can afford to use a financial adviser. In fact, there are some legitimate conflict-of-interest reasons to question investment advice rendered by a professional. But many trusted organizations, such as AARP, offer free tools and resources to help you figure it all out.
While you're doing your planning, you'll need to identify what your estimated expenses will be while you're retired and how much money you'll need to have saved to meet those expenses. Be sure to look at your Social Security benefits and decide when you're going to claim — the longer you wait, the bigger your benefit will be for you and your surviving spouse.
You may want to work longer — or start your own business — but you can't necessarily count on working longer as the remedy for not saving enough now. The Retirement Confidence Survey regularly finds that nearly half of us end up retiring earlier than planned, often because of health problems, ailing family members or because the ground shifted at work.
For me the takeaway is this: If you want to be confident about your retirement, it's time to take the guesswork out of planning for it.
Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of the Financial Security team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP's educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial "peace of mind" in retirement. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JSetz.