Fixed Income Strategies

Many Americans dream of retirement but lack a real game plan, survey finds

Key Points
  • More than half of Americans age 22 to 74 think about retirement at least four times per week.
  • The average $610,000 that survey respondents think they'd need for an ideal retirement falls far short of the commonly recommended $1 million minimum.
  • "There's certainly a disconnect in terms of expectations and reality," said Collin Czarnecki, content strategist at marketing firm Digital Third Coast.
Marcy Maloy | Photodisc | Getty Images

Americans of all ages do a lot of thinking about retirement — but that doesn't mean they're actually doing much else about securing a comfortable one, according to a new survey. In fact, a secure retirement as part of the American dream may involve just that — a lot of dreaming.

The October survey of 2,000 people by retirement community operator Provision Living found that while 52 percent of Americans ages 22 to 74 say they think about retirement four or more times a week, most don't expect they'll end up saving even half as much as they optimistically think they'll need in their golden years — and more than half also suspect they'll be working part-time in retirement.

Not that the expected shortfall has all of them worried, apparently: Forty-three percent of millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, told Provision Living they currently have less than $5,000 socked away for their seemingly long-off retirement years. And 5 percent of respondents, presumably also millennials, said they were "too young" to even think about retirement yet.

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The suspicion they won't be able to save up enough to retire as they'd like doesn't stop Americans who are already at least thinking about retirement from fantasizing about their ideal post-career life.

"Retirement is certainly a topic that seems to be on everyone's mind," said Collin Czarnecki, content strategist at Digital Third Coast, a marketing firm that partnered with Provision Living on the survey. "I think the idea of retirement itself goes hand in hand with the American dream.

"It's woven into what we do every day when we're at work and essentially what we're working toward," he added. "It's that goal we're all striving to reach."

Survey respondents told Provision Living they'd love to retire early — at an average age of 60 (specifically 64 for baby boomers, the youngest of whom turn 54 this year, and 56 for millennials) — and decamp to a 1,635-square-foot, one-story ranch home in a beach or coastal community. Top cities for "dream" retirements were mainly high-cost, high-density leading or resort cities; the top 10 were Miami; San Diego; Denver; New York; Orlando, Florida; Honolulu; Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco. Twenty-one percent or so even entertain the idea of a foreign retirement, with Italy the top dream destination.

There is a disconnect, however, between those aspirational big city or overseas retirement dreams and what survey respondents actually envisioned for themselves, said Czarnecki. "The top cities, or 'dream cities,' to retire in were mainly larger metropolitan cities," he said. "However, when asked more specifically about their dream retirement location, the landscape certainly differed.

"Respondents said an ideal population for their retirement town or city would be around 52,000, which is hardly a Miami, San Diego or Denver," Czarnecki noted.

That's not the only discrepancy. When asked about finances, survey respondents reported, on average, $610,000 as the ideal amount to have saved by retirement age. Age-group-wise, baby boomers think they'll need $574,000, while millennials foresee a higher, $687,000 as the goal. Neither demographic is aiming high enough; $1 million as a minimum nest egg, long the industry standard, is now considered too low by many pundits.

Worse still, neither group thinks they'll actually hit their own self-delineated savings targets. Boomers foresee an eventual $228,000 saved by retirement, and millennials, $357,000. That's a 40 percent shortfall for boomers and almost 52 percent less than ideal for millennials. (Interestingly, 37 percent of millennials think they'll have no need, at all, for Social Security income, despite this apparent shortfall.) How survey respondents, millennials in particular, plan to make up the difference is anyone's guess.

"There's certainly a disconnect in terms of expectations and reality," Czarnecki said. "Short of a financial miracle, or winning the next Powerball, millennials might want to reassess their current and future financial goals in order to make their retirement dreams come to fruition."

That might include reconsidering part-time work. The Provision Living survey found that only 47 percent of millennials foresee part-time jobs in retirement, compared to 61 percent of boomers.

The lesson in all this? If you want it, plan for it, says Czarnecki. "Regardless of age, it's important for all of us to sit down and crunch the numbers," he said.

"Sure, some of us might be budgeting for the week, or until our next paycheck, but what does your budget look like for the next year, 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years?" he added. "Even if your goals aren't nearly as lofty as retiring at 56 or early, it's crucial to fully grasp where your financial savings stands and plan accordingly, which includes factoring in unforeseen emergencies."