Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Since retirement investing is a topic of perennial interest to me, I always look forward to the results of the survey on retirement confidence released by the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). Given what has gone on in the markets, I expected to see further declines in retirement confidence, but the findings, which came out in mid-April, were especially dramatic:

-- Just 13 percent of Americans surveyed say "they are very confident of having enough money to live comfortably in retirement." That's a record low.

-- People already retired are also feeling the pinch of the downturn: Just 20 percent said they were "very confident" about their retirement resources -- another record low (down from 41 percent in 2007 and 29 percent last year).

-- People are planning to work longer in order to build resources for retirement; 28 percent said their expected retirement age has changed in the last year.

These findings cannot be entirely surprising, of course, in light of the economy, but they are a stark reminder of the importance of retirement planning and saving aggressively. Obviously, it takes money to retire comfortably. But being confident about retirement also takes knowledge-which you get by facing the financial realities.

Heads in the Sand

The doom and gloom of the financial markets have clearly cast a pall over many people engaged in the retirement planning process. But the survey also found that far too many people have invested far too little time or energy into this critical challenge. Less than half (just 44 percent!) of those surveyed said that they (or their spouse) have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved by the time they retire. Another 44 percent simply guess at what they'll need.

It's no wonder so many people aren't confident about their long-term financial futures. The simple fact is that it takes a great deal of money to retire comfortably, and only a fraction of that money will come from Social Security. Naturally, it's harder to be confident when the economy is in such turmoil and the financial markets have declined. But none of us has any control over the economy or the markets. We do, however, have the ability to understand what we need for a comfortable retirement and to find strategies to help us get there.

The Good News

There were a few kernels of good news in the EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey, and for me it was in the numbers of people who are waking up to the retirement challenge:

-- 81 percent of those surveyed said they've reduced their expenses

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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