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"Extreme Stress" for Baby Boomers

You'd think that baby boomers would be sitting pretty right about now. None of them are even close to their 70s -- the oldest are only 62 years old, and the youngest are turning just 44. Many have empty nests now, with retirement waiting right around the corner. Others are in the thick of their prime earning years, in the middle of their careers. Many own their own homes and drive nice cars.

But you know what? They're stressed out.

According to a Scottrade/BetterInvesting 2008 American Retirement Study, a mere 40% of Americans aged 45 to 64 are cranking up their savings, while more than half don't think they've socked away enough for retirement. And to make matters even worse, a whopping 38% don't even know how much they need to save for retirement. Some 51% of Americans are very concerned about retirement.

The most alarming statistic is that 24% of boomers have saved less than $25,000. Think about that. If that's you, and you retire at age 65 with, say, $30,000 as your retirement nest egg, and you withdraw about 4% of it each year to live off, as suggested in our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, you'll enjoy an income of ... $1,200 in your first year. That's $100 per month! How far do you think that will take you? Even if you have 10 times that much -- $300,000 -- socked away, even that will give you an income of just $1,000 per month ... hardly the stuff luxurious retirement dreams are made of.

If you're going to live off 4% of your nest egg and you want an income of, say, $65,000, you'll need an egg that's $1.6 million strong. Even that might not be enough, given the rapidly rising cost of health care these days. The more you can sock away today for tomorrow, the better.

Half-baked plans
Many of us haven't saved nearly enough. Surely, we plan to put things right. Right? Well, not entirely. According to the survey, "57% of all Americans plan to put away less than 5% of their income in 2008, and 26% don't expect to save anything."

Yikes! How much of your income are you saving and investing? Many experts recommend that you sock away 10% of your income -- but depending on how much you make and how much you've saved so far, it might be better to aim for 15%. If you're one of the boomers with less than $25,000 saved, you might want to simply save as much as you possibly can.

Remember the value of timing. The dollars you invest today are much more valuable than the dollars you invest tomorrow, because they'll have a lot longer to grow. A single dollar that you invested today, allowed to grow at the market's average long-term growth rate of 10% for 25 years, becomes $10.83 -- nearly $11! That's hard to beat. If it grows for 20 years instead (that is, if you get around to saving and investing it five years from now instead of today), it will become $6.73, considerably less. Fifteen years? Only $4.18.

Don't just take my word, though. Listen to the folks who were surveyed: 51% wish they'd started saving at a younger age, and 40% wish they'd saved more. Sadly, 43% said they could have saved more than they did.

Survey says ...
Here are a few more scary statistics from the survey:

  • "In 2007, 83 percent of Americans had begun saving for retirement, but in 2008 that number has dropped to 78 percent."
  • "Less than a third of Americans say that they have thought about retirement more than a few times in the last year."

The good news
Fortunately, all is not lost. It's rarely too late to make a marked difference in the quality of your retirement. Just start saving and investing more effectively -- today. One good option, if your investments haven't been meeting or beating the market, is to just invest in the overall market, via an index fund such as one based on the S&P 500. It will instantly invest you in companies such as Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM  ) , Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG  ) , and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) .

We'd love to help you with your retirement planning. Our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service distills what you really need to know into a manageable volume each month. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues, so you can gather valuable tips and even read about how some folks have retired early and well. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.


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Selena Maranjian
TMFSelena

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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