Are you the type of person who likes to go along with the crowd? Or would you consider yourself a contrarian, even a rebel?

If you like to travel with the herd, then you don't need this article. In fact, you don't have to do anything -- because that's what the majority of people do when it comes to retirement planning.

But if you'd like to set yourself apart from the have-to-work-forever masses, then do something right now that most people don't do: Calculate how much you need to save to retire.

According to the Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 43% of workers have calculated whether they'll be able to one day kiss the boss goodbye -- and even some of those people just guessed. But hear me now, loud and clear: You won't have the retirement you want unless you crunch your numbers, several times over.

The Internet to the rescue!
The Whirled Wild Web is replete with tools that will help you evaluate your retirement plan. As you fiddle with all these online abacuses, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Run several analyses. Each calculator will give you a different result. So run your plan through three to five tools to get many opinions about your retirement's prognosis.
  • Keep your assumptions conservative. Don't assume stocks will return their historical average of more than 10% annually; assume something more like 7% or 8%. This will build a margin of error into your plan. If the market underperforms, then you'll still probably have saved enough. If the market outperforms -- or you invest in stocks that beat the market over the decades -- as Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH), and Walgreen (NYSE:WAG) have over the past 10 years -- you'll have even more money in retirement. Bonus!
  • Yes, you'll receive Social Security. Indeed, the program faces serious financial problems. But remember that it's essentially a pass-through program, in that today's taxes pay for today's benefits. And as long as there are workers paying taxes, there will be Social Security. However, if you're 55 or younger, it does make sense to assume that you'll get less than what is currently promised. Run your plan through a few scenarios, assuming a 25%, 50%, and 75% cut in Social Security benefits.

Use an Internet search engine to find a handful of retirement calculators and run your numbers. And financial software such as Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money feature retirement calculators.

While I think free Internet calculators are useful, you do get what you pay for. In our Rule Your Retirement service, we offer a supercharged financial-planning tool that not only analyzes your retirement plan but also suggests an asset allocation and makes sure you have your other financial ducks in a row. Plus, starting on Oct. 8, we will begin the "How to Plan the Perfect Retirement" online seminar. The RYR team will take subscribers through each of the eight lessons, and be available to answer any and all questions. You can reserve your cyber-seat at the seminar, and give our financial-planning tool a whirl, by taking a 30-day free trial.

Whatever you do, do something. You don't want to follow the "retirement-will-just-magically happen" crowd over a cliff.

This article was originally published on May 23, 2006. It has been updated.

Robert Brokamp was the King of Bavaria from 1863 to 1886 -- until his alarm clock woke him up. Robert does not own shares of any company mentioned. Microsoft, Dell, and UnitedHealth are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Dell and UnitedHealth are also Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool is forethinkers writing for forethinkers.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.