If you want to retire someday, you know it takes hard work, but you can definitely do it. Now more than ever, though, many investors don't believe that they'll have enough to be financially independent during their senior years -- and they're planning on taking some draconian steps to remedy it.

Every year, the Employee Benefits Research Institute does a survey to determine how confident workers are about their retirement saving and whether they believe their nest eggs will be large enough to support them after they retire. As you might expect after how bad 2008 was for savers, confidence levels hit record lows in the survey's latest installment.

Down in the dumps
It's clear that the sad state of the economy has carried over to darken employees' moods. Just 13% of current workers surveyed feel very confident that they'll have a comfortable retirement, and only 20% of current retirees have that same high confidence that they'll have enough to be financially secure throughout their golden years.

The areas where workers and retirees both show the most concern echo a familiar problem: basic health care and long-term care. Confidence in these areas fell below even the low levels shown for basic expenses and general preparation for retirement. In addition, almost 40% of workers believe Social Security won't provide the same benefits in the future that current recipients get.

The result of this loss of confidence is that many expect to work longer than previously planned. Fully 72% of workers plan on having to work at least part-time during retirement, and a quarter have pushed back their retirement age.

The No. 1 problem
Unfortunately, people's pessimism over their retirement prospects is well-justified -- though not for the reasons they believe. Although the struggling economy and falling stock prices have certainly hurt retirees, the fact is that few people had realistic ideas of their actual retirement needs even before the downturn.

For instance, only a quarter of those age 55 or older had more than $250,000 saved toward their retirement. More than 30% had less than $10,000 set aside. No wonder these people aren't confident about their retirement -- they shouldn't be.

Making it harder
Of course, the economy is hurting everyone's ability to save more. In the past month, companies like MGM Mirage (NYSE:MGM), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and Xerox (NYSE:XRX) added themselves to the growing list of companies suspending employer matching contributions to 401(k) plans. And with many companies, including AMR's (NYSE:AMR) American Airlines and Sony (NYSE:SNE), freezing or even cutting pay, finding more money to set aside toward retirement is the last thing on many people's minds.

But no matter how compelling your reasons may be to skimp on saving for retirement, you can't ignore the need for long. Steady-growing stocks like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) have acted as the foundation of retirement portfolios for many workers throughout their careers -- but to succeed, workers had to keep investing over time, adding more money to take advantage of the ongoing opportunity to build a big nest egg.

Keep your head up
Before you lose confidence, take these simple steps:

  • Find out where you are. If you've been too scared to open your 401(k) statements, bite the bullet and take a look. It may be painful, but you're better off knowing than not knowing.
  • Come up with a plan. To invest well, you need to know how much money you can save and how much money you'll need after you retire. Then you can figure out what types of investments you need to get there.
  • Think long-term. You won't avoid the ups and downs of the market, but if you take a longer view, you can safely ignore them. Historically, even the worst periods have moderated over the course of people's lifetimes.

So don't let the generally depressed feeling of the market get you down. If you stay in front of the situation, you can turn gloom to your advantage -- and emerge fully in control of your finances.

More on investing for the long haul:

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger hopes he'll be able to retire someday. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble, which is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy never stops working for you.