The looming cloud hanging over our collective financial future has a big, fat silver lining -- if you bother to look for it.

A new survey by the folks at Strategy One has found that almost two-thirds of Americans think they'll never retire. Sadder still, many of them are absolutely right. But you don't have to be in this group. A few smart steps now can help you can enjoy your golden years.

But first, let's see what got all those people (possibly including you) into this fix. For one thing, many people just haven't saved enough. According to the 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey, 54% of American workers have saved less than $25,000 for retirement (excluding the value of primary residences and pensions), and 66% have socked away less than $50,000. Let's face it: Many people would struggle to live off those sums for just one year, let alone several decades.

Poor investments plague many people. In search of safety, many investors are jumping into bank accounts and CDs, even though they pay low rates. You won't lose money with those vehicles, but your nest egg won't grow much at 1% interest. Meanwhile, others bet on hot stock tips that often don't pan out, costing them everything.

All is not lost!
Those who continue saving too little for retirement, or parking their precious dollars in Hail-Mary stocks or cookie jars on their kitchen counters, are right to worry about their retirement. They very well may never get to retire. But that doesn't have to be you.

Take a few simple steps soon, and you can completely change the trajectory of your financial future for the better:

  • Save more. Think you can't afford to cut back on a few expenses, Take the time to track exactly where your money goes, and you might find that sparing yourself an extra $100 or $200 per month isn't so painful. You could also take on a second job for a while, or consider looking for a higher-paying first job.

    Save longer. Even if you don't cancel your retirement, postponing it for a few years can be amazingly powerful. During those extra years, you'll be able to sock away thousands of dollars, retain your job benefits (such as health insurance), and put off tapping your nest egg. Would you believe that working just two more years can potentially give you a few hundred thousand extra dollars?

    Invest more effectively. Your long-term money should be invested largely in stocks, since it's hard for any other asset class to beat them over the long haul. Dividend payers can be especially powerful in your portfolio, since dividends from healthy companies rise surely but steadily over time. Companies with long records of paying and increasing their dividends tend to be big blue chips that help you sleep better at night.

    Take advantage of retirement accounts. Your 401(k) plan at work is your friend. Not only will you pay less in taxes now, but you'll also avoid paying taxes on the income your investments pay until you retire. As long as your plan has reasonable low-cost investment choices, your 401(k) is a great first stop for your retirement savings.

Take heart -- it's never too late, and you're never too poor, to start improving your financial position. And if any of the steps above sound like too much of a hassle, just compare them to the prospect of shuffling off to work each day at age 87.

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