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Your Happy Retirement Is Probably About $250,000 Short

Brian O'Connell
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Do you have a good grip on your retirement?
Be honest -- a really good grip?
Ameriprise Financial AMP , the Minneapolis-based financial services giant, doesn't think so. In fact, Ameriprise says there may be a significant "emotional disconnect" between your retirement goals and retirement reality.
The firm based its analysis on its Retirement Check-In Survey of 1,000 U.S. employees ages 50-70.

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At first blush, Ameriprise says America has a good, healthy, positive mindset toward retirement. The firm says 78% of Americans expect to be "extremely happy." Ameriprise's data cite the belief among workers that they can look forward to ample free time with loved ones, the ability to travel the globe or spend quality time with favorite hobbies.
This is where that "disconnect" enters the picture. Ameriprise says that, on average, most Americans have a gap of $250,000 before they can retire in the relatively cushy lifestyle described above. Furthermore, 68% of U.S. workers say they plan on working in retirement.
"There seems to be a significant disconnect between the expectations that Americans have for their lifestyle in retirement and the financial steps they're taking -- or not taking -- to make those expectations a reality," says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. "The good news is there are several things that most people are doing right, and there are steps that everyone can take to help build their financial readiness for retirement."

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Does that disconnect apply to you? In large degrees, Ameriprise seems to think so. Let's take a look at the survey data to see where you might fit into the retirement picture and whether you're experiencing a "disconnect" too:

  • 46% believe they'll be able to pay for "essential" expenses in retirement, including housing, utilities and health care costs.
  • 36% believe they'll have enough money in retirement for travel and hobbies. (Compare that with the 78% who say they'll be "very happy" in retirement and the disconnect theory really begins to make sense.)
  • About 38% say they don't have an "accurate" understanding of expected retirement costs (i.e., basic living expenses and travel and hobby budgets). Common sense says that if you haven't broken out the calculator and hammered out a rough blueprint of expected living expenses after you leave the workforce, you just may have a retirement disconnect. (BankingMyWay.com has a great retirement planning calculator. Find it here.
  • Despite the vast majority of survey respondents who say they expect a pleasant, comfortable retirement, only 32% of workers believe they are saving enough for it. Ameriprise calls this uncertainty "troubling" for tens of millions of Americans.
  • Americans say they need almost $1 million saved for retirement, but most say they are nowhere that. On average, U.S. workers say they need to save another $250,000 for retirement, but, aside from counting on their home equity, have no idea how they'll save the money. Ameriprise calls that "surprising" given the anxious state of the U.S. housing market.

Ameriprise does have at least one recommendation to close the disconnect and better safeguard that comfortable retirement. It's all about "taking steps."

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"The study reveals several positive action steps, including having a written financial plan, factoring inflation into their retirement plans and calculating how much income their assets will produce in retirement," de Baca says. "These are actions anybody can take, even if they are maxing out savings or cannot afford to simply save more."
There are some things you can do to start filling that gap, starting with a second job and just living more frugally: stopping your purchase of expensive coffees and snacks; brown bag your lunch; quitting tobacco; and keeping your used car or buying a less expensive new one. (You might not need a car at all when you retire.) Of course this means you should stop adding to credit card debt, and you should also pay off your high-interest loans -- you don't want to be earning 1.5% on a money market account and paying 14% on a timeshare contract, for instance -- and refinance your mortgage to today's still largely rock-bottom rates. You should fund your 401(k) and take advantage of your full employer's match, even if you think you need that paycheck money now. And if you're over 50, you should take advantage of the IRS' catch-up provisions for retirement plans.
Finance experts also suggest that you rebalance your portfolio annually; consider taking on a reverse mortgage; or keep an eye on the housing market so you know when to cash out and sell your home.
Many people put off their retirement entirely or take a part-time job during it. A final retirement option that can change the equation entirely: Consider going somewhere your dollar stretches further. InternationalLiving.com does an annual, eight-category ranking (including the use of English) of the "best countries for retirees." Top of the list: Ecuador, Panama and Malaysia.
Interested? Here's more on retiring as an expat.

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