How many Americans have nothing saved for retirement? The answer will surprise you

The older you are, the better the odds that you have at least begun to set some money aside for retirement. Even so, there remain significant numbers of Generation Xers — and even baby boomers — who have nothing saved for their golden years, according to new research from Personal Capital.

Among millennials, 39% had a goose-egg in the retirement savings column. That number gets a little lower for Gen Xers, to 34%, and still further to 32% for baby boomers, according to the online survey of 2,008 U.S. adults. But that’s still essentially 1 in 3 older workers totally unready for the next phase of their lives.

“Saving for retirement isn’t what it used to be: strategies that set the standard 20 years ago, like Social Security and pensions, are no longer safety nets for funding Americans’ retirement dreams,” said Personal Capital CEO Jay Shah in a press release. “With the retirement landscape changing, it’s more important than ever for Americans to improve and act on their financial knowledge.”

How do they plan to fund their retirement?

Roughly a quarter of the 1,630 pre-retirees surveyed said they believe…

Social Security will be their primary source of retirement income (with 15% of millennials and 29% of Generation X feeling that way). That group either doesn’t understand how much they can expect to receive from Social Security, or they’re planning for fairly modest lifestyles. “On average, retired workers walked away with a monthly check of $1,406.91, or $16,882.92 a year,” wrote the Motley Fool’s Sean Williams in an article detailing January’s payouts from the program.

The study also found distinct differences between men and women when it comes to how they understand their financial needs. Significantly more women than men (62% vs. 47%) agreed “that sticking to a comprehensive financial plan” is key when it comes to properly preparing for retirement. Yet 40% of women said they had nothing saved or retirement compared to 33% of men.

“Women have the know-how to save for retirement, but the cards are stacked against them: they have longer lifespans that require higher savings goals, are frequently in lower-paying careers, and don’t have the same plan options afforded to them as many of their male counterparts,” said Personal Capital Vice President Michelle Brownstein in the press release.

What can you do?

It’s important for workers of any age to recognize the limits of Social Security. You might be on track for a higher-than-average payout, but if that’s the case, it’s because you’re earning an above-average income, so your standard of living may be higher.

Before you can make a plan to save for retirement, you need to figure out how much you’re likely to need. That’s a task you can do on your own if you put in the research time, or it’s something you can hash out with a financial planner.

Be realistic. If you plan to downsize or move someplace less expensive, factor those anticipated savings in — but don’t assume your expenses will fall dramatically. The other side of the equation features any number of areas where your expenses might rise. The longer you live in a home, the more likely you are to be hit with a major repair bill, for example, and most of us won’t go through our elder years without a health crisis or several.

Once you have a financial target — perhaps you want to replace 80% of your before-retirement income — you need to make a savings plan that can get you there. That may require sacrifice — especially if you’re not in your 20s and 30s — but the sooner you get out of that chunk of your demographic that’s totally unready for their post-working lives, the better.

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