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How would you describe your dream retirement?

And will you be able to achieve it?

what does retirement look like by generation header

Key takeaways

  • 22% of Americans plan to depend on cryptocurrency investments for retirement.
  • 66% of Gen Zers want to retire before the age of 60, and 56% believe they’re on track to do so.
  • Only 14% of retirees believe they’ve achieved their dream retirement situation, while 26% remain very worried about money.

For many, retirement can feel a bit like a fairy tale. When you’re young and working, it might seem like slow-building retirement savings (if you have any) might not ever materialize into anything substantial. People have different retirement goals and priorities, and many wonder how much they’ll need to save to make their retirement dreams come true.

Recent studies have shown that some younger Americans have improved access to and higher participation in retirement plans than previous generations. One study also concluded that millennials had higher balances in their 401(k)s than Gen Xers did at the same age.

To further explore the idea of retirement in the U.S., both broadly and broken down by generation, we asked where people stand when it comes to saving for their dream retirement. We’ve shared the results of our research below and hope the advice from current retirees will help younger Americans plan better for a more secure future.

Who’s ready for retirement?

What retirement means to an individual depends on many factors. Some are in a position to retire more easily or earlier, while others may have to work harder and be more frugal to save or invest enough money to comfortably live out their golden years. When previous studies by the U.S. Census Bureau compared retirees by gender, they found that women were less likely than men to have retirement savings, and women also had less money in savings.

Despite such disparities, there are seemingly more options than ever for all genders when it comes to what you can rely on for retirement — thanks to cryptocurrency and other means of investing that have become prominent in recent years. In the first part of our study, we took a look at the different assets our respondents were planning to depend on for retirement, as well as how much they currently had saved.

graphic depicting the financial of retirement

Interestingly, more people (71%) said they were relying on savings outside their retirement fund than said they relied on an employer-provided retirement fund (64%). Though a retirement fund from an employer seems like the most common option for retirement, 48% of respondents reported having a retirement fund outside of their workplace.

Respondents also plan to rely on other assets, like stocks and real estate, and despite the relative newness of cryptocurrency and NFTs, 22% of respondents said they will rely on crypto.

Encouragingly, just a small percentage of people said they weren’t actively saving for retirement at the moment, and baby boomers had the highest amount currently saved, on average ($404,664).

Picturing retirement

Retirement looks different for everyone, regardless of how much money they might invest or save. Some people want to retire early; others want to work until they’re well into their older age. A majority of Americans we surveyed plan to keep working after they retire, either out of desire or necessity — retirement savings and Social Security earnings may not be enough to live comfortably for long, so some individuals require an income to increase or supplement their benefits.

In the next part of our survey, we asked respondents about their ideal retirement age and whether they wanted to continue working even after they retire.

graphic depicting how people imagine their retirement

Gen Xers were least confident (40%) they were on track to retire at their desired age. They were almost evenly split between wanting to retire at 61 or older (52%) and at 60 or younger (48%). On the flip side, 66% of Gen Z respondents said they wanted to retire at or before 60, and 56% were confident they’d be able to retire when they want.

Despite a decent percentage of respondents being on track to retire at their desired age, nearly 6 in 10 Americans plan to keep working after retirement to earn extra income. Gen Z was the generation with the highest percentage of respondents (64%) to say they’ll keep working for income purposes post-retirement. Notably, just 12% of respondents said they wouldn’t continue working after retiring.

The retiree’s perspective

We might take retirement for granted when we’re younger, but the benefits of retirement are tremendous, especially for our mental health and happiness. Plenty of retirees have regrets about how they saved (or didn’t save) and what they prioritized in their younger years.

We wanted to get a sense of the biggest regrets among retirees, as well as the parts of retirement that bring them happiness, to have a better understanding of what a “dream retirement” might look like. Some retirees regret how they prioritized their health, while others regret how they handled investments — or that they didn’t save enough money earlier in life.

graphic depicting the pros and cons of retirement

Almost half of retired surveyees thought they didn’t achieve their “dream retirement,” although 40% said they felt they “somewhat” got there. Only 14% of current retirees said they’d realized their retirement dreams.

Ultimately, the biggest source of happiness for retired respondents was the ability to fulfill interests and hobbies (50%). Other top sources of happiness included a loving spouse (48%), financial stability (45%) and being closer to family (42%).

That said, slightly more than half of retirees revealed their biggest regret was not saving enough during the early years of their career. Similarly, 39% said they regretted not saving a higher percentage of their income. Considering regrets around retirement are largely about money, it’s no wonder retirement savings have become a big point of focus in recent years. It’s important to save earlier and more than some young workers realize.

The reality of retirement is often much different from what a person or couple might have envisioned. Sometimes situations outside your control affect your retirement. In today’s economic climate, with inflation being what it is, it’s harder to live longer on what you have saved or invested than it might have been even a few years ago. This current issue tends to breed financial anxiety in Americans.

In the final part of our study, we asked our retired respondents about their financial concerns, as well as how they’re spending their savings during retirement.

graphic depicting what retirement really looks like

Only 19% of respondents said they weren’t worried at all about their finances. However, more than half told us they were somewhat worried. Another 26% were very worried about money, so our question: What are retirees spending their savings on?

The answers differed depending on how much of a concern money was, but 83% said most of their money goes toward housing and living expenses, while 78% spend it on food and groceries. These results suggest many retirees aren’t spending their hard-earned savings on frivolous items; they’re using their funds for the basic necessities.

Just over half of retirees spent money on hobbies and entertainment, while 43% said they’ve spent retirement savings on traveling — certainly a perk of retirement if you’re in a position to do so.

How are you preparing for your retirement?

Though everyone’s situation is different, it seems younger workers who are currently saving for retirement have a more positive outlook on retirement than others. And while a dream retirement may not have come to fruition for the majority of our retirees, this doesn’t mean they’re unhappy.

The fact that many retirees regret not saving enough early on certainly signals the importance of starting a retirement fund at an early age. Younger generations can reap more of the benefits of a post-career life the earlier they start. Preparing for retirement can mean different things for different people, but being prepared in some way pays off in the long run. Given current financial worries, most retirees agree it’s better to save what you can as soon as you can.

Methodology

ConsumerAffairs surveyed 1,000 Americans (and 205 current retirees) about their views on retirement. Of the surveyees, 19.5% were baby boomers, 27.8% were Gen Xers, 32.9% were millennials and 19.8% were Gen Zers. There was a 3% margin of error on a 95% confidence level. For short, open-ended questions, outliers were removed.

Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration and selective memory.

About ConsumerAffairs

ConsumerAffairs provides resources and consumer reviews to help with life’s big, important purchases.

Fair use statement

If you’re a retiree in the making or considering your retirement options and you enjoyed our study, you’re more than welcome to share it. We just ask that you link back to our findings and that your purposes are noncommercial.

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