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Two-thirds of Americans don't save enough

Americans face immediate financial concerns on a day-to-day basis, and these take priority over long-term retirement goals. In Bankrate's retirement savings poll, taken in mid-September, seven in 10 Americans (68 percent) said they are not able to reach their monthly retirement savings goal because of other financial responsibilities.

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About one-third said they are putting some money away, but not enough. Another third aren't saving anything at all. Only about 28 percent said they are meeting their monthly retirement savings target.

There's no way around it: Making retirement savings a priority requires you to set aside part of your income toward that goal. Bankrate's survey indicates that there is a lot of room for improvement.

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Don't get caught flat-footed
From a financial planning perspective, the rules of the game are changing. With companies moving away from defined benefit (traditional pension) plans to defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k), the responsibility for retirement savings is shifting from employers to workers. Future Social Security and Medicare budgetary issues also raise the question of how much income and benefits retirees will be able to count on in the future from these programs.

You're the quarterback of your financial future. It's time to call some plays.

Monthly savings goal by age
Total 18 to 34 35 to 49 50+
Able to achieve monthly goal 28% 28% 24% 39%
Able to save some, but not enough 36% 34% 39% 32%
Not able to save at all right now because of other financial responsibilities 32% 34% 34% 25%
Refused to answer 4% 4% 3% 4%

Employers are increasingly offering automatic enrollment programs so that workers can contribute to retirement accounts unless they "opt out." This should raise the level of employee participation in 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans. But it's better if you take a proactive approach and contribute even more than the auto-enrollment feature provides.

It all starts with a spending plan
You have a certain amount of household income each month. Allocating income between current consumption and investing for future goals is a financial balancing act. Making investing a priority requires cutting back on spending. Carrying a balance on your credit cards and paying 16 percent interest on current spending makes even less sense.

If your company matches all or part of your contributions to a retirement plan, not participating in that plan means you're leaving money on the table. A common approach for a company match is for the firm to match 50 percent on the first 6 percent of pay that you contribute to the plan. When you contribute 6 percent of your salary, the company chips in an additional 3 percent to your retirement account.

What to do
At a minimum, you should be contributing up to the limit of the employer's match for its 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan. You should strive to do more than that, but whatever you do, don't leave money in your employer's pocket when it could be in your retirement account. That is simply shortsighted.

Once you contribute enough to at least get the company match, you can consider other options. For example, a Roth IRA account enables you to make contributions with after-tax dollars, but qualified distributions are tax-free in retirement. As long as you meet eligibility requirements for Roth contributions, it may be your best choice -- especially if you don't like your company's plan's investment options or fee structure.

Next: Nearly one-third started saving in their 20s.
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