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Barbara Whelehan writes Boomer Bucks for Bankrate.comIf I entertain you, will you save for retirement?

Baby boomers aren't interested in getting educated about finances. They want to be entertained, according to an expert from the financial services industry who spoke recently at a retirement conference.

Yes, boomers are fascinated with fear, the speaker said, but not fear of their own dire financial situations. They'd rather be gripped by vicarious fear, the kind that involves something bad happening to someone else. They love to escape in scary plot twists of films or books, she said. About their own prospects, they're optimistic.

She advised the retirement services professionals in attendance to "make messages more fun ... build on optimistic attitudes ... put a 'buy' face on savings." In other words, make saving seem more like a purchase than an important goal. Americans love to shop. Sell them dreams, not scarcity scenarios.

Fear vs. confidence
In fact, a couple of surveys released in recent weeks confirm that Americans do tend to be optimistic, perhaps to a fault. I'll highlight some findings and then share a fictitious vignette intended purely to entertain.

ShareBuilder, an online brokerage firm, conducted its first survey exploring investing confidence levels as they pertain to men and women. Its cornerstone, though not-surprising, discovery: Women are less confident than men. I don't really want to focus on that, to be honest. Confidence is an erratic state of mind that can shift from one minute to the next. For instance, I feel much more confident after a good night's sleep or after a satisfying meal than I do when I'm exhausted or hungry. Also, it's widely known that hormones affect confidence levels. The biggest confidence booster is testosterone, of which men have more; women, less.

Confidence levels, however, aren't necessarily correlated with competence. But competence wasn't measured in the survey. For instance, we don't know anything about how the portfolios of men fared versus those of women.

What intrigued me about the survey was that the proportion of income that was saved or invested last year was virtually identical among males and females in the boomer segment, as shown in the chart below.

Income saved/invested in 2005 among 45- to 54-year-olds
Percentage of income saved MenWomen

Here's what gives me that scary "yipes" feeling: Nearly two-thirds of boomers saved less than 10 percent of their incomes last year. Yet confidence levels are high among boomers in that age segment: 69 percent of men are very or somewhat confident they will achieve their investment objectives, versus 58 percent of women.

Next: "Tale of a peripatetic idealist"
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