When it comes to striving to save, even the savviest consumers see an uphill battle.
Only 46 percent of respondents in a recent PNC Financial Services Group Inc. survey said they planned to increase their savings and investing this year.
What's more, these are experienced people. The survey consisted of 1,020 U.S. adults ages 35 to 70, with more than $100,000 in investable assets. A quarter of the sample had more than $1 million in investable assets.
"People are finding it easier to develop habits devoted to physical fitness than financial fitness," Stephen Pappaterra, PNC's head of wealth planning, said. Of respondents to the survey, 19 percent believe they are doing better than expected on saving for retirement; 47 percent believe they're where they need to be.
Worker savings remain modest, and many retirees — and people approaching retirement — haven't socked away enough to provide themselves a comfortable standard of living after they quit working, PNC and others have found. Fewer than half of Americans have tried to calculate how much money they'll need for retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonprofit focused on economic security issues.
Chris Hartrich and his wife moved to Neenah, Wis., about three years ago for his insurance job. They have four children, with two in college and one a senior in high school.
Partly through budgeting and limiting discretionary spending, they consider their financial condition "healthy," having been able to finance their kids' college educations and still save for retirement.
Hartrich said he worked with a financial adviser last summer and said he'll probably continue to do so every other year to get feedback on the family's financial planning. In the PNC survey, 43 percent of respondents said they planned to meet with a financial planner in 2013.
"As a CPA with some good experience in investing, I thought I would not need a financial planner," he said. "But an objective look at what we were doing was a valuable exercise."
Saving vs. exercising
While only 46 percent of PNC survey respondents said they planned to boost their saving and investing, 70 percent said they planned to exercise more.
Hartrich's wife, a nurse, says increasing his exercise "would be more valuable than increasing our savings" partly because "the biggest unknown as I approach my 60th birthday is health care costs in retirement." Getting in better physical shape now might mitigate future medical costs, he said. But the couple have also stepped up their contributions to their 401(k) plans in the past year.
Hartrich said he also had the good fortune earlier in his career to work for companies that offered pension plans. "So at age 65 I expect to receive pensions from three different organizations," he said.
The couple are unsure when they'll retire but have begun shifting assets from stock funds into more conservative fixed-income funds.
In the PNC survey, 43 percent said their best financial moves include putting as much as they could into retirement plans, while 15 percent say living within their means is their best plan of action.