The financial goals — and worries — of affluent consumers: It turns out they’re more similar than different from the broader population.

But gender differences do exist …

acIn this year’s U.S. presidential election campaign, there’s been a good deal of attention paid to so-called “working class” voters. No doubt, this is a segment of the electorate that’s especially unhappy with the current state of affairs in the country.

But what about other population groups?

As it turns out, affluent Americans are worried about many of the same things as well. A recent survey of affluent Americans conducted by the Shullman Research firm reveals that their worries are fundamentally similar to other Americans.

Here’s what survey respondents revealed as their to worries:

  • Your own health: ~36% of respondents cited as a top worry
  • Your family’s health: ~31% cited
  • Having enough money saved to retire comfortably: ~30%
  • The economy going into recession: ~28%
  • Terrorism: ~27%
  • Inflation: ~23%
  • The price of gasoline: ~22%
  • Being out of work and finding a good job: ~20%
  • Political issues / warfare around the world: ~15%
  • Taking care of elderly parents: ~15%

[One mild surprise for me was seeing how many respondents cited “the price of gasoline” as a source of worry, considering not only the recent easing of those prices as well as the affluence level of the survey sample.]

Generally speaking, the research found few gender differences in these responses, but with a few exceptions.

Men were more likely to cite “inflation” as a concern (28% for men vs. 18% for women), whereas women were more likely to consider “the economy going into recession” as a concern (30% for women vs. 26% for men).

Where there’s more divergence between genders is in how people’s identify their top financial goals. Here’s how the various goals tested by the Shullman research ranked overall:

  • Having enough money for daily living expenses: ~57% citied as a top financial goal
  • Having enough money for unexpected emergency expenses: ~56%
  • Having enough income for retirement: ~46%
  • Reducing my debt: ~41%
  • Improving my standard of living: ~40%
  • Remaining financially independent: ~39%
  • Becoming financially independent: ~33%
  • Keeping up with inflation: ~30%
  • Providing protection for family members if I die: ~29%
  • Purchasing a home: ~19%
  • Providing for my children’s college expenses: ~19%
  • Providing an estate for my spouse and/or children: ~16%

Obviously, some of the goals that rank further down the list are more applicable to certain people at certain stages in their lives — whether they’re just getting started in their career, raising young children and so forth.

But I was struck at how many of these supposed “affluent” respondents cited “having enough money for daily living expenses” as a top financial goal. Wouldn’t more people have already achieved that milestone?

Another interesting finding: With many of the goals, women place more importance on them than do men:

  • 63% of women versus just 50% of men consider “having enough money for daily living expenses” to be a top financial goal.
  • 63% of women versus just 47% of men consider “having enough money for unexpected emergency expenses” a top financial goal.
  • 48% of women versus just 33% of men consider “reducing debt” a top financial goal.
  • 45% of women versus just 34% of men consider “improving their standard of living” a top financial goal.
  • 36% of women versus 30% of men consider “becoming financially independent” a top financial goal.

caOne explanation for the differences observed between men and women may be the “baseline” from which each group is weighing their financial goals. But since the survey was limited to affluent consumers, one might have expected that the usual demographic characteristics wouldn’t apply.  Perhaps the differences are rooted in other, more fundamental characteristics.

What are your thoughts? Please share them with other readers.

More information and insights from this study can be accessed here (fee-based).

Employees are ill-prepared for retirement … but how much do they really care?

People are ill-prepared financially for retirement.If the economic shocks of the past five years haven’t been enough to spur people to focus on their financial futures, one wonders what it would take for them to do so.

You’d think that more people than ever would be taking the time and effort for retirement  planning … but a recent study conducted by CFO Research Services and Koski Research, done on behalf of the Charles Schwab investment firm, belies that notion.

The study, which was completed in April 2012, surveyed ~200 senior finance and HR execs from mid-size and large U.S. companies, along with ~1,000 401(k) plan participants. The research found that despite the efforts by employers to educate their workers on the financial offerings available to them, not only are most employees financially unprepared for retirement, they’re also disengaged from the process.

More specifically, over half of the employers surveyed report that their 401(k) plan participants are not taking full advantage of the investment options, features and other services offered in connection with the these plans.

And it’s not for lack of trying on the part of companies. Among the tools employers are offering their 401(k) plan participants are:

  • Interactive planning tools (~93% offer)
  • In-person meetings or workshops (~81% offer)

Employers are even taking the step of auto-enrolling employees into 410(k) savings plans as a way of spurring interest.

But as the saying goes … you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In fact, only a minority of employees in the Schwab survey express the desire to manage their own workplace savings programs. They give numerous reasons for this, the more prevalent ones being:

  • Don’t have the time
  • Insufficient knowledge
  • Just not interested

This lack of attention on their plans is illustrated further in this stunning statistic: Three-fourths of the employees surveyed spend fewer than eight hours annually managing their 401(k) account. That’s less than 45 minutes per month, on average.

Considering that for many participants, their 401(k) plan represents the single largest category of savings they have, this is a startling finding to say the least.

People talk a good game, it seems: More than four out of five respondents in the Schwab survey claim they’re interested in receiving professional investment management advice from their employer.

But this hardly translates into action. While many companies are offering such support … only ~10% of employees actually takes advantage of such advice when it is offered.

The final, sobering finding from the survey is this: For those respondents who have attempted to calculate the savings they believe they’ll need for retirement, there is an eight-fold gap between how much they’ve actually saved and how much they calculate they’ll need to have in retirement.

It’s pretty difficult to ignore that oncoming freight train … but not if you close your eyes and cover your ears.