Here’s an interesting statistic that shines some light on how the average person views the best way to save for retirement. According to two recent surveys performed by the Opinion Research Corp. for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA), 21% of Americans–38% of whom have incomes less than $25,000–believe that winning the lottery is the only way they’ll be able to accumulate several hundred thousand dollars for retirement.

The Opinion Research Corp. polled a representative sample of more than 1,000 adult Americans about their views on personal wealth (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3%), while FPA surveyed 360 financial planners on the same topics.

The FPA study found that 77% of the planners polled believe it’s very important for Americans to understand how to determine their “net personal wealth,” yet only about half, 49%, of the adult respondents in the Consumer Federation poll knew what constitutes this wealth. CFA and FPA define it as financial assets plus home equity and other tangible assets minus consumer debt. Further, after learning what net personal wealth means, less than half, or 48%, of respondents said they “know exactly or approximately how much wealth they have,” the study found.

The polls also revealed that planners are more optimistic that young adults can accumulate substantial assets for retirement. For instance, according to the FPA study, planners believe that more than four-fifths of young adults could accumulate $250,000 in net wealth over 30 years, and that half of young adults could save $1 million over the same period. Individuals aren’t convinced, however. Only about one quarter, 26%, believe they could save even $200,000, and less than 9% believe they could sock away $1 million.

The planners and individuals did agree, however, that workplace saving, homeownership, and securities investments are key wealth-building strategies–although they differed on the relative importance of each strategy. For instance, while 99% of planners said saving through a retirement plan offered through work is very important, only 69% of individuals considered this type of saving as very important. When it came to homeownership, 78% of individuals categorized this as very important, while only 50% of planners felt the same. Investing in stocks and bonds was high on the list for both kind of respondents, with 55% of planners and 41% of individuals considering it very important.

When asked what was the most practical way they could save several hundred thousand dollars for retirement, 55% of individuals said the best way would be to “save something each month for many years.” Indeed, Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s executive director, told reporters on a conference call that Americans underestimate the power of saving a small amount of money each month. Saving as little as $20 a month can make a difference, he said. Twenty-one percent of the individuals said that winning the lottery would be the best way to save that much. Among the least affluent and those over age 55, the percentages that were betting on the lottery were much higher–38% and 31%, respectively, the study found. Individuals without high school degrees were more likely to choose the lottery than those with college degrees–30% versus 8%, the study found.–MW