Editor’s note: This survey was conducted for Senior Market Advisor by The Boomer Project and its associated partner, the Southeastern Institute for Research. The Boomer Project is a Richmond, Va.-based marketing research and consulting company focusing on baby boomers and marketing, started in 2003 by Matt Thornhill.

This year’s study was taken among 411 adults between the ages of 50 and 69, which is a slightly younger and more boomer-oriented sample than those who responded to previous SMA Senior Surveys. As a result, about half of the younger respondents (those ages 50-59) are still working, while three-quarters of the older group (those 60-69) are retired. Average incomes are also subsequently higher (a median income of $72,000 between the two groups) and average net worth varies substantially ($341,000 for the younger group and $495,000 for the older groups).

While they appear to be seemingly comfortable at their economic station in life, those who responded to our survey do have some serious concerns about their long-term financial future.

Yet, true to prevailing boomer attitudes, the younger respondents remain optimistic they’ll be able to make up the difference or change their financial course. In classic boomer form, they also admit they may be less prepared for retirement than they’d like to be.

John Martin, SIR president and CEO (who, along with Thornhill, authored the book “Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America’s Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group”), says that mix of optimism and lack of complete preparedness is a generational hallmark.

“Boomers grew up at a time when the economy was roaring and whole industries were being created because there were so many of them around,” Martin says. “As a result, boomers have this ingrained sense of optimism. Ask them and they’ll admit, ‘Yes, I don’t have enough now for retirement, but in five years I’ll be fine.’”

Most interestingly, the survey revealed a tangible connection between financial health and physical health. Those who take the time and energy to feel more confident about their financial planning — mostly by interacting with a professional — also tend to pay more attention to their diet, exercise and overall well being; excellent advice for advisors.

Seven major truisms revealed themselves in The Boomer Project’s research; we shall explore each and hear (albeit anonymously) from some of those who responded to the queries.

1. The economy has affected how people view their financial self. Consumers rate their financial situation better in 2007 than now in 2008. In fact, 1 in 5 see their condition being even worse at the end of 2008, with those aged 50-59 slightly more likely to see things being better. And, consumers in 2008 are more likely to rate their financial situation worse on “where they thought they might be financially at this stage in their life” in 2008 versus their self-assessment in 2007.

“Our investments and income are not keeping pace with rising prices,” says one respondent. “We were living comfortably, but now we are having to adjust our living style because of the cost of gas and other essentials.”

2. Despite the negative personal financial impact of the economic downturn, optimism prevails among boomers. Sixty-three percent of people ages 50-59 in this study (compared to 40 percent of those ages 60-69) think their financial condition will be somewhat or much better five years from now. Martin says this is totally consistent with boomers’ trait of “boundless optimism.” As an age group, they have always had the world cater to them — things have always turned out for the better.

“I managed to sell my house and move into a smaller one,” one survey-taker comments. “I paid off my car, and all of my credit cards except one. I get a better pension than I expected, and I rolled my 401(k) over into an annuity.”

3. Most are, however, not financially ready for retirement, and they acknowledge it. Only one in 10 are ready as they report their net worth tops $1 million. Seven in 10 are worried about their retirement finances, especially those aged 50-59. Older consumers are most concerned with outliving savings; younger ones cite reducing debt and saving for retirement as their biggest financial planning issue. And for good reason. The median total net worth of the entire group surveyed is only $308,000.

“We saved all our lives for retirement, but until you reach that point, you aren’t quite sure if you will make it,” noted one respondent.

“Until I was in my late 40s, I was living paycheck to paycheck,” says another. “I never realized that saving and investing could improve your financial outlook so quickly.”

There are additional financial pressures, too. One in 5 report that their financial responsibility goes beyond themselves to another adult family member; half of the people receiving support are adult children, especially among the younger respondents.

“Because of all the rising prices and the slow economy, my husband and I are living on a fixed income and raising one of our grandchildren, which I had not planned for,” a survey-taker wrote.

No surprise, only 3 in 10 non-retirees say they will be able to retire comfortably without going back to work. But many may simply never stop working.

“We hoped to have put more away in savings and investments for our retirement, but working will be an option for a while to assist us,” one respondent said.

“My combined income at age 62 will be around $1,100 a month,” another said. “At the rate the cost of living keeps going up, I’ll be lucky if I can afford to live in a cardboard box.”

4. Retirement is no longer a fixed line in the sand — an expected event at age 65. 1 in 3 say they will retire before age 65. 1 in 3 will keep working past 65. And, a further 1 in 3 don’t know when they will ever retire.

“‘Retirement’ itself tends to be a Silent Generation term,” Martin says. “About half of the people we spoke with say they want to keep working, as their whole self image is caught up in their work.”

It is also part of the reason why advisors should stop talking about retirement like it is an event simply centered on the choice between working and not working. Advisors, they suggest, should start talking about people’s future.
“Talk about their aspirations, what they want to do and how they can get there, but don’t use the ‘retirement’ word,” Martin adds.”We just don’t have enough money to retire,” one respondent explained. “We still have over 15 years to pay a mortgage and my husband has to work enough to pay the bills and the mortgage. He can’t retire until he is over 75.”

5. Advisors still make a difference. Independent financial planners or advisors with firms are the most preferred resource to talk to about financial products, above and beyond all other resources — attorneys, bankers, accountants, etc. Professional advisors can have a tremendous impact.

This study identified a correlation between talking to a financial advisor and the results in someone’s financial situation. Fifty-five percent of consumers who have talked to a financial advisor say they make more money and report being in better financial health than those who said they have not talked to an advisor.

6. Professional advisor assistance may not be top of mind. The boomer generation’s independent streak also means that they are more reluctant to enlist outside help when it comes to their financial issues. Turning to an advisor for help, in fact, is far from the top of the list of respondents’ highest financial priorities. Instead, most say spending less, continuing with their current situation or saving more will help them achieve their primary financial goal. Fewer than 20 percent say they feel it is necessary to ask for help in any manner — managing money, hiring a financial advisor, or asking a family member or friend for help.

“I can’t afford to save any money any more so what would be the point? In order for me to save, I’d have to give up eating,” one respondent quipped.

“I don’t need someone else telling me what do with the money I earned,” offered another. “I have a great family of knowledge.”

7. There is a direct and positive relationship between financial health and physical health. Almost 50 percent of those who report being healthier physically also say that they are in better financial health. Martin says this is particularly interesting as the U.S. economy evolves more and more into a health care economy and Americans embrace a “wellness-oriented” mind-set.

According to the Department of Labor, 1 in 3 new jobs over the next 10 years will be health care related. “Our society is evolving towards a more consumer-centric ‘holistic wellness’ — mind, body and spirit — view of health care, away from a health care system focused on sick patients at a time of sickness/illness,” Martin says. “Thus, it makes sense that affording health care and taking care of health are big financial priorities for some.”

“I’m retired, healthy, have a house, am happy, and am earning enough money to survive. God has surely blessed me,” says one survey respondent. “I have all of what I need, and most of what I want … what more could a person ask?”

Methodology
Senior Market Advisor’s 2008 Senior Survey was conducted by The Boomer Project, a Richmond, Va.-based research and consulting company, based on a standardized questionnaire provided by Senior Market Advisor. Data collection for this survey took place between April 14 and April 16, 2008. The online survey was completed by 411 adults aged 50-69 and have a net worth, exclusive of their home, of $35,000 or more. This is a change from 2007′s survey, which included responses from seniors aged at least 60 and included material from those 69 and over. All surveys are subject to a standard error, the so-called “plus or minus” factor that is the result of conducting a survey among a random sample instead of the total universe. The standard error for a sample of 411 at the 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.