Belmar, N.J. AP Photo/New Jersey Governor's Office, Tim Larsen

Bottled water. Got it. Batteries. Check. A retirement plan. Er…um…

That’s probably the reaction most have people have when you ask if they have planned for their retirement.

It’s become such a commonplace attitude that Congress put aside its usual bipartisan sniping to endorse a “National Save for Retirement Week” initiative. This year, it was the week of October 21-27. But I’m sure most people didn’t know that (including me). That’s not surprising, what with a presidential election and Superstorm Sandy happening at the same time. It’s easy to overlook a far-off goal when more immediate concerns are crying for our attention.

I live in the area that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy and was without power for a week. I won’t go into how woefully underprepared I was for the event. I’ll leave the “I told you so’s” to my older sister.

Even with the dire warnings of Sandy’s strengthtake my word for it, it lived up to the hypeI and many others failed to make even the most basic preparations for the event. Who knew D batteries are such a hot commodity? Luckily for me, my home was not damaged and I was able to get food (although I don’t think I’ll be eating canned soup or peanut butter again anytime soon). Others lost so much in the storm and are still without power in my home state of New Jersey.

I honestly didn’t think the storm would hit my area as strongly as it did. At most, I’d thought I’d be without power for two days. So why did I need to stock up on batteries and bottled water and get my gas tank filled?

When it comes to retirement planning, sadly, we have a similarly cavalier attitude. Some fairly startling statistics bear that out, such as:

  • Two-thirds of middle-income Americans (those with annual incomes between $40,000 and $99,999) have saved less than 5 percent of their yearly income for retirement, according to LIMRA.
  • Another LIMRA study found that 49 percent of Americans were not contributing to any type of retirement plan, with an even greater percentage of younger people ages 18-34 not doing so.
  • Yet Americans know it’s important to prepare for a secure retirement. An Aviva USA study revealed that six in 10 are worried they won’t have enough saved for an acceptable standard of living in their golden years.

Why are we so hesitant to plan for retirement? Perhaps it’s because we think it’s too far off in our future. That’s not really a good enough excuse. It’s never too early to plan. (You bet I’m going to buy packages of D batteries now.)

We know we should consult with a financial advisor, but put off making an appointment like we do when we know we should visit a doctor for a nagging, but seemingly insignificant problem. Then when we do make an appointment, we get scolded by the doctor. Is that what we’re afraid of? Being rebuked by an advisor for our lack of retirement planning?

Do we think we can work into our 70s and 80s and that’s how we’ll pay for our retirement? I don’t know about you, but if I’m lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, I don’t want to spend it trapped in a cubicle.

Are we overwhelming by the prospect of tackling what seems like a monumental task? In reality, retirement planning is a step-by-step, literal lifelong process, one that doesn’t have to be herculean. If it were conveyed in that way, perhaps people would be more amenable to seeking out financial advice.

Of course, there’s Social Security. That will take care of us, right? Enough said about that. Oh, and don’t I have a pension?

This should be an ideal time to talk to consumers about 401(k)s, IRAs and annuities. The industry and the advisory community have to somehow grab the public’s attention and get them to take retirement planning seriously. It may take more than a week.

Otherwise, many of us are going to be deplorably unprepared for our retirement just like I was when Superstorm Sandy hit.

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