American workers are generally optimistic about retirement, but given another chance many would make different spending decisions on short-term pleasures, according to a survey released Monday by Schwab Retirement Plan Services.

Survey respondents understood their 401(k)’s value and the importance of saving for retirement, but their responses suggested a need for advice on meeting their financial obligations and making the most of their assets.

Logica Research conducted an online survey in May of 1,000 U.S. 401(k) participants, who worked for companies with at least 25 employees, currently contributed to their 401(k) plan and were between 25 and 70 years old.

(Related: 20 Worst US Cities for Retirement: 2018)

The research found that 70% of workers believed their quality of life in retirement would be better than that of both their parents and their own children, yet 40% said saving for retirement was their chief source of financial stress.

At present, three main obstacles hindered participants in their effort to save for retirement, according to the survey: paying for unexpected expenses, unwillingness to sacrifice things that improve their quality of life and paying down credit card debt.

Two-thirds of participants said they regretted past spending that could have gone toward retirement savings, particularly on meals out, expensive clothing, new cars and vacations.

At the same time, they said they were comfortable with what they had spent on significant items such as housing, weddings, student loans and their children’s tuition.

Survey responses showed that workers were relying heavily on their workplace retirement plans to help them meet their long-term goals, with 62% expecting their 401(k) to be their largest source of retirement income.

However, the survey found that participants may be missing out on opportunities to grow their nest eggs. Beyond their 401(k), participants were likelier to use a savings account to prepare for retirement than an IRA or other investment vehicle.

The Value of Advice

Survey respondents recognized the role of a retirement plan in helping them achieve a comfortable retirement. Eighty-eight percent considered a 401(k) a “must-have” benefit, and 90% said they would think twice before accepting a job that did not offer one.

Many participants reported taking proactive steps to try to meet their retirement goals, with 65% having increased their 401(k) contribution level in the past two years, and 80% deeming their 401(k) in better shape today than ever before.

Although a majority of survey participants said they felt on top of their 401(k) investments, many still thought they would benefit from professional help. Half were extremely or very confident in their ability to make the right 401(k) investment decisions on their own.

However, 77% said they would feel that level of confidence if they had the help of a financial professional, and 52% said they would expect better investment performance with professional advice.

The survey identified a gap between what participants said they desired and what they felt they deserved. Seventy-one percent wanted personalized investment advice specific to their 401(k), but only 53% believed that their current financial situation actually warranted professional help.

And while 73% thought they knew what percentage of their salary they should save in a 401(k), just 54% said they knew how much money they actually needed to accumulate for a comfortable retirement.

“401(k) savers definitely have the right idea but could use help with the particulars,” Catherine Golladay, senior vice president for 401(k) participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services, said in a statement.

“The good news is that many 401(k) plans today offer investment advice, and that advice isn’t meant just for the affluent. It’s meant for everyone. No matter how much money you have to save and invest, a professional can help you maximize its potential.”

Workplace Financial Wellness

Seventy-two percent of the 401(k) participants surveyed reported that they had some money left over at the end of the month after paying their bills, but only one-fifth either put that extra money toward their 401(k) or invested it in the markets.

The research suggests that a workplace financial wellness program can help employees understand how to put their money to work for them, and ultimately help alleviate financial stress.

According to the survey, 88% of participants would be highly likely to take advantage of online tools to help plan for retirement, and 77% to use help from a financial professional to develop a financial plan.

These are other areas of retirement planning respondents said they would most like assistance:

  • Calculating how much money to save for retirement: 43%
  • Receiving specific advice on how to invest their 401(k): 39%
  • Determining at what age they can afford to retire: 39%
  • Figuring out what their expenses will be in retirement: 36%

“Employers have the opportunity to help their workers by offering financial wellness programs that provide guidance on some of the harder questions individuals face as they manage their day-to-day finances while saving for retirement, Steve Anderson, president of Schwab Retirement Plan Services, said in the statement.

However, only about half of the people surveyed had access to this type of program, Anderson said.

“Employers should consider how these value-added programs can strengthen their workplace benefits offering. Financial wellness programs are a true win-win: not only can they help to alleviate the stress employees feel about retiring with enough savings, but they can also increase employee engagement and foster loyalty.”

— Check out 20 Best US Cities for Retirement: 2018 on ThinkAdvisor.