As regular readers of this column know, the vast majority of questions I receive deal with saving for retirement.

I guess that's no surprise, since baby boomers are starting to reach retirement age and younger folks are worried about the future.

All of that interest led me to pore over a recent study by Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. and a company called Age Wave.

The study, "Rethinking Retirement: Four American Generations Share Their View of Life's Third Act," was based on a survey of 3,866 respondents across four generations. Those age ranges were defined as the "Silent Generation," ages 63 to 83; baby boomers, ages 44 to 62; Generation X, ages 32 to 43 (that's me!); and Generation Y, ages 21 to 31. Harris Interactive conducted the surveys.

A few of the results jumped out at me. First, only a quarter of Americans say they clearly understand how Social Security works, and just 11 percent say they understand Medicare.

Based on the number of people who write me with questions about those programs, I don't find that surprising. But it is a bit scary. Most, if not all, of us are going to use these systems at one time or another. We really should make an effort to understand them.

But then again, maybe it doesn't matter if people my age understand Social Security. The Schwab and Age Wave survey found that younger generations expect to fund large chunks of their retirement through personal savings and investments. Generation Y thinks 61 percent of its retirement funding will come from those sources, while the oldest generation expects only 32 percent of its funding to come from such sources.

Count me among those who expect to fund most of their retirement on their own. I don't feel I'm completely prepared for that eventuality, but I am expecting it.

Survey respondents also echoed a call I've put out several times regarding the need for more financial education. Just 3 percent of all generations strongly agree that Americans are a financially responsible population, and 95 percent say basic financial management should be a standard part of the high school curriculum.

That's a good sign, and I believe many schools are moving in that direction. But I also hope parents are trying to learn money-management skills, because setting a good example at home is vital to children's fiscal future.

Another positive note I found in the survey is that 45 percent of respondents said they think of retirement as a time to give back to their family and community. The Schwab press release about the survey said this might be because people see a gap of potentially productive years between retirement age, which is defined by survey respondents as 63, and "old age," which is perceived to start around age 75.

"People who view retirement as a time to give back are more likely to believe they will stay youthful longer and that success is about having loving family and friends," the Schwab release said.

That is a great sentiment. I spend a lot of time talking about numbers and calculations and money in this column, but if people aren't going to enjoy life and give to their families and friends, what's the point of running the rat race every day in an attempt to save for retirement? Without those non-numerical factors in life, all of the retirement calculations you do just won't add up.

Giving something back, I think, is a part of retirement planning that will be good for everyone, regardless of generation. And I hope we all take that to heart.

If you have a financial question, send it to gkratz@desnews.com or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.


E-mail: gkratz@desnews.com