These behavioral traits lead to greater retirement savings, research finds. Yet only 10% of workers have them

Personal finance

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People who find it easiest to financially prepare for retirement have four behavioral traits.

Yet just 10% of workers show all of these “optimal” characteristics, according to new survey findings from Goldman Sachs Asset Management in collaboration with Syntoniq, a behavioral finance research organization.

The behaviors help retirement savers turn their intentions into action, according to the July survey of 5,261 workers and retirees.

Many individuals find it difficult to save for retirement because of their financial circumstances.

Previous Goldman Sachs research has found competing life priorities — such as the need to pay down student loans, provide care for other family members or other financial hardships — may reduce workers’ retirement savings by up to 37%.

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High inflation and low savings has led Americans’ confidence that they can live comfortably in retirement to plummet, research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research found earlier this year.

“We know that people struggle with saving, we know that people have day-to-day financial issues,” said Chris Ceder, senior retirement strategist at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

“We still wanted to know more about the why,” he said.

The research led to the discovery of the four traits, which are “not inherently things that you would think about for retirement,” Ceder said.

1. Overoptimism

When it comes to retirement planning, workers may want to take a cue from Warren Buffett, who always has a positive outlook for the country and future results, Ceder noted.

The research found a general tendency of overestimating the probability of positive events coupled with overconfidence — or having a perception that is better than reality — can help improve retirement preparedness.

“When you have that level of optimism, you’re comfortable taking the steps in order to achieve the goals that you have in the future,” Ceder said.

People who exhibit this trait have a higher level of financial engagement, willingness to take risk and plan for emergencies, the research found.

2. Future orientation

How well people connect with their future selves also impacts retirement preparedness.

Those who have this trait are more likely to have smart spending, saving and money management skills, the research found.

“In order to save for something, you have to understand where you’re going,” Ceder said.

3. Financial literacy

Having financial know-how — such as how compound interest and diversification works — can help workers better reach their retirement goals.

The good news is people can acquire this knowledge.

“Financial literacy is something that kind of grows over time,” Ceder said.

However, the earlier you have this knowledge, the better the financial decisions you will make, which will help you get ahead when it comes to retirement preparedness, he said.

4. Risk vs. reward

Retirement savers may fall into one of two camps: those who pursue goals with a focus on achievement, or those who instead focus on security and protection.

Those in the first group are more likely to take proactive steps with financial preparation, including having a personalized financial plan and reviewing retirement savings.

They are also more willing to lean into risks. Having the opposite mentality of risk avoidance is not nearly as effective for reaching those retirement goals, Ceder said.

What investors can do

As aspiring retirees juggle competing life priorities, much of what it takes to be successful comes down to balancing today’s lifestyle with future goals.

“People who are disciplined with their money, disciplined with their life, really are going to go so much further,” John Merrill, president and founder of Tanglewood Total Wealth Management in Houston, recently told CNBC.com.

Mental health also impacts workers’ abilities to plan adequately for retirement, research has found.

To better prepare for retirement, workers should remind themselves that the future may be “equally as interesting and bright” as today, Ceder said.

While developing all four traits identified in the research is important, two traits — optimism and future orientation — should be a priority, Ceder said.

The results found 5% of workers had all four suboptimal traits identified by the research — low optimism, low future orientation, low financial literacy and risk focus.

Most workers — 85% — have a blend of these traits and mixed retirement savings success.

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