National Retirement Planning Week® is a great time for us to remind Americans to pay attention to their financial future. With so many distractions out there, our hope is that this week, people can dedicate some time to devise a plan for retirement. 

At Wells Fargo, we regularly check in with people to take their temperature—so to speak—about how they feel about their personal finances, the markets and the economy. In our latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor Optimism and Retirement Index, we saw that investors are feeling pretty good. Optimism is up among those surveyed, equally high for those still working and for retirees, and at its highest level since 2007. It’s the biggest quarterly improvement we’ve seen in two years.

Also at play were lower fuel prices we’ve been enjoying. People saw an average of $108 in monthly savings as a result of lower costs at the pump. When we asked what they did with this money, 37 percent said it went toward paying bills and 33 percent said the money went into savings. It’s encouraging to see so many people improving their balance sheet with this windfall, hopefully with some of the money put towards their retirement.

Some of that optimism could be tied to the encouraging numbers in 401(k) plan statements, likely on the rise as the stock market continues to see solid gains. We found shifting attitudes about the stock market as well, with more than half (58 percent) agreeing that now is a good time to invest in the financial markets. That’s a big shift from 2011 and 2012 when people consistently said it was not a good time to be in the markets. 

Planning keeps us grounded

We’re glad Americans are feeling more optimistic about their finances and prospects for retirement. It’s just as important to have that optimism rooted in solid facts and numbers, spelled out in a retirement plan. As the Great Recession and its aftermath reminded us, it’s important to stop and think through the consequences of our actions rather than get caught up in the exhilaration of momentary financial success. 

Our industry has a great opportunity to offer our expertise and guidance in helping people plan for retirement—one that results in having enough money to live comfortably to and through retirement. Avoiding the topic or guessing how much is needed will not get you there. Saving and planning will help get you there.  It’s also not enough to focus on accumulating money without considering how you’ll spend down those dollars in a measured, sustainable way in retirement.

Taking the time to put numbers and information down—on paper or online—is the first step in building a solid foundation for retirement savings. A written plan offers a starting point for individuals as they make decisions about how much to contribute to a retirement savings plan, what types of investments to choose, when it’s time to retire, and how much to withdraw from retirement accounts. 

For many Americans, a 401(k) plan at work is their plan. In our survey, of those with an access to a 401(k) plan, 89 percent participate in the plan. People without a workplace retirement plan often use IRAs or other government-sponsored retirement accounts as the foundation for a retirement savings plan. 

We hope the National Retirement Planning Coalition and IRI are able to connect with younger people who have a great opportunity to begin saving and watch their contributions grow over decades. It’s so important to deliver the message about saving and investing early to reap long-term benefits. Reaching all generations—including those just starting out in the workforce—is what keeps me optimistic and energized about the future of our industry and the difference we can make.

John Papadopulos is executive vice president and president of Wells Fargo Retirement. In this role, Mr. Papadopulos oversees the 401(k), institutional retirement and trust, and reinsurance businesses across the company.