Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Coming up with "your number" — the amount of money you will need to retire comfortably — is a preoccupation for many.
Some financial services have encouraged the quest, most memorably ING in TV commercials showing baby boomers with bright orange numbers with dollar signs on their heads.
The concept has gained urgency in recent years, especially after two market meltdowns that eroded retirement savings and confidence alike.
But it may actually be counterproductive. Rather than a decades-long, potentially futile effort to reach a huge number, you may be better off setting achievable benchmarks along the way.
That's not to say that setting financial goals for retirement and trying to reach them isn't important.
Many people, after all, are on pace to run low on cash in retirement, which will leave them needing to rely on Social Security checks that average only about $1,100 a month.
About 36 percent of early boomers (currently age 56 to 62) alone are at risk of not having enough money to pay for basic expenditures and health care costs through 20 years of retirement. That's based on an analysis of recent retirement savings, housing equity and other data by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
There's a problem, though, with attaching a single, large number to your aspirations. Coming up with a reliable number for your retirement savings goal is tough enough. Reaching it might feel impossible. And that can be deflating.
"Looking at a monster number and thinking 'I'm never going to get there' causes a lot of procrastination," says Anne Arvia, senior vice president of retirement plans for Nationwide Financial. "It can be overwhelming."
If your retirement savings strategy is built around reaching a particular number, you are probably at greater risk of having it derailed.