Saving for retirement. Socking money away for college. Planning for a secure future.

A Wells Fargo Middle Class Retirement study released in October shows these goals may seem too lofty to many Americans, and many may be avoiding the issues or underestimating their importance. The study shows nearly 52 percent of middle-class Americans ages 25 to 75 say they are confident they will have saved enough for retirement, but only 29 percent have a written plan.

Some South Jersey-based financial planners offered advice on what financial plans to make for a secure future.

Mark Reimet, a financial planner with Ocean City Financial Group in Ocean City, suggested people challenge themselves to save more, particularly when those savings go into tax-deductible vehicles such as qualified retirement or education accounts.

“You can always cut it back if it doesn’t work, but you’ve got to stretch it in the beginning — because we’re talking about big numbers in the end,” he said. “You’ve got to push yourself to save big numbers.”

Reimet said it helps to save first and spend second.

“The philosophy behind it is, if you spend first, there’s an endless amount of things you can spend money on. You have to save first or there’s nothing left,” he said.

This applies if someone earns $50,000 per year or $500,000, he said.

Stuart Cohen, a certified financial planner with Ameriprise Financial in Vineland, starts with a basic premise.

“I tell all my clients all the time — the biggest thing is spend less than you make and save the difference,” he said.

Cohen said individuals should have adequate cash reserves. That usually involves three to six months worth of living expenses, although it can vary significantly based on one’s situation and needs.

“When I work with my clients and they say, ‘I have that cash reserve and I’m ready to save,’ I say, ‘What are your goals — college education, retirement, maybe a second home?’ Focus on the goal first,” he said.

Then comes investing.

Those who fled stock investments after seeing their portfolios plummet in the recession may have missed the stock market’s rebound the past few years.

Fidelity Investments, a large 401(k) provider, says its average customer balance reached $84,300 at the end of the third quarter. That’s up 11 percent from one year ago, driven by a resurgent market.

When it comes to portfolios, Cohen suggests a balance of stocks and bonds based on an individual’s risk tolerance.

“One of the things that I found in the nearly 20 years I’ve been in practice is, risk tolerance is nebulous. We can do everything we know how to do to determine a client’s risk tolerance, but you as an investor never know how much of a cast-iron stomach you have until you get your statement at the end of the year,” he said.

Cohen said he reviews portfolios twice per year with his clients.

“As with anything and everything, you don’t want to ignore it and you don’t want to obsess over it, but you should take a look at it,” he said. “If you haven’t done it at this point, now’s a great time to start,” he said.

When it comes to investments, emotions should be taken out of the equation — these could cause someone to buy high and sell low, he said.

There is also the question of what you are saving for.

The average account balance in a 529 college-saving plan in the U.S. was about $18,000 as of June 30. That’s an increase of about 11 percent from the prior year, according to a September report by the College Savings Plans Network.

The average in-state tuition and fees at a public, four-year institution was $17,860 in 2012-13, the report states.

When it comes to saving, the sooner one starts the better, Cohen said. This is because of compounding — or giving money more time to grow through accumulating interest, dividends or price gains.

Reimet said having a plan is critical.

“If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’re not going to get there,” he said.

Jerry Love, an independent certified public accountant and a member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, says to start small. Resolve to save a certain amount per month, rather than a larger figure for the entire year, he told The Associated Press.

And save more for retirement, said Ken Hevert, Fidelity’s vice president for retirement products.

Most people should save 10 percent to 15 percent of their income for retirement regardless of age, he said.

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