Retirement has changed radically over the last several decades in America. Years ago, when you expected to work most of your life for a single, large employer, you could count on a pension. Retirement planning meant figuring out how to use your free time when you stopped working, not calculating rates of return and deciphering tax rules. You didn't have to worry -- enough money would be there from your pension and Social Security.
Currently, with the exception of federal and state employees, most workers are not enrolled in pension plans, and the numbers continue to drop. Because fewer and fewer Americans enjoy the security of company- or government-sponsored pension plans, retirement means that in all likelihood you will be living on money you, yourself, saved. In addition to having enough to fund your retirement, you must make sure that, once retired, your investments continue to produce at the same time you are tapping into them to meet expenses.
This change from institution-funded to self-funded retirement constitutes a dramatic shift of responsibility. The magnitude of what is required to go from being cared for financially in retirement by your employer to providing for yourself has not fully hit home for most Americans.
What, then, are the implications? Most importantly, it means retirement planning must span the entirety of your adult life --- it is not just something you figure out while cleaning out your desk the day you turn in your keys and say goodbye to co-workers. Additionally, good planning takes time and effort and you bear the responsibility for steering your own course, whether it be done on your own, with help, or by delegating to professionals.
In general, the more you maximize your income and saving and control spending while working, the better off you will be in retirement. Obviously, the fewer resources you have and the more challenges you face (i.e., caring for a disabled child or a frail, elderly parent) the more important it is for you to be fully engaged in understanding your options, get the expertise you need, and make good decisions.