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Do You Care More About March Madness Than Your Retirement?

03/11/2015 08:14 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

These are not the most productive weeks around American offices.

Throughout the country, NCAA Tournament brackets are being circulated, picks are being sweated over and the flurry of early round results will be carefully monitored. Typically, it's all for the sake of a $10 or $20 wager.

The question is, if Americans are so diligent at doing their research, crunching the numbers and making decisions for their tourney brackets, why don't they put in that kind of effort for retirement planning? After all, the stakes are much higher.

Losing a high-stakes game

A couple years ago, a survey found that over 80 percent of American workers participate in some form of NCAA Tournament office pool, with more than half of those spending at least an hour a day during the tourney following the games and updating their brackets.

Compared to that avid participation and diligent monitoring, Americans are considerably more lackadaisical about a much higher stakes game: saving for retirement. Not only is the level of retirement savings for the average worker woefully inadequate, but according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, less than half of American workers have even bothered to calculate how much money they would need for a comfortable retirement.

5 signs you are giving your bracket more thought than your future

Clearly, many American workers are spending less time on retirement planning than they are on their NCAA Tournament brackets. Are you one of them? Here are five signs you might be:

  1. You spend more time researching and monitoring your bracket than you have spent planning for retirement. People think retirement planning is too complicated, but if you can decide how 64 teams are going to progress through six rounds of a basketball tournament (or more, if your pool makes you pick the play-in teams), then you are clever enough to take on retirement planning as well.
  2. You can name more of your opening round picks than you can name investments in your retirement plan. Yes, a diversified portfolio has a lot of names in it. But, if you know why you picked that mid-major to upset a higher seed, you could probably learn a little something about the investments your retirement is riding on.
  3. You return to the NCAA tourney pool once a year, but never revisit your retirement plan. So you say you haven't neglected retirement planning -- you took care of that years ago. Well, as with the NCAA Tournament, if you don't revise your picks every year, your decisions are going to be very out of date.
  4. You can recite the won-loss records of several bubble teams, but you don't know what your portfolio's return was last year. Keeping score is the basis of sports -- and office pools -- but it also matters in investing.
  5. You know how much each correct pick is worth, but you don't know what your 401(k) deferral percentage is. How much you set aside each year will probably be the biggest determinant of how much money you have when you retire, so give it some regular attention.

For now, enjoy the NCAA Tournament. But when it's all over you may suddenly find yourself with some extra time on your hands, so maybe you should devote a little of it to retirement planning.

Also by Richard Barrington:

8 Ways To Prepare For Retirement