Trying to get a handle on the way that regular Americans see their financial future seems to lie in the eye of the beholder - but according to Principal's Financial Well-Being Index, things are looking brighter, even for their retirement.
This year's survey demonstrates a significant improvement over sentiments gathered last year, though the metrics are still telling: 27 percent of workers say they have an optimistic outlook for the economy and their own fianancial lives, up from a depressing 12 percent in third quarter 2011.
Even the elusive goal of achieving the American dream has been restored, somewhat, with 43 percent of workers saying they have some level of confidence in their ability to achieve those financial goals, a figure significantly higher than just a few months ago.
"Things are starting to look a little brighter for a growing number of Americans, but the economy still creates some hesitation, causing many to hold off making any long-term financial commitments," said Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investor services for the Principal.
Principal's survey suggests that 40 percent of workers have figured out that to survive in the ongoing economic climate, it's become necessary to delay major expenditures such as buying a car or a home.
And when it comes to retirement planning, the index also indicates a gender disparity. Some 43 percent of male respondents said they believe they're saving enough money to live comfortably in retirement, versus 26 percent of female respondents.
Workers who enlist the help of a financial professional also demonstrate that they've made tangible steps towards retirement planning and savings. Fifty-three percent of those with professional assistance indicate they will also try to save or invest any income tax refund they received this year.
"Many Americans find preparing for retirement challenging, even in the best of times, and often don't save," said Vandermillen. "But it's clear that those who seek help from a financial professional feel they are in a better position to secure their financial future."
Principal's index also indicates that there's added incentive for workers to take an active interest in this year's presidential election, with hopes for economic improvements: 37 percent of respondents said they plan to be more involved in the election, given the state of the economy in the past four years.
Principal's Financial Well-Being Index is released quarterly and is conducted by Harris Interactive.