A SURPRISINGLY large portion of Hong Kong residents seem to be socking away sums for retirement, according to a new survey by fund-management house Dresdner RCM Global Investors. More than 80 per cent are regularly setting aside money for their golden years, the survey finds. That is well ahead of the next major savings goal - children's education - for which 67 per cent of respondents are saving. These results must be treated with caution, however, because the sample consisted of 300 people aged 20 to 50 who visited last weekend's MoneyWorld Asia exhibition, a group whose members might be more inclined to save than the public at large. Dresdner plans to do a more general survey later. But in the meantime, the message that came across last week is so strong it seems safe to conclude that Hong Kong people are exceptionally diligent about retirement saving. 'The survey results confirm our belief that there is a strong savings culture in Hong Kong and many are planning for retirement even though no mandatory scheme is yet in place,' said Mark Konyn, Dresdner's head of Asian marketing. Asia is known for its high personal-savings rates. Calls to the Monetary Authority and the Census & Statistics Department turned up no data for Hong Kong. But Japan's rate is about 12 per cent, and Malaysia's averages 18.9 per cent (or did from 1971 to 1996, before the regional financial crisis set in). In contrast, Americans saved only 3.8 per cent last year (down from an average of 6.75 per cent over the 1971-1996 period). But having a high savings rate and saving the right amount are not necessarily the same thing, because the savings rate is closely tied to the state of the economy in which it is measured - and rebounds on it. Take Japan, for example. Many observers say the reluctance of Japanese consumers to part with their money - as reflected in their relatively high savings rate - is one reason their economy continues to bump along the bottom. (With the SAR's economy in the doldrums, Hong Kong's inveterate savers might want to take note.) In the United States, meanwhile, some argue that Americans are boosting their economy with their strong spending and then making up for their relatively low savings rate by earning record returns on what little savings they do invest. So what is the individual to do about saving for retirement when the world is in such a topsy-turvy state, with low savings fuelling hot economies and high savings keeping sluggish economies from taking off? The important thing is to save as much as you yourself will need. Figuring out how much that will be need not be a mystery. A simplified approach to totting up your future needs and current savings requirements is available from the American Savings Education Council (ASEC) in a one-page worksheet, which is called the 'Ballpark E$timate'. Start by estimating how much you will need for living expenses each year during your retirement. A common rule of thumb is 70 per cent of your current annual gross income. Then subtract income you can count on, such as your pension and part-time earnings. The difference is how much you will need to have available each year from your accumulated investments. The worksheet then takes you through a short series of calculations to figure the size of the nest egg you will need to save in order to generate that amount of annual income and, working backwards, how much you need to save each year to build up that nest egg. The ASEC approach involves assumptions that might not fit your situation, and refinements might need to be made. Copies of the Ballpark E$timate are available on the Web at www.asec.org or by writing to the ASEC at 2121 K Street NW, Suite 600, Washington DC, 20037-1896, USA.