Given the opportunity to approach their retirement savings again, 51% of affluent Americans who have retired said they would have preferred to have focused on life goals rather than a retirement number, Merrill Lynch found in a survey. However, the remaining 49% still believe in zeroing in on the numbers.

Among those retirees who wished they had focused more on life goals, 38% said they would have liked to have envisioned life in retirement. Another 13% said they would have liked to have found a way to live an ideal lifestyle, and another 8% would have created a better plan to support philanthropic missions.

Conversely, among those who indicated that they would have focused more on the numbers, 23% wished they had started working with a financial adviser earlier in life, and 18% would have forfeited more luxuries.

Among all respondents, 31% worked with a financial adviser when planning for retirement, although in hindsight, 55% wished they had started doing so sooner.

Also among all respondents, 55% said they had striven to find some sort of silver lining in the recession, be it focusing more on family and friends (33%), or scaling back on their current lifestyle (23%). Nineteen percent have taken their portfolio off autopilot.

Many respondents have been exceptionally proactive about cutting back on expenses. Overall, 43% cut back on personal luxuries in 2009, compared with 21% in previous years. Forty-eight percent tamped down energy costs, 38% became more aware of day-to-day cash flow, 30% vacationed less, 20% took vacations close to home, and 16% delayed such capital expenditures as home improvements or automobile expenses.

“Helping our clients plan for retirement will continue to be a core focus for our business in the years ahead,” said Sallie Krawcheck, president of Bank of America Global Wealth and Investment Management.

“The recession has caused Americans’ attitudes toward retirement to evolve at an unprecedented pace,” added Andy Sieg, head of retirement and philanthropic services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “For many, retirement is no longer a specific date at which an individual goes from working to not working. Today, the transition into retirement is tending to be more gradual and fluid. As such, an effective retirement strategy should go beyond an accumulation target and retirement income planning, and take into account what is truly important to an individual or couple, as well as the challenges they may face down the road.”