Paradise Lost: Retirees Scramble to Recover

But retirement experts said that the nation needs a more fundamental fix for the longer term. The financial meltdown has highlighted the fundamental flaw of a retirement system that relies solely on Social Security and 401ks.

"401k plans are too exposed to the market to be the only source of retirement income in addition to Social Security," said Alicia Munnell, executive director of the Center for Retirement Research. "We need an extra tier that is protected from these fluctuations."

Munnell said that something more like a traditional pension -- with a fixed payout -- rather than an investment account that moves up and down with the stock market would offer retirees more security.

In the meantime, the Obama administration is considering making enrollment of workers in retirement savings plans mandatory, along with investing guidelines that could protect older workers from stock market downturns.

For Jan Moran and Paul Rollins, it's back to the drawing board. They say they must "reinvent" their lives to avoid outliving their savings.

"We vacillate between being traumatized by it and invigorated by it," Rollins said. "This opens up some possibilities that we have to reinvent ourselves."

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