More than one quarter (27%) of older people surveyed for Aviva's Real Retirement Report said that financial stability was the most important factor to them, with only good health coming ahead of this on their priority list.
Age campaigners said the findings "dispel the myth" that the so-called baby boomer generation has sailed through the tough economy in recent years.
Some 38% of those surveyed said the state of their health was the most important factor to them, while less than one in five (17%) over-55s said that sharing their retirement with a partner was of the most value.
One in eight (12%) older people placed a happy family life at the top of their list and one in 33 (3%) said their hobbies and interests were the factors they most value.
Among the over-55s with annual incomes of up to £15,000, Aviva found that almost three times as many place greater value on having enough money to live on comfortably than sharing their retirement with a partner, at 34% against 12%.
Two-fifths (40%) of 55 to 64-year-olds surveyed are not managing to put anything away in savings each month and those who are saving put away £33 a month typically, the report said.
Many older people have seen the real value of their savings eroded amid low interest rates and have struggled to make any decent returns on their cash pots.
The Aviva report found that around one third (34%) of over-75s receive an income from savings and investments, marking a drop from nearly half (45%) a year ago.
Meanwhile, annuity rates, which people buy when they retire and set the size of their annual income for life, have plummeted in recent years, meaning many people are not achieving the retirement income they had hoped.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: " This report dispels the myth that people aged 55-64, the so called baby boomers, have sailed through the economic crisis and are financially thriving. Instead it reveals that many are struggling to stay afloat."
The findings were made one year into the Government's landmark scheme to automatically place millions of people into workplace pensions to head off fears of a looming retirement savings crisis, as people live for longer but fail to put enough aside for their later years.
The scheme is being rolled out over the next five years and will eventually see up to nine million people newly saving or saving more into a pension scheme.
Clive Bolton, managing director of Aviva's At Retirement business, said: "Some people may be tired of hearing about the importance of saving for retirement, but listening to those who know what it means to be retired in 2013 leaves little doubt that financial stability can in fact buy happiness, and certainly help towards a stress-free lifestyle."
More than 2,000 people took part in the latest report.