Sometimes it's a good idea to be a copycat. Affluent investors, those with at least $250,000 in investable assets, have figured out a few things that could benefit the rest of us.

In a new survey from TIAA-CREF, 50 percent of affluent investors said their most important investment goal is to generate income in retirement, and 41 percent said their top goal is to accumulate savings for retirement. More than half of them first met with a financial adviser early; 34 percent did so before age 35. Where do they put their money? They see stocks as the engine for wealth growth. Seventy-six percent put money in stocks and 73 percent in mutual funds.

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"Affluent investors' focus on generating income to last a lifetime is an important lesson for the majority of Americans who may be struggling with retirement challenges and concerns," says Sean Wilson, a wealth management adviser at TIAA-CREF in Manhattan.

What else do they have right?

They are persnickety. They monitor fees on their investments and keep a pulse on their portfolio.

They go hard. "They max out tax-advantaged savings plans like 401(k)s and IRAs. This not only allows them to save money in taxes, but allows their money to grow tax-deferred," says Thomas Yorke, founder of Oceanic Capital Management in Red Bank, New Jersey.

They are patient. Says Laurie Samay, an investment analyst with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, "There is a misconception that the wealthy are looking to get richer quick. In reality, they are typically more interested in preserving their wealth. This takes a more slow and steady approach, in which diversification is key."