How Much Do You Really Need to Retire?

by Ron Haynes

One of the most common and important questions in personal finance is: how much money will I need to retire? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer because retirement means different things to different people. Some, for instance, opt to continue working part-time and never fully retire. Others wish to spend retirement traveling the world, while still others are content to simply enjoy a leisurely, stress-free life. How much money you need to retire, therefore, depends entirely on your own lifestyle choices and available finances to make those lifestyle choices.

If you’re unsure how much to save, consider these factors:

  • How much money you currently earn and can save
  • How much debt you need to pay off
  • How long you plan to work
  • How you want to spend your retirement years

Your Current Income & Savings Rate

Retirement Savings

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A major factor in how much you will need or have for retirement is your current income. Assuming you are still working, your yearly income determines how much you can set aside for retirement. Someone in their early 20’s who is just starting a career, for example, might not be able to max out their 401(k) contributions immediately (although they should still save whatever they can.) Meanwhile, a 35 year old who is well-established in his field probably can max out their contributions, and perhaps even fund an IRA on the side.

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Decide at the start of each year how much you ideally want to save for retirement. Of course, this can be adjusted up or down depending on rises or falls in your income as the year goes along. You should also estimate roughly how much money you would end up by continuing to save at your current rate until retirement age. No matter what your post-retirement goals may be, it helps to know if you’re on track to accumulate enough. Only then can you make the needed changes to ensure you retire comfortably.

Your Current Debt Level

Debt can deal a crushing blow to retirement dreams and if you’re struggling with high interest consumer debt, it simply must be paid off before you can realistically begin thinking about retiring. Debt, and the accompanying interest payments, is a major factor in why many people are delaying their retirement today in my opinion, as 80 becomes the new 65.

Make sure you’re currently living within your means and that any debt you have is being aggressively and systematically paid off. Once you get that balance to zero, vow to keep it there. You won’t regret it.

And if you’re having trouble getting to zero, consolidate your high interest debt into a Prosper loan. Their rates for borrowers are very, very good.

Your Planned Retirement Age

Of course, 65 is not the ideal retirement age for everyone. Some aspire to more ambitious timelines, like retiring at forty or even thirty. While the latter is unlikely to occur without business ownership or a huge windfall, the point is that your planned retirement age heavily influences how much money you will need. The earlier you hope to retire, the longer you will need to sustain yourself and the more money you must have. Moreover, an extremely early retirement will be difficult to fund with savings alone … rarely has enough time elapsed to save the required amount without that large windfall. Instead, you will likely need to invest a substantial portion of your savings to multiply the returns.

Conversely, a planned retirement age of 65 or older will not require as much money. One option is to build up your retirement savings and investments as much as possible and convert them into an annuity at retirement age. Annuities, in essence, transform your lump sum into something resembling a weekly paycheck that you can rely on and budget for much as you did while working. If you worry about stretching yourself too thin in retirement, annuities can be an excellent way to ensure you live within your means.

Your Planned Retirement Lifestyle

Retire in Style

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The final factor deciding how much you need to retire is your planned retirement lifestyle. As previously noted, different people have vastly different plans and expectations for how they will spend their retired years. If you dream of traveling the world, that should be your cue to aggressively save and invest now. If you aim to start your own business in retirement, the same rule applies. Any retirement dreams involving substantial sums of money demand that you work hard to accumulate that cash during your working years.

On the other hand, not everyone wants a busy or active retirement. Some are perfectly happy to spend their time relaxing or pursuing low-stress hobbies. Such people do not require an especially large amount of money to live on. If you expect your post-retirement life to essentially mirror your current life (only without work), a simple projection of your current expenses will give you a rough idea of what amount to shoot for. Use an inflation calculator for better accuracy since inflation will erode away your purchasing power at an alarming rate over time.

No matter what your planned retirement lifestyle, there is something to be said for taking a conservative approach. Strive to save slightly more than you anticipate needing. After all, no one can reliably forecast every foreseeable obstacle that could arise between now and retirement, especially if that is twenty, thirty or forty years away.

Summary

How much you really need to retire is a function of your own unique circumstances. There is no fixed amount that everyone categorically “needs” in order to stop working. Instead of searching for that number, analyze your own income, savings rate, expected retirement age and lifestyle. Use retirement and inflation calculators periodically to adjust your plans and forecasts. If you become stuck or confused, don’t be ashamed to consult a financial planner for advice. The important thing is that you devise a realistic plan in line with your own needs.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.



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