How Much Should I Have Saved Today For Retirement?

Fidelity Investments recently released recommended benchmarks for retirement savings based on age. They determined that workers should have saved an amount based on their salary by the following ages:

Age 35: 1 times salary
Age 45: 3 times salary
Age 55: 5 times salary
Retirement: 8 times salary

These benchmarks are perfectly fine as starting points to gauge your readiness for retirement. I like that it allows younger workers to see what they need to have socked away for retirement, as it can be hard to know how much to save for something that isn’t going to happen for 30+ years. There are some major downsides to these benchmarks that I want you to consider however when determining where you are currently at.

Social Security: The benchmarks were based on workers receiving 85% of their promised Social Security benefits. I think there are a lot of changes that will be made to Social Security by the time a 35 or 45 year old worker retires, and they could have a dramatic effect on retirement income. One likely change is that Social Security becomes means tested, which means those that need it most will get a higher monthly payment. This also means that the more money you have in savings, the less you will receive. I would contend that if you have 8 times your salary in savings, you will be considered capable of funding your own retirement. Another possible change is that the age to start taking Social Security will likely continue to rise. These changes could mean 85% may be too high of an assumption, especially for younger workers.

Withdrawal Rates: How much annual income do you believe your portfolio will provide? If you have $500,000 in an IRA, how much can you take out each year and be reasonably sure your portfolio will last your lifetime? Research shows 4% is a good rule of thumb. This means $500,000 should only provide about $20,000 per year! I bet you were thinking it would be worth a lot more. If you take 5%-6%, you risk running out of money well before death. Taking more than that means you will probably be out of money in just a few years.

Retirement Income: If you are able to continue working after retirement age, it will lower how much you need in your portfolio for retirement. Thinking about the 4% rule of thumb mentioned above, if you can earn $500 per month in retirement, that would represent having saved $150,000. Granted it may be difficult to earn $500 per month until the day you die, but it still shows that retirement income can significantly lower the amount you need in retirement savings. This is why I encourage clients to have a career they love, and are willing to keep doing (even if just part-time) well past normal retirement age.

Traditional Retirement May Be Dead: I don’t make predictions very often, but I will say I believe the typical notion of retirement is dead. Working until age 65 and then no longer working simply isn’t going to be the normal case anymore. For one, most Americans haven’t saved enough to support this traditional view of retirement. Second, as we continue to make medical advances that extend our lives, we will have to find ways to be productive at an older age. Social programs such as Social Security and Medicare weren’t designed to support Americans living as long as they probably will.

Lifestyle: Your lifestyle in retirement is the important determinant of how much money you will need to save. Some of my clients travel the world or take their family on annual cruises, and this means they spend a lot more in retirement than they did before retiring. Other clients focus their time and energy on charitable work, and spend significantly less than they did before retirement. To the above point, if you continue to earn money in retirement, this will shift your savings need. Your personal goals for what you want to do in retirement will determine how much you need to save.

Fidelity’s benchmarks are a great starting point. I believe they are too low for most of my clients, however we must recognize that most American’s are not on track to meet these savings goals, much less exceed them. My recommendation is be sure you are putting away at least 10%-15% of your salary for long-term goals (such as retirement), and work really hard to determine what you want life to look like after age 65. Only after you determine your goals can you be sure you are on the right path to achieving them.

So what do you think? Are you on track to meet or exceed these benchmarks? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to get on track? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

About the author

Alan Moore, CFP®, MS

Alan is passionate about providing individualized financial advice to individuals and families, regardless of their net worth, income or investable assets. An educator at his core, he strives to serve as his clients’ guide, available to help with the sometimes stressful or exciting financial situations that life inevitably brings.

Alan is the founder of Serenity Financial Consulting, which he started after noticing the lack of hourly, as-needed financial planning advice available to consumers. With experience working in several nationally recognized firms including Kahler Financial Group and Financial Service Group, Alan combines his industry experience and technical knowledge with his entrepreneurial spirit and penchant for teaching others to create a refreshing style of truly personal financial planning.

Alan is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and Certified Retirement Counselor™. He earned his bachelor’s degrees in Family Financial Planning and Consumer Economics and his Master’s Degree in Family Financial Planning from the University of Georgia. Driven by his desire to educate, Alan also taught undergraduate financial planning courses while in graduate school.

Alan prides himself on being active in his community and feels privileged to have served in the Georgia National Guard for four years before receiving an honorable discharge. Originally from Georgia, Alan now lives in Shorewood with his wife Melissa, and enjoys taking advantage of the abundance of activities that Milwaukee has to offer.

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