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How Much Money Should You Save for Retirement?

Pros advocate saving 10% to 15% of your income each year, but you can compute a more personalized goal in four simple steps.

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It is the million-dollar question — literally: How much should I save for retirement?

As a rule of thumb, most experts recommend an annual retirement savings target of 10 percent to 15% of your pretax income. High earners normally want to hit the very top of that range; low earners can typically hover closer to the bottom since Social Security will generally replace more of their income.

However rules of thumb are just that, and just how much you need to save for retirement depends a great deal on your future, both the known and unknown Components, such as:

  • Your life expectancy
  • Your current saving and spending levels
  • Your lifestyle preferences in retirement

Here are a few steps to figure out how much you must save for retirement.

1. Estimate future income requires

Fair warning: This measure involves the most work — but power through, because the others are a breeze. And if you keep a loose budget, then you have a leg up. Projecting future income requirements begins by taking a look at current spending.

To do so, enter your average monthly expenses at the first column of a spreadsheet or jot them on a piece of paper. Then do a little thinking about if every cost will remain the same, go down, go up or — best of all disappear in retirement. (In an ideal world, we’re looking at you, loan.) In another column, write your best guess of what each expense will likely be in retirement.

Retirement Savings
Retirement Savings

Add those up, tack onto other matters you might not budget for now but wish to spend money on afterward — traveling, golf, mahjong supplies, ballroom dance courses — and you will have a rough idea of your monthly spending needs later on. Multiply by 12 to get the income you’ll need each year to meet those expenses in retirement. Compare that to your existing income to arrive at what is referred to as a replacement ratio, or just how much of your income you should aim to replace in retirement.

2. Consider common rules of thumb

Greater than half of workers have attempted to figure how much cash they want for retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s retirement confidence survey. That means at least 50% of you are not likely to perform the workout outlined in step 1. (If you did finish step 1 and obtained a ratio in the 70% to 90% range, congrats — you can jump to step 3.)

If you’re among the 50% that won’t do the exercise, this is the purpose to fall back on income-replacement rules. They are not as accurate since they are a one-size-fits-all remedy to a problem that comes in many shapes and sizes. But they are much better than nothing.

“If you are saving 15 percent of your income now, you could easily live on 85 percent of your income in retirement — without adjusting expenses”

The one used most frequently is that the 80% rule, which states you ought to aim to replace 80% of your preretirement income. This is a loose rule: Some people suggest skewing toward 70 percent; some think it’s better to target a more conservative 90%.

To find out where you land, consider what percentage of your income you’re saving for retirement. You’ll no longer have to do this as soon as you cross the hypothetical finish line, so if you are saving 15% today, you could easily reside on 85% of your income without any fixing costs. Insert in Social Security, cut payroll taxes — that eat 7.65% of your income while you’re working — and you are likely to adjust that income down even further.

The best way to utilize a rule of thumb like this is as a gut check contrary to the more tailored strategy of taking a deep dip into your expenses. Are you way off the conventional advice or pretty close? However, it can also be used as a starting point of its own, from where you can wiggle the numbers.

3. Use a retirement calculator

If your estimates are correct, a good retirement calculator will provide you an assessment of where you stand on your savings advancement, by combining those annual spending estimates with projections. Most comprehensive calculators bake in assumptions that are based on research: There will likely be defaults for inflation projections, life expectancy, and market returns.

To get the most accurate result, you should think about whether those assumptions are correct given your position: Is the investment plan poised to hit the default yield used by a calculator, that will hover around 6% or 7 percent? If you are skewing toward bonds, you are going to want to adjust this down. Do your grandma and your grandmother’s grandma live to 110? You have got good — but expensive — genes. Take those additional years you may live into consideration in your projections.

4. Revisit regularly

Circumstances change along with your retirement needs will vary with them. When it is a new job, a new baby, or a fresh passion to travel the world after you reach 65, it is reasonable to execute these retirement calculations fairly often. It is always better to correct as you go, rather than fight to catch up down the road.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s simple to get help with balancing your financial objectives. Alternatives vary from low-fee online Robo-advisors to financial advisors offering a variety of services. Find out more about how to pick a financial adviser that is right for you.

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