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How Much Will You Need to Retire?

February 25th, 2011 at 04:04 pm

One of the blogs I enjoy reading, GRACEful Retirement, had a post about a recent Wall Street Journal article on the shortfall in baby boomer retirement accounts. The article suggests being prepared for retirement means having about 85% of your working income and boomers are failing miserably. The comments to this article are interesting, and like Grace, many readers assert you DO NOT need 85% of your working income in retirement. And while I mostly agree, in reality, it depends.

There are far too many factors to consider in retirement for any specific figure or percentage to apply to most people. Before retiring, it's critical to understand your unique financial picture, but many people put off even thinking about retirement until it is almost too late. Over the years, I've talked to many people in their 40s and 50s who have not done any retirement planning whatsoever. Even sadder are people in their 60s who are "ready" and want to retire but can't because their finances are not quite where they need to be. The recent economic downturn has been bad for many, but especially bad if you've put off retirement planning and really want/need to retire.

Not only is it important to understand how much income will be at your disposal, but also what issues might impact your income. People with defined benefit pensions (e.g., teachers, state employees, police/firemen, etc.) have reliable, guaranteed monthly incomes based on a formula (e.g., years of service X age factor X highest salary). Some people will rely solely on Social Security, while others will depend on a combination of sources such as Social Security, company pensionS, 401k/457 accounts, and/or savings and investments. If retirement income is invested in stocks or real estate, market fluctuations will have an impact on cash flow. Taxes can be an unpleasant surprise if you are not prepared and will impact your net income.

In addition to understanding projected retirement income, you need to estimate your expenses. I estimated on the high side... and factored in 4% annually for inflation. If you will have a mortgage, higher medical expenses (e.g., insurance), plan to travel, or undertake expensive hobbies, even 85% of your pre-retirement income may not be enough. In my case, I am spending 3 times as much as I used to on travel. We also eat out more and spend more on entertainment and leisure activities than before retirement. We even spend more on groceries now that my dh tags along. But we still manage to live below our means.

In 2008, I retired with ~46% of my pre-retirement gross income, but since I am no longer contributing the max to 403b and 457 plans, nor do I have work-related expenses, I can live comfortably on this. The bottom line: my retirement net income is ~99% of my net working income because I planned it this way. However, before retiring I never spent anywhere close to 85% of my gross or net income so retiring was an easy adjustment, financially. It helped that a few years before retiring, I estimated my pension benefits, practiced living within that income and saved the rest.

Before deciding to retire, I formulated a budget that included a "retirement enjoyment" category. Travel, entertainment, dining out, and basically, everything that's a want vs. a need went into this line item. I didnít want to spend the next 25-30 years home-bound, unable to do the things I dreamed about because of an inadequate income, so I planned accordingly. It meant making choices such as downsizing, creating a realistically padded budget, and having an emergency fund to address the unexpected.

Retirement, no matter whether at 47 or 67, can be everything you want it to be if you understand your priorities, set goals, and make a plan to achieve them. The sooner you start, the better your chances of retiring when you are ready.

9 Responses to “How Much Will You Need to Retire?”

  1. ceejay74 Says:

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I haven't started thinking seriously about retirement yet, so I need all the help I can get.

  2. MonkeyMama Says:

    ...

  3. MonkeyMama Says:

    My spouse staying home has been an invaluable lesson for us. Our finances have changed SO MUCH in one decade, it is mind boggling. (The main and most pressing example - health insurance went from $1k per year to $15k at current. Only took a few years to make that leap though).

    As such, when we retire, I know we will be ultra conservative. Whereas once I might have been idealistic and thought we could retire at 50, now I really have no desire to. I don't think it's worth the risk. If we live to 100 (like some of our relatives had), I appreciate the impossibility of planning for all costs - 50 years ahead of time. 10 years has been trying, as is. Everything we have control over is fine and dandy. It's the stuff we can't control. Ouch!

    I know this is why my parents have misgivings about their unexpected/unplanned early retirement, though they are mostly well prepared. My dad told me 1/3 of his income to savings/retirement, 1/3 to taxes, and they live on 1/3. They are living on 1/3 of his wages from when he last worked, which is fine and dandy for them. For the long run, social security will give them another 25% or so, putting them at about 60% total. That said, they have a house they could sell, move anywhere, buy a home, and pocket several hundred thousand dollars. So, I know they will be fine. That said, they are conservative and wanted to save a little more. They are also facing the possibility of $30k per year health insurance premiums, for several years between COBRA and Medicare. They are 59 now - my dad was disabled/laid off 2 years ago. Before his health issues he told me he felt ready to retire but couldn't figure out the healthcare.

    I may lean heavily towards home ownership because of our parents' experiences. Dh's grandma sold her little house (low, unfortunately). She rents in a retirement community in Santa Clara. It's a shack, but the rent is $30k per year and growing. Goes up every single year. I have often thought she was better off keeping her house (or downsizing) and hiring a chef and a maid. OF course, any one of us would take her (2 daughters, any of her grandkids), but she wants to be independent for as long as possible. We've got a spare room we'd give her for free. Wink SHe's almost 90.

  4. MonkeyMama Says:

    P.S. Taxes will make ALL The difference. For anyone considering retirement, it is probably worth a tax consultation to make sure you know what you are getting into.

    I have a LOT of retired state workers (clients) with hefty pensions and social security. Their tax hit in INSANE. You have to factor taxes in these type situations. Too often people have a false sense that their taxes will be lower in retirement. Um, not true in MANY Cases.

    My dad being forced into early retirement? Tax hit, zero. Until social security kicks in, anyway. Thus, he can get away with living on far less. Living off investments is tax favorable to pensions.

    For now anyway. The tax code also changed every 5 minutes, which makes it hard to plan.

  5. Petunia 100 Says:

    I enjoy Grace's blog too!

  6. MaryB26 Says:

    I do not intend to retire. I will die working if I ever get a job. I am 53 years old and have been unemployed for the past 3 years. I have used my "time off" to finish a degree so I will become more employable. Due to health problems of both myself and my husband plus low wage jobs in the past we have little savings to retire with. We are currently using what savings we have just to meet our monthly expenses. I have been applying for both full and part time jobs but have not had even one interview.

  7. Aleta Says:

    Great post. You also have to consider jobs that you once did around the house that you may not (because of traveling or disability) be able to do. Painting, yard work, basic electrical problems,etc. You also have to think about you as a loner, without your husband and the impact it would have on your finances.

  8. Grace Says:

    I wanna be you when I retire. (Of course it would help if I spoke Spanish!) I love all the traveling you've managed to do. Thanks for the mention.

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