How much do you need to retire?

   How much do you need to retire? This question has caused countless sleepless nights for all ages. With studies released every year all yielding the same alarming result, the vast majority of people are ill-prepared for retirement. Studies by any number of financial institutions, finance blogs, or news media agencies, conducted independently yet all displaying the same results. People are unprepared. What these studies don’t usually dive into, is the question; how much do you need?

How much do you need to retire?

The 4% Rule

   First created by William Bengen, the 4% Rule tells you how much you can safely withdraw from your retirement accounts to ensure you don’t run out of money. Used by many financial planners as a rule of thumb, you can also benefit from this calculation. 

The 4% Rule Example

   Meet Sally. Sally is 65 right now, and looking forward to three decades of retirement, living to the age of 95. 

   Sally has determined, based on her lifestyle and spending goals (travel and entertainment), that she needs $ 60,000 per year to retire comfortably. Based on the 4% rule, Sally would need a retirement nest egg of $ 1,500,000 to achieve her retirement goals.

   While that number alone provides some insights, there are some key assumptions driving the 4% rule.

Assumptions of the 4% Rule:

The 4% Rule makes a few critical assumptions:

  • Retirement will only last 30 years
  • Asset Allocation is between 50/50 and 75/25 stock to bond mix
  • Withdrawals are consistent, and comprised of interest, dividends, and capital gains

   What this means is that, if you plan to retire early, or have a long life-expectancy, 4% might be too aggressive to fund your lengthened retirement. Also, a 50/50 to 75/25 asset allocation mix might be riskier than you would like. Taking on too much risk could, in negative economic times, result in your portfolio depleting too much to be able to recover in the allotted time frame. And the final key assumption made is that the withdrawals are first funded by interest and dividends, and only small amounts of your portfolio are sold to cover the difference.

   This final assumption has caused some companies like Morningstar to discount the 4% rule as “too simple”. Their assertion is that the historical data that the 4% rule was created on doesn’t take into consideration the lower bond yields. By reducing the income from interest, a retiree would need a more aggressive portfolio to make up for the weak bond yields. Put simply, 4% is too much to withdraw. As a result, other numbers have been used as a benchmark, ranging from 3% to 3.5%.

   In Sally’s example, she might need a nest egg of $ 2,000,000 to safely retire at a 3% withdrawal rate. Or alternatively, she would need to learn to get by on only $ 45,000 / year.

How much do you need to retire?

   As you can see, there is no consensus on the amount. Lifestyle choices, alternative income sources such as pensions and old age security, and even life expectancy can greatly alter the calculations on a case by case basis. 

   Considering all these aspects, you still need a financial goal to aim for. For your planning purposes, I would suggest using a middle-of-the-road benchmark. If Sally could rewind until she was 30 again, her goal would be to save $1,750,000 before retirement. This allows her a 3.5% withdrawal rate, taking $ 60,000 per year.

   As you get closer to retirement, you will have a much larger investment portfolio than you do now. At that time, more options will be available to you, and a visit to a financial planner would be advisable.

Action Items
  1. Consider what you plan to do in your retirement.
  2. How much does that lifestyle cost each year?
    • Consider: Do you own your own home? Do you rent? Are you receiving Old Age Security or Pension benefits?
  3. Take your estimated annual spend and divide by 3.5%. 

 

Your answer has given you a financial goal to aim for. Don’t be discouraged by where you stand in relation to your goal, take pride in knowing you have a clear direction.

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