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We all know that saving money for retirement is something we should do.
Maybe you are contributing the minimum to your 401K through work to get the match. Possibly saving money in a Roth IRA.
But, are you truly saving enough for retirement?
More than likely not.
Don’t feel like you are alone. According to a new study, only half of households actually have money saved in retirement accounts. The good news for those who have saved is the dollar amount saved for retirement has been increasing in the past 10 years.
Here is the real reason you don’t save for retirement… you have absolutely no clue how much money you need to be saved to retire.
You have tried to use all of the online retirement calculators from all of the big companies. Your results are millions of dollars different. You have no clue where to start, what to believe.
And then you just get unmotivated because you’re like there’s absolutely no way I can make that dollar amount work.
Personally, I completely get it this is a conversation. My husband and I have had it for years. What is our retirement number? What amount do we need to retire with? And honestly, even can I actually save that much before I am too old to work?
It is all a complete unknown, it is a best guess scenario.
There is absolutely no way for you to truly understand how much you need because there are so many things that go into it, including inflation, your savings rate, your withdrawal rate, your anticipated expenses. So there’s a lot of variables and that’s when the variables get too confusing you don’t know which way to start.
One Guaranteed Truth… the financial advisors believe they are the know-all-be-all with their calculations while charging you an asset management fee that is putting a drag on your overall portfolio.
And then October 27, 2020, Bill Bengen announced that instead of using the 4% rule is outdated, and now you can use a 5% rule. (Bill Bengan is a financial advisor who made the 4% rule of thumb famous 25 years ago.) So, this latest information just throws a curveball into everything that has previously been used for the past 25 years, and now you’re left wondering…
Well, I have no idea what is the proper amount I need to save for retirement.
Do you know what your amount that you need to save for retirement is?
So, let’s dig in for a little bit and we’re gonna talk about the three different percentages that are talked about the most. It’s the 3% rule, the 4% rule, and the 5% rule is one better than another. We’ll debate that and shortly.
How does Withdrawal Rate work?
But first of all, you have to realize that not everything works the way you want, so let’s show some examples before we dig into the specific of the different rules.
Basically, the whole concept is if you save $1 million and you start withdrawing either 3%, 4%, or 5%. That withdrawal amount is the amount of income that you would live on each and every year, while the rest of your portfolio is continuing to grow and increase in value.
The ultimate, perfect-scenario goal is that you would withdraw out as much as you possibly could without depleting the portfolio.
Withdrawal Rate Example:
Here are the assumptions:
- Plan to spend $50,000 a year
- 7% rate of return on your money
- Age doesn’t matter and not accounting for taxes or inflation (we want to keep this simple)
The amount you would need to save based on each of the withdrawal rates:
- 3 percent rule, you would need: $1,666,667
- 4 percent rule, you would need: $1,250,000
- 5 percent rule, you would need: $1,000,000
The Withdrawal Rate Confusion
In our example, we used simple calculations that don’t account for age, taxes, or inflation and the amount you need to save for retirement is $666,667 different.
The numbers are too much for the average person to understand and have faith in.
This is why the confusion on how much to save for retirement and what model and which retirement calculator is the best.
Shortly, we are going to give you the simple answer of how much to save for retirement. But, first, a little background on the various percent rules for retirement.
3 Percent Rule
The 3% rule has gotten very popular with the FIRE movement.
The FIRE movement is Financial Independence Retire Early.
Because most of these people aren’t looking at retiring in the normal typical retirement age of 60s, they’re looking to retire in their 30s or 40s. They feel like they need to be super conservative because they are trying to estimate how much they need each month to live off their money for possibly the next 50 years.
That’s a lot of variables that you have to take into account.
The good news is you can always learn and figure out ways to make money in retirement so it’s not a complete waste, you can always go back to work because you are younger, and have youth on your side. So, is 3% a safe withdrawal rate?
The golden advice is you want to plan for the worst, but hope for the best. The goal is that 3% would cover all of your necessities and basic expenses.
4 Percent Rule
Is the 4 percent rule viable?
The 4 percent rule of retirement was made famous by Bill Bengen 25 years ago (and just recently he said that number is outdated.)
The assumptions were if you withdraw 4% of your investment account every year, you will still have enough to live on throughout retirement.
This was based on what has happened in the markets, accounted for inflation, and your age you want to retire. He conducted many possible case scenarios and concluded that by only withdrawing 4 percent will make sure your money lasts. That is why it has been what is called a golden rule for retirement.
How long will my money last using the 4% rule? If you do all the calculations, it should last for at least 30 years. Obviously, you are looking at many variables of the stock market doing well and your living expenses staying low. Once again, the other big factor is what inflation will do in the future.
So, is the 4% rule that much better?
5 Percent Rule
And then, October 2020 rolls in. The breaking news is that Bill Bengen announced the 4 percent rule for retirement is too conservative and now you can actually use 5%.
So, that leaves the average person going… Okay. My head is spinning. I’m not sure how much I need to save for retirement. What is a good number?
Can I safely withdraw 5% of my investment accounts and still have enough money? That means I need less money to retire.
Can you Overcome Why Most People don’t save for Retirement?
There are too many variables, there are too many unknowns, and they don’t understand how it all works.
That is the real reason people don’t save for retirement.
I get it. I’m there with you. I feel it. I hear it from readers. But, we are going to break down some of the key items so that way you know how much you need for retirement.
And just remember, even if you messed up your numbers, the market went down, or you want to spend more in retirement than you are, then you could always go back to work. Even better, pick up a side hustle, make a little bit of extra money, and actually do something that you truly enjoy doing.
How Much do I need to Retire?
The simple answer… aim for $1,000,000 in investment accounts.
You may be able to aim lower depending on some variables which we cover shortly.
Investment accounts can include any of the following:
- Roth IRA
- HSA (health saving account)
- Brokerage Accounts
- High-interest bank accounts
- Real estate
You want accounts with liquidity. Things that can be bought and sold for cash. Those are the assets we are counting for how much to retire with.
Don’t use the equity in your house because you need a place to live. If you want to use equity, that is fine, but your calculations just become slightly more difficult. We want simplicity.
Right now, your money goal is to reach $1,000,000 in investments accounts.
(Of course, this number may be lower if you live in a low cost of living area, plan to move with overall lower costs or another country, or have good options with lower health care costs. There have been plenty of people who retired with less and love life.)
Based on these variables, you may just need $500,000 to retire. Or somewhere in that range.
Realistic Retirement Savings for Motivation
We shared what a realistic retirement savings amount of $1 million dollars is. Is your first reaction – yikes, there is absolutely no way I can reach that amount.
However, you can!
Just break it down into smaller chunks.
For instance, make your next goal to save $100,000. You do that 10 times and you hit that realistic retirement savings amount.
If that seems like a stretch, then break it down even further. To stay motivated you can strive to save $50K or even $20K.
Break it into bite-sized manageable pieces to help you save for retirement and stay on track.
Best Ways to Save for Retirement
This is the basics to start saving for retirement.
You already know much should you really save for retirement. Now, you just to need to do it.
Here is the safest way to save for retirement. First, open up one or all of these accounts (pending where you are on your money journey). Then, look at investing in S&P 500 Index funds. The most highly recommended index fund for beginners is VTSAX.
1. Contribute to 401K
This is the simplest way to start saving.
Make sure you are contributing at least the minimum to your employer’s 401K.
Every year you can contribute up to a maximum amount. In 2020, an employee can contribution $19,500 to their 401k (the employer is eligible to contribute as well for a combined amount not to exceed $57,000 or 100% of your compensation, whichever is less). For the latest contribution limits, check out the IRS site.
Each year, increase your percentage by 1%. Simple way to reach maxing out your 401K.
Pro Tip: Check if your employer offers a ROTH IRA option. These are becoming more and more popular with companies. A Roth 401K will let your money grow tax-free because you pay taxes when you contribute money. If they don’t offer one, pester the human resources department.
2. Open Roth IRA
The next best option is the ROTH IRA. You want to contribute to a Roth IRA because you pay taxes up front rather than at withdrawal like a traditional IRA.
Since ROTH IRAs have tax advantages, there are also contribution limits set by the IRS. The contribution amounts have remained the same for a couple of years now. The annual contribution limit is $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older.
The downside to Roth IRAs… the amount you can contribute may be limited based on your income and filing status. However, for the average American, you should be able to max out the amount you can save each year.
Pro Tip: Even if one spouse is a stay-at-home parent, you can still contribute to a Roth IRA for the non-working spouse.
3. Health Savings Account
Say what? Yes, a health savings account is on the list as a way to save for retirement. It is a great way to grow your money tax-free going in and on withdrawals.
You must have a High Deductible Health Insurance Plan to open a health savings account.
This is something you want to do and contribute the maximum amount each year. For 2021, you can contribute $3,600 for individuals and $7,200 for family coverage. Typically, the limits go up $50 each year, which helps you save more every year.
Pro Tip: This account will stay with you even when you leave your current employer and insurance. Plus you can use the HSA funds forever – even to pay Medicaid premiums. (Hopefully, nothing changes on these tax-advantaged accounts).
4. Traditional Brokerage Account
The last avenue has no tax benefits, but you are still saving money to be used later. That is what really matters.
Since there are no tax advantages to these basic brokerage amounts, there also are no limits on how much you can contribute.
This is where you would save the remaining amount of money after you exhausted all of the other methods listed above.
Yes, there are other ways to save for retirement. For this post and the average investor, the above-mentioned accounts are a great place to start. Once you become savvier and want to invest more money, then you can look at back door IRAs, 529s, or whole life insurance.
Saved $1 million for retirement, Now What?
Once you reach that 1 million dollars retirement mark, congratulations!!
That is a huge milestone that many people never reach. So, what is the next step?
Now, that you are closer to finally being able to live off your investments, you must start to look at the retirement calculators more seriously and factor in all of those variables (age, taxes, and inflation). It is much easier to predict the future once you have build a solid nest age and are closer to living off your investments.
Everyone started the financial independence journey at a different age and will reach their million-dollar mark at different times.
For the average person, you know learned how to save for retirement. You know what you need to do and where to start.
In this post, we took out all of the confusion on how much to save for retirement. Don’t worry about is the 4 percent rule viable – or if it should be 3 percent rule or the new 5% rule. The assumptions and variables will hold you back from starting. You know the dollar amount to start with, move on with that.
This simple advice of hitting your first milestone is the motivation to keep you going. Along the way, you will become savvier with finances and investing.
When it is time to move to the question of “can I retire” at such and such age, you have already taken out many of the variables, and the decision becomes more and more clear.
Take steps to reach that $1000000 mark today.