There's one thing you know for certain: you want to retire. However, the thought of calculating (and recalculating) exactly how much you need to make it happen can be overwhelming. It's common to worry about how much is “enough” to save, how to catch up if you haven't been saving money, and what changes you can make right now to grow your nest egg. Preparing for this exciting next step isn't one to be taken lightly. After all, you've worked your whole life for this moment.
10 Questions to Ask as You Approach Retirement
What was once just a dream is now coming closer to reality. Before you take the big leap, it's essential to have a clear picture of what your retirement years will look like. As you crunch the numbers on how much you need to retire, ask yourself these important questions.
- At what age do I plan to retire?
- Where will my retirement money come from?
- Will I stay in my current home, downsize, or move to a retirement community, senior apartment, or assisted living community?
- What kind of lifestyle do I envision during my golden years?
- When do I plan on taking Social Security benefits?
- What are my medical needs, and how do Medicare and Medicaid fit into my care?
- How much money will I spend each year?
- How much cash do I have in my emergency fund?
- Do I plan on taking a part-time job?
- Do I have a realistic retirement budget and detailed spending plan?
Pro Tip: Put it in writing. Creating your personalized retirement plan will help you not only visualize your goal but keep you motivated and on track.
Important Rules of Thumb for Retirement Savings
There are quite a few popular methods to follow to calculate how much money you need to retire comfortably. Retirement rules of thumb help us avoid playing the “will I have enough” guessing game. So, which rule of thumb is right for you? Everyone's retirement goals and plans are unique, so use one (or a combination) of the methods below as a guide. However, before you dive in and choose a rule of thumb, set yourself up for success by creating an in-depth retirement plan. Use our 10 retirement questions above to build a clear picture of what assets you have, where they are coming from, along with how and when you'll use your money.
The 10 Times Rule
This rule of thumb focuses on saving ten times your pre-retirement income by age 67 to maintain your current lifestyle. The key is to increase your retirement savings based on your age. For example, you'll want to save six times your pre-retirement income at age 50, seven times at age 55, and eight times at age 60, with the goal of ten times at age 67.1
The 80 Percent Rule
Based on the 80 Percent Rule, a person earning $100,000 annually will need $80,000 each year after retirement.2 This method takes into account the money you won't be spending during retirement. After leaving your job, you won't have to worry about work-related costs, such as gas, tolls, or purchasing business clothing (and getting them dry cleaned). Gone are the standard payroll deductions for your retirement plan and payroll taxes on Social Security.
The Four Percent Rule
Looking at your overall retirement savings is important. It's also crucial to look at how much you'll be able to safely withdraw each year to avoid running out of savings. After calculating your combined retirement savings (401[k], IRA, pension, and other assets), plan to take four percent of that total annually. For example, if you have one million dollars in combined retirement savings, you can take out $40,000 each year.
Pro Tip: The methods above don't factor in Social Security. Unsure of how much Social Security you'll receive? Create a my Social Security account to securely view your benefit estimates.
Where Will My Retirement Money Come From?
How you invest in your retirement determines where your money comes from after you retire. An ideal retirement portfolio has money coming from a variety of sources. From cash savings to retirement accounts, pensions, and Social Security, your retirement funds should be diverse.
According to the Social Security Administration, for the most part, retirement beneficiaries receive 40 percent of their pre-retirement income from Social Security. 3How do your retirement savings compare to our combined income graph below?
How Can I Start Saving More Money Right Away?
When day-to-day expenses, unexpected medical bills, cost of living increases, and other hurdles are thrown your way, it can be hard to save for retirement consistently. As an older adult, if you feel like you're behind on your savings, don't panic. There are many changes, both small and large, that you can make today to save more for retirement.
Are you putting enough into retirement? Max out your standard retirement contribution in 2023, or invest as much as you can annually. Each year you can invest up to:
- $22,500 for a 401(k), 403(b), or SARSEP
- $15,500 for a SIMPLE 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA
- $6,500 for an IRA
Ready to play catch up? If you're 50 years or over, the IRS permits annual catch-up contributions4 (in addition to your standard retirement contributions).
- Contribute an extra $7,500 to your 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or SARSEP
- Contribute an extra $3,500 for a SIMPLE 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA
- Contribute an extra $1,000 to your IRA
Changing your day-to-day spending habits adds up over time. Keep track of how much you're saving by adjusting your lifestyle.
- Channel your inner chef: cut back on dining out and food delivery
- Skip that drive-through cup of coffee: brew it at home for major savings
- Embrace a staycation: take a break from traveling
- Brown bag it: pack your lunch for work
- Be mindful when shopping: do you really need it or just want it?
Take a hard look at where every dollar goes. Are you getting the most for your money?
- Shop smart: take advantage of senior discounts
- Clear out credit card debt: avoid overspending and high interest rates
- Downsize: move into a smaller home to save on monthly payments, utilities, and repair costs
- Shop around: make sure you're getting the best homeowners and auto insurance rates
- Take a look at your tech: update your cell phone or internet plan
- Check your interest rates: refinance your mortgage if the time is right
Andrew Meadows, Senior VP of HR, Brand, and Culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, gave us some of his top tips for saving for retirement. “The best savings can come from a change in your life,” says Meadows. “Did you know most utility providers offer special programs for seniors? By asking a few key questions, you may find yourself paying much less for your phone, internet, or other costs that might seem high right now. Most of the big technology and internet providers have programs specifically based on age. Find out today how you can save money on something you use each day!”
Making a few quick calls to your providers is an easy way to save money. It never hurts to give it a try; you never know which companies might have a special deal for older adults.
Staying healthy is truly an investment in your future. A couple retiring at 65 will pay an estimated $300,000 on out-of-pocket health care, including Medicare premiums, deductibles, and copays. In addition to cutting out unhealthy expenses, just think of the medical costs you'll save by taking care of yourself.
- Eat clean: reduce the amount of processed foods and red meat
- Pick up the pace: make fitness a priority with get at least 15 minutes of exercise daily
- It's all about prevention: stay up to date on routine medical and dental check-ups
- Buy local: shop farm stands and markets for the freshest produce
- Ditch unhealthy habits: cut out smoking and alcohol
Did You Know: According to the CDC, smoking-related illness in the U.S. costs more than $300 billion each year.6 Smoking not only hurts your health, but it also hits your wallet. According to the National Cancer Institute, one pack of cigarettes costs an average of $6.36. Pack-a-day smokers spend $2,300 each year that could be going into a retirement plan.7
Seek Advice From Friends and Family
While retirement planning can seem very intimidating, and you might think you need the help of an expert, that's not always the case. Andrew Meadows notes, “Everyone's retirement savings number will be different. Sometimes, the first and only time we need advice is at retirement age. Now that you're here, don't worry about having to find an advisor when some of the best advice can come from family and friends. Seek out folks in your life that have it figured out and ask them what they did. There's nothing like sharing important information with those you love that could improve their lives.”
Chatting with your loved ones and getting a new perspective on things might help you build the best retirement plan for your unique needs and goals.
How Can I Make Sure My Retirement Savings Last?
Once you're officially retired, the goal is to leave the stress behind. Follow these helpful tips to stretch your nest egg.
- Don't start Social Security too early in your retirement: The longer you delay taking Social Security until you turn 70, the larger your monthly check will be. For example, when you reach full retirement age (FRA), you'll receive 100 percent benefits. If you choose to delay your Social Security benefits for 12 months, you’ll get 108 percent of the monthly benefit.7
- Tap into tax credits and deductions: There are many ways to reduce your tax bill. Before filing your income taxes, check to see if you're eligible for the IRS tax credit for the elderly, a higher tax filing threshold, and a higher standard deduction.
- Become a one-car family: Add the money earned from the sale of your second vehicle into your emergency fund or nest egg. Moving to one car has other financial benefits like reducing wallet-busting expenses such as gas, maintenance, and insurance costs.
- Know your town's property tax laws: Many states and municipalities offer seniors a reduction in the tax-assessed value of their home or a property tax exemption. To receive these tax breaks, you'll most likely need to complete an application, so have your local tax assessor walk you through the process.
- Work part-time: A part-time job post-retirement has several perks. In addition to a source of income, working part-time can provide a sense of purpose, expand social opportunities, and increase physical activity. If you haven't reached full retirement age and are claiming Social Security, make sure your income doesn't exceed the earnings limit ($21,240 for 2023). Otherwise, your benefits will be reduced.8
- Adjust for inflation: Don't overlook the cost of rising prices. Factor inflation into your retirement years before you retire as the cost of living will continue to increase. Keep a close eye on the Consumer Price Index's (CPI) current and projected inflation figures reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Did You Know: Since 1975, Social Security recipients have received payments with an annual adjusted cost-of-living by the Social Security Administration.9
Getting out of debt and saving for retirement can be quite a challenge! In the video below, Jeff Hoyt, Editor-in-Chief of SeniorLiving.org, speaks with Attorney Eric Olsen about why seniors may never have to pay certain debts.