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How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire

Posted on the 17 May 2017 by Smallivy

Early on, when we first started planning for financial independence, one of the first things we needed to determine was how much we would need to accumulate to retire and maintain our standard of living.  Having read a few books and newspaper articles, it appeared that the research suggests that you can withdraw about 3-4% of your portfolio value per year to use for living expenses without ever depleting the value of your account.  This figure includes allowance for inflation, since the idea is that you earn 8% or so on your portfolio (on average, assuming a mix of bonds and stocks), so your portfolio value (in dollar terms) will increase 4-5% each year over your retirement.  This means that in 15 years your portfolio will be twice as large as it was when you retired, and therefore able to provide twice the income in dollar terms, to make up for each dollar only buying half as much.

Determining how much you’ll need for retirement once you know you can withdraw 3-4% per year is really fairly straightforward. You simply figure out how much you’ll need in the way of yearly income during retirement, then multiply that by twenty-five. This assumes that you’ll withdraw the maximum of 4% from your retirement account each year, which will be invested in an appropriate mix of mutual funds and cash. If you want to be a bit safer, multiply by thirty-three, which will assume you’ll only withdraw 3% per year. This will increase your odds of outliving your money and accounts for stocks and bonds perhaps earning less per year than expected in the future – something economists keep predicting will happen and very well might if the government keeps growing and imposing all sorts of wasteful and protectionist regulations.

How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire

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For many people, something around a million dollars is reasonable, which provides an income of about $40,000 per year. If you have paid off your home and your cars, such that all you need to buy is food, clothing, and utilities, that is fairly reasonable. You will also probably want to save an additional $150,000, or $300,000 for a couple, to pay for medical expenses in retirement. So that puts minimum retirement savings at about $1.3 M. To be more conservative, shoot for something around $1.5 M.

So, the formula would be:

Minimum Retirement Savings = (Income Needed)*(25 or 33) + $300,000

for a married couple. For a single it would be:

Minimum Retirement Savings = (Income Needed)*(25 or 33) + $150,000

How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire
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This all assumes that you have paid off your debts and all that you have are maintenance costs to keep and maintain your home, keep the lights on, and eat each day. Certainly that is the state you should be in before you retire and start living off of your savings. To really be ready for retirement, you should have done the following:

  1. Pay off all credit cards and start using debit cards and cash for everything. You can’t afford to be paying out credit card interest rates.
  2. Pay off your home and any other home equity loans and the like. You need to have the security of having your home free and clear so that it can’t be taken away.
  3. Pay off any car loans. You don’t want to be worrying about a car payment.
  4. Have a good plan for medical expenses, ideally with a back-up plan to Medicare. Hopefully Medicare will remain and help with your medical expenses, but it is good to have a back-up plan just in case benefits get cut, particularly with Medicare Part B plans that are a favorite target for cuts.
  5. Pay off your student loans. These should have gone away before you bought your first house. Don’t go into retirement with loans.
  6. Pay off student loans for kids and grandchildren that are in your name. You can’t afford to be paying off student loans for others while you’re in retirement. Get with your children and grandchildren and discuss how the loans can be paid in full before you enter retirement. Also, resist the urge to take out student loans for children after the age of about fifty-five. As extra incentive, let your children know that you’re coming to live with them should you run out of money.

How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire How to Figure Out How Much You Need to Retire

Note also that this is the minimum amount of savings, and the more you save, the better your life in retirement will be. This is because extra money you have saved – that beyond the minimums – can be invested fully in things like stocks and real estate that will generate more income than the traditional cash-bond-stock portfolio that you would invest in if you just had the minimum. If you have just enough, you’d need to be conservative with your money, and thereby cut your income, because you could not afford to suffer a 40% market downturn as happens every decade or so. If you have extra money, you can have a portion of your portfolio invested in a conservative manner, then have the rest invested in equities and real estate. You can then use the extra income generated by those investments for things like travel and lifestyle.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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