How Much Money Will You Need in Retirement?

This week I took an informal survey among my Facebook friends. These friends come from all walks of life and span the globe. But I was interested in how much they felt like they personally needed before they would no longer have to work. I asked:

“How much money would you need to have saved up before you could comfortably give up work and then just do whatever you want? I understand it largely depends on where you live, how many people depend on you, and your goals and spending habits, but I am curious as to what this number is to different people.”

I expected to get a lot of responses like “$1 million,” but most who responded pegged the number higher than that. Indeed, while I might have said a number like that when I was just entering the workforce, now I realize that to really live a comfortable retirement, and especially considering the ongoing need to pay for health care throughout retirement, $1 million won’t be enough in many parts of the U.S.

A retired friend from Arizona wrote:

“With zero income and including home equity it’s about $2.0 million in the U.S., not including the costliest big cities. As income rises the amount of money needed to be saved will decline, of course. With about $5,000 in monthly income a nice minimum number of dollars saved including home equity would be $1.25 million.”

As my friend points out, monthly income, whether from ongoing work, a pension, or Social Security, will decrease the amount required.

Another friend wrote:

“I live on twenty-five thousand dollars per year, though my income is almost double that. I have assets whose daily value I ignore.”

That highlights another important point. It really depends on your location and lifestyle. I know people who easily manage on $25,000 a year. If you apply the “4% rule of thumb” that says you you can withdraw 4% of your portfolio each year in retirement for a comfortable life, you could pay yourself $25,000 a year with a $625,000 portfolio. Thus, even if you don’t think you have saved enough for retirement, it may require a location or lifestyle change and you may find yourself comfortably retired.

On the other end of the spectrum are two friends from big cities.

The first from San Francisco:

“If living in the Bay Area, $10 million would be my target assuming a conservative real return of 4%, so $400,000 per year. If living in a much lower cost of living location this drops a lot and could be as low as $4-5 million, so $160,000-$200,000 per year. Taxes should be seriously considered as well as health care costs. Some global locations have a wealth tax, but provide healthcare to citizens and permanent residents.”

And one from New York City:

“$10 million with kids. If it were just me and my wife we could probably cut that a bit.”

A friend from the UK wrote:

“Mean annual income in the UK is around £30k or $40,000, so if that’s a realistic income target from capital. At 3-4% returns I’d be looking at around a million.”

Another noted that the habits you have now will likely persist into retirement:

“The real strange thing for me is I find as you get older you seem to need much less money. House paid off, car paid and don’t drive much, if you don’t work you don’t need fancy clothes or car. You have most of the things you need or like, you know how to get good deals, don’t care to try to impress others, so on. I grew up frugal and sort of find it hard to spend money. I always lived way below my means. Your habits are frozen in concrete, do the same activities, most of which don’t cost a lot. If I had more money I think I would find it hard to spend it. I have a number of hobbies and a few dream objects, but in reality they don’t mean much to me. I would like to travel, but don’t have anyone to do that with.”

And finally, someone who actually did it and was speaking from experience:

“I retired at 50 with $1.2 million, and because we had paid off our mortgage, and I had health care through my husband’s work, I was spending maybe $20,000-$25,000 a year yet still taking a $10,000 vacation every year, plus a few less costly trips. At 62 I started taking $20,000 a year in SSN, and still have over $1 million of what I retired on, despite living in the expensive Bay Area of California. I just can’t imagine how people spend so much money, you really don’t need millions! We go to theater, museums, eat at fine restaurants, and beautiful Airbnb’s. I have a 20 year old car, I like to camp, get a few clothes at thrift stores, but not deprived in any way. How on earth do people spend so much?”

Regardless of whether your number is half a million or $10 million, you won’t get there by accident. You have to develop a plan and execute it. Luckily, we are here to help.

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Robert Rapier is the chief investment strategist of Utility Forecaster.