How much to save for retirement

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You work hard to provide for yourself and your family. It may seem there isn’t enough money to go around day to day, much less save for retirement. If you’re concerned about meeting your retirement goals, or are so overwhelmed that you haven’t taken any action at all, you are not alone.

Roughly one-third of Americans have nothing at all saved for retirement, according to a 2016 study from GOBankingRates, and another 35% have only several hundred dollars in their savings accounts.

Many in the study said they don’t earn enough to save for retirement, are struggling to pay bills or used their money for an emergency, while others say they don’t need retirement savings.

If this sounds like you, today’s the day to take control of your finances and put your retirement plan in place. It’s a lot easier than you think, and it starts with you figuring out how much you need to save and how you plan to get there. Here are a variety of formulas financial experts use to help you gauge how much you need for retirement.


Save 10% to 15% of your income

What to save depends largely on what you’ll want to spend in retirement and when you plan to retire. Also, the earlier you save, the quicker your funds accumulate due to compounding. Many financial experts recommend saving 10% to 15% of your income for retirement, starting in your 20s.

Here's an example of what a big difference starting young can make1. Say you start at age 25, and put aside $3,000 a year in a tax-deferred retirement account for 10 years - and then you stop saving - completely. By the time you reach 65, your $30,000 investment will have grown to more than $338,000, (assuming a 7% annual return), even though you didn't contribute beyond age 35.

Now let's say you put off saving until you turn 35, and then save $3,000 a year for 30 years. By the time you reach 65, you will have set aside $90,000 of your own money, but it will grow to only about $303,000, assuming the same 7% annual return.
 

Save $1 million, starting at age 40

If your 20s have long passed you by and you spent more than you saved, it’s not too late to save $1 million2: In order to retire with $1 million in 25 years, a 40-year-old just getting started would need to invest $800 a month—a little less than 20% of the average $50,000 income. Delay retirement until age 67, and you can reduce your monthly investing amount to $650, a little more than 15% percent of a $50,000 income.
 

The 80% Rule

Most experts say your retirement income should be about 80% of your final pre-retirement salary, according to Investopedia. That means if you are making $100,000 annually at retirement, you will need income of at least $80,000 per year to have a comfortable lifestyle after leaving the workforce. This amount can be adjusted up or down depending on other sources of income, such as Social Security, pensions and part-time employment, as well as your health and your desired lifestyle.
 

The 4% rule

Developed in the 1990s, this rule basically holds that retirees can withdraw 4% (adjusted for inflation) from their investment portfolios each year without running out of money. While it’s only meant to be a guide, this rule of thumb can give you a rough idea of how prepared you are, especially if you are nearing retirement. Here’s an example.3

Let’s say you are nearing retirement and you:

-Are eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit of $3,500 per month.
-Are married and have a spouse who is eligible for a Social Security benefit of $2,500 per month.
-Have $750,000 saved in retirement assets.
-Estimate that you need an income of $100,000 a year before taxes to maintain your desired standard of living.

Using the 4% rule, you’ll be able to withdraw $30,000 ($750,000 x 0.04) per year from your investment accounts for living expenses. To this, add your annual Social Security benefit of $42,000 ($3,500 x 12). And also add your spouse’s Social Security benefit of $30,000 ($2,500 x 12). Total it all up and you get $102,000 ($30,000 + $42,000 + $30,000), which is slightly more than you need to cover that $100,000 in estimated annual living expenses.
 

Multiples of Your Salary

To figure out how much you should have accumulated at various stages of your life, thinking of a percentage or multiple of your salary at that time can be a very useful tool. Some financial experts suggest having 50% of your annual salary in accumulated savings by age 30. This requires saving 15% of your gross salary beginning at age 25 and investing at least 50% in stocks. Here are additional age-related savings benchmarks:

Age 40 – two times annual salary
Age 50 – four times annual salary
Age 60 – six times annual salary
Age 67 – eight times annual salary
 

Saving to the max

If you’ve not been saving enough or at all, now is the time to make a change for a better future. Create a budget [link to the budget article], reduce spending, increase savings, take advantage of employer-sponsored 401(k) matching programs and max out retirement contributions.

The contribution limit for 401(k) and other employer-sponsored retirement plans went up $500 in 2018. You can contribute a maximum of $18,500 to your 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, up from $18,000 last year. Annual contributions for individual retirement accounts remain unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contributions for those 50 and older remain unchanged at $6,000 for employer plans and $1,000 for IRAs.

Sources
1 CNN Money’s Ultimate Guide to Retirement
2 Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover
3 Nerdwallet