How Much of My Income Should I Be Saving?

Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP® Nick Defenthaler

This is a common and logical question to ask, right?  Unfortunately, there are too many unknown factors to give a precise answer.  If you’re 45, you have at least 15-20 years before you retire.  A lot can change in life during this time frame! What you think you may want retirement to look like might drastically change over the course of nearly two decades. How much you save obviously can have a big impact on your retirement goals. The simple answer I often hear in regards to this question is, “save at least what your company match is.” Meaning, if your employer offers a 4% match, you should contribute at least 4% to be eligible for the free money your employer is offering by incentivizing you to save for the future. Time to get blunt. Saving 4% isn’t enough. If you’re in your mid to late twenties, this is an acceptable savings rate to get in the habit of saving for retirement, in conjunction with paying down student loans, saving for a house, wedding or having children. When you’re 20 or fewer years away from retirement, however, that number simply needs to be more than the company match – probably closer to 15% - 20%. 

Thirty or forty years ago, saving 4% often times could in-fact create a successful retirement. So what’s changed? The extinction of the company pension plan.  Do you know that it would take a $615,000 retirement account to re-create a $40,000 income stream for 30 years, assuming a 5% distribution rate? In addition, most retirees who do receive a pension don’t just spend their pension income, they withdraw from their portfolio as well -- meaning far more than the $615,000 in my example would have to be accumulated prior to retirement to supplement spending for a 25+ year time horizon. 

So, if you’re not saving in the teens or twenties for retirement, how do you get there? I recommend implementing what I call the “one per year” strategy.  Meaning, you commit to increasing your 401k savings percentage by at least 1% each and every year until you get where you need to be in regards to your retirement saving goals. This is typically very doable for most; we just simply don’t make the change online or with our Human Resources department. As the New Year quickly approaches, now is the perfect time to evaluate your current savings level and check in with your planner to see if you need to be doing more. Many 401k plans now actually offer a great feature that automatically increases your contribution level each and every year, typically in January. Studies have shown that when things are automated, such as savings, they actually get done!  Ask your HR manager or 401k administrator if the plan allows for this and if so, seriously consider taking advantage of it.  

By increasing savings gradually, it will help make retirement savings far more manageable and realistic for many.

Think about it, if you’re trying to lose 100 pounds and you become fixated on that large number, chances are you’ll become overwhelmed and give up on your weight loss goal. Those who have the most success are the ones who focus on small victories. Losing a few pounds per month until that goal is met– the same goes for retirement savings.  

Keep it simple and be consistent – good things usually happen when we do just that!

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Nick is a member of The Center’s financial planning department and also works closely with Center clients. In addition, Nick is a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs.

The information contained in this blog does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. 401(k) plans are long term retirement savings vehicles. Withdrawal of pre-tax contributions and/or earnings will be subject to ordinary income tax and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty. Matching contributions from your employer may be subject to a vesting schedule. Please consult with your financial advisor for more information.