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Apr 27, 201504:51 PMFinancial Perspectives

with Michael Dubis, CFP

Back to basics: To hit retirement goals, start saving a large percentage of gross income

(page 1 of 2)

Financial independence is the primary savings and investing driver for most people, and with good reason. In order to be successful in retirement, most folks will require a higher-than-anticipated wealth position, appropriate insurance coverage, and adherence to a very controlled spending plan. Almost every new client I speak with is not adequately prepared for this reality. I spend a lot of time in the first year simply broadening the discussion and assumptions, and I hope to do a little bit of that here as well.

My general recommendation for folks in the accumulation stage of their life is this –– assuming you don’t invent something, inherit funds, are a beneficiary of a generous pension (such as the Wisconsin Retirement System), or win the lottery, you need to save at least 15% to 20% of your pretax salary beginning in your 20s in order to be able to retire at an early age (assuming around age 65). If you have delayed saving for retirement into your 30s, assume at least 25% to 35%. If you delayed savings for retirement into your 40s and 50s, well, the math is going to be very tough. You’ll likely need to continue working for a long time.

There are some key assumptions behind that broad statement. I assume you actually want to enjoy retirement and have a relatively comfortable spending plan. I also assume you will be healthy and live in retirement for 20 to 30 years. And I assume you have no other sources of income in retirement other than Social Security, of which a large percentage may likely be needed for health and long-term care needs.

Here’s some basic math and additional assumptions:

  • Let’s assume you’re currently married, age 35, and want to retire at age 65, and you have not started saving yet. We assume you will need funds for 20 to 30 years.
  • The median family income in the age range of 35 to 44 is just under $57,000.
  • Let’s also assume you want/need $4,000 per month to cover lifestyle needs after tax. This is about 85% of that median income. This is wildly general and fails to consider the multiple stages of retirement, but it’s a good proxy to illustrate a point, and consistent with the readings and cost-of-living research I follow regionally and nationally.
  • If your average tax bracket when you enter retirement will be 20% for both state and federal, in order to get your $4,000 per month in spending you will need income of $60,000. This is in today’s dollars.
  • Let’s assume inflation between now and retirement is 3%. Today it’s about 2%, but historically it’s been about 3%. Adding inflation to your retirement income target over 30 years means your income needs grow from $60,000 to $145,000 (rounded). Yes, inflation increases spending by over 240%! This missed assumption is a critical error I see in many people’s initial plans.
  • Let’s assume the average SS benefit, according to the SS Administration (June 2011), is $1,180 per person. So figure SS provides you, as a married couple, $28,320 per year in today’s dollars and $68,740 in 30 years. This is a big assumption because many question SS solvency and ability to pay claims 30 years out. We’ll keep this assumption in place, but if SS is not available in its current projected form, you should obviously assume you’ll need even more resources.
  • Subsequently, you need $145,000 minus $68,000 SS Benefits, or $77,000 in gross income in 30 years given the above assumptions.
  • Finally, let’s assume you follow a reasonable 30-year guideline for sustainable spending distributions off of your portfolio. For a 25 to 30 year timeline in retirement, industry standards suggest anywhere from 2.8% (Pfau, et al, low-yield analysis) to 4.4% (Bengen historical stress test) to 5% (Guyton Decision Rules) target. This is highly dependent on the current yield, investment operating costs, market valuation, and inflationary environment. There’s a tremendous amount of research and thinking behind these assumptions, which could be a series of articles. For sake of discussion, let’s assume a 4% distribution rate, which is an average of the three ranges.


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Apr 29, 2015 08:20 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

There's some excellent information here. In about 20 years I believe we will be heading into a retirement crisis, as people my age - the first people who really had 401(k)s available as a retirement vehicle, hit retirement age and discover they just don't have the funds. So many people I know say they "can't afford" to put money in their 401(k)s... they are really going to be hurting.

Apr 29, 2015 08:57 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

The analysis is good but the prognosis is bad. The basic assumptions are based on the median income of $57.000 which means half of the families don't earn that and the lower you go the closer you get to the level of barely being able to cover base costs of housing, food health care and transportation . End result is about half the families can not really save enough for retirement, and we will need some major economic changes either higher wages or lower costs on health care to avoid a general devaluation of assets like housing in the near future.

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It is an understatement to say the world has experienced a radical shift in capital markets. There are more layers of information and opinions on the direction of the world than we've seen in decades. The internet and the media do not always make it easier, but Michael Dubis' contribution through IB blogs will help you sift through the noise and give you some perspective. You can find his company online.

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