A Simple Retirement Calculator
One of the most common questions in planning for retirement is: “How Much Do I Need to Retire?” And since I specialize in working with travelers, travel always comes up. The question may be, how do I travel like royalty, a rock star, or just, well?
The answer is incredibly simple: “It depends.”
You can start with a quick-and-dirty analysis that won’t take you more than fifteen minutes. NerdWallet.com has a solid, basic retirement calculator here, but the following concepts will work with any calculator you use.
The initial inputs are straightforward: age, income, current savings, and the amount you save every month. The retirement calculator then illustrates how much you will have at retirement compared to how much you will need to retire. Simple, and not a bad start, but there are ways to refine your results further.
On the NerdWallet calculator, click “Optional.” Additional inputs appear.
The first input, “Monthly retirement spending,” is automatically set to use 70% of your pre-retirement income. A common rule-of-thumb is you’ll spend approximately 70-80% of your pre-retirement income once you retire. However, I have found this number can be low, especially when working with clients who expect to travel extensively. Consider bumping this number up to 90-100% if you’re doing a quick calculation. If you’d like to refine this number, put together a detailed budget for retirement, keeping in mind the significant changes that can occur when you tackle your bucket list and medical expenses grow.
The next input is “Other expected income.” This includes Social Security, pensions, annuities, and other income sources you may have in retirement.
The default age of retirement is set to 67. Change this to your desired retirement age. Also, have some fun with it. Increase your age, lower it, and see how it affects the numbers. Your final number should be conservative, perhaps a few years before you’d like to retire. This will build in some extra cushion to your projections. Many people retire earlier than they expected due to layoffs, early retirement packages, or health issues.
Life expectancy is automatically set to 95, a reasonable number. However, maybe you have a family where everyone sails past 100 in excellent health. You can always make adjustments, and the bigger the number, the more conservative your estimates will be.
The “Investment rate of return” default is 6% pre-retirement and 5% after retirement. These rates of return assume your portfolio will become more conservative post-retirement. These are reasonable estimates, but you can adjust the pre-retirement return, either up or down, to see how your results change. Just be realistic and don’t stray too far to the upside.
How does it look? Are you on track? If you are, fantastic!
You’re not quite done, however. Play with the numbers and create some worst-case scenarios. What happens if you have to spend dramatically more than you anticipated? How do you look if your investment returns are lower than expected? If you are still on track to retire, try nudging down your retirement age. You may not want to retire early, but it’s nice to know the option exists.
The quick-and-dirty option above is acceptable for some. However, if your life is a little more complicated or you want to get more granular, consider the information below.
Let’s refine the “Monthly retirement spending” part of this model.
Put together a detailed list of your expenditures. There are hundreds of budget spreadsheets online. Find one that does a good job of breaking out spending into categories that will help you organize your expenses. If you’d like the spreadsheet that I use with my clients, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Double-check your spreadsheet with bank statements. Does the spreadsheet expense total equal what is coming out of your bank accounts? If not, figure out why and adjust.
Next, focus on retirement. Make a copy of your spreadsheet and start reducing or eliminating expenses that might change once you’re retired. What commuting expenses will go away? Will you continue to need a second car? Will your mortgage be paid off? Do you have life insurance policies that you will no longer need?
Unfortunately, not all expenses will decrease. Health care costs will grow as you age. Projections vary greatly, but a 65-year-old couple should expect to spend approximately $11,000 a year on health care in retirement. Fidelity Investments has a health care cost calculator that will take you about three minutes to fill out.
Now, the good stuff. In retirement, travel and leisure often increases in frequency and duration. Dream vacations to exotic locations, the purchase of an RV or boat, a summer in Tuscany, the lake-cabin you’ve always dreamed about – let your mind wander. How much would you like to spend on travel? Go into as much detail as possible.
How you like to travel will affect your travel budget. Do you prefer 5-star luxury resorts on the other side of the world and dining at Michelin-star restaurants?
Or do you find most of your vacations are within driving distance of your home where you stay with friends, and you pride yourself on scouring farmers’ markets to prepare home-cooked meals? Odds are you’re somewhere in the middle, but dive into your travel deeply and try to put together a realistic travel budget.
It’s easy to get caught up in dreaming about once-in-a-lifetime trips, but there’s something that most people find even more important – family. You’re likely to have much more leisure time in retirement, which usually results in more family time. How many trips are you going to take to visit your loved ones? Grandchildren especially can be an irresistible draw. Don’t forget to add these trips to your retirement travel budget.
Don’t hold back when estimating expenses. We’re talking about traveling like royalty here! Err on the high side, and don’t be afraid to include some extravagant extras. It’s better to reach, and save some extra money, then underestimate and not have enough. You can always reduce some expenses or eliminate some of those extras when the time comes. A key concept when planning for travel in retirement – be flexible.
If you’re going to adjust the “Other expected income” amount in the calculator, keep in mind that this will increase income every year between retirement and death – a limitation of this model.
In reality, there are ways to increase income for a portion of retirement, including part-time employment or renting out a home, but these are unlikely to last your entire lifetime. There are also one-time income sources that might make a huge difference, such as selling a house or an inheritance. If you are running into too many one-offs, consider consulting a financial advisor who has software that can accommodate any non-standard inputs. I discuss this later in the article.
By now, you should have a reasonable answer to your question: “How Much Do I Need to Retire (and Travel Like Royalty)?”
You should have a good idea of how much you need and how your current situation looks in comparison. Are you coming up short? The best way to address this is to save more if you can. Even a few hundred dollars each month can be meaningful if you adjust course early.
If saving more is impossible, nudge your retirement age higher. Working an extra year or two might be the solution to your shortfall. Spending less in retirement will stretch your nest egg as well. Remember, being flexible is key.
However, don’t be tempted to increase the investment rate of return just to meet your retirement goals. It’s conservative for a reason, and you should keep it that way. A balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds isn’t going to return 15% a year over the long-run, just because the calculator allows the input.
If you’re unsure of what rate of return to use, Vanguard has a website that illustrates the average investment return for stock/bond portfolios over 90+ years. There are no guarantees that the future will deliver the same results, but it’s an excellent place to start. Remember, it makes sense to be conservative.
You May Need a Financial Advisor
There are many reasons you may decide to contact a financial advisor. The most important reason – your question: “How Much Do I Need to Retire (and Travel Like Royalty)?” was not answered adequately using online resources. Also, consider the following:
- Would you prefer more detail in your retirement projections?
- Does your situation involve a level of complexity that an online calculator cannot handle?
- Would you feel more comfortable talking through your important retirement decisions?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to talk with a financial advisor. Where do you start? I recommend reading this article from the CFP Board: “Ten Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor.” Or, if you’d prefer a little humor with your advisor search, please take a look at my article: “How to Spot a Terrible Financial Advisor You Can’t Trust.”
Now that you’re armed with what to look for in a financial advisor, I recommend the following directories:
The answer to the question, “How Much Do I Need to Retire (and Travel Like Royalty)?” is – it depends. It depends on your wants, needs, and resources. Whether you tackle this question with an online calculator or with a financial advisor, make sure you’re comfortable with the results and have a clear understanding of what it will take to achieve success.
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David Tuzzolino, CFA, CFP®, is the Founder and CEO of PathBridge Financial, a firm that specializes in providing comprehensive financial planning and investment management services for clients that are nearing retirement and love to travel.