How Much Do I Need to Retire (and Travel Like Royalty)?

A white castle rises out of the forest, clouds in a blue sky

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.

More Detail

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.

Expenses

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 david@pathbridgefinancial.com. 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?

A chef uses tweezers to complete a fine dining meal

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.

Income

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.

The Answer

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.

retirement travel illustrated by a tablet and statements

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:

Find a CFP® Professional

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Find an Advisor

Summary

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.


Enjoy what you just read? If so, you can subscribe to my newsletter below. You’ll also receive a PDF that shows you exactly what a comprehensive retirement plan for travelers looks like. Thanks for reading!

 

 
 
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    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    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.

    Retirement Planning for Travelers – Beware the Bucket List

    Beware the Bucket List - People run with the bulls, photo from above

    Failing to Plan for Travel Spending Later in Life Can Sink Your Retirement Plans

    The rule-of-thumb for spending in retirement is your expenses will drop to 80% of what they were pre-retirement. This number may be adequate for some retirees, but for travelers – it’s unacceptable.

    The Botswanan safari you’ve always dreamed of is expensive. The RV you’re going to use to explore the country will set you back a fair amount too. Plane tickets to visit the Cup of Noodles Museum in Japan – not cheap, and a little odd, but no one is judging you here. That bucket-list of travel experiences and destinations you want to conquer can significantly affect your budget. And according to Merrill Lynch, 67% of retirees age 50 and older have not budgeted for travel in retirement.  

    bucket list travel - safari where a giraffe stretches upward to eat leaves from a lone tree in the savanna

    As a traveler, you should expect an increase in travel-related expenses for at least the first several years of retirement as you work through your bucket list. You’ve been dreaming about the moment for many years, you’re feeling healthy, and the jump in leisure-time all will contribute to a jump in travel spending.

    How do you prepare for this new chapter in life? Create a retirement budget that includes all of these new, travel-related expenses. The earlier, the better, so you can make the necessary adjustments in your spending and saving habits along the way.

    Expenses That Will Decline

    Let’s start with the good news first. You have expenses during your working life that will likely go away or drop substantially when you retire.

    Your daily commute can include gasoline, parking, wear and tear on your car, and the cost of public transportation. These will disappear except as they relate to leisure.

    Your wardrobe will likely change, as well. Goodbye work clothes, hello loungewear! Yes, this may be an oversimplification, but you should be able to retire enough clothing to the point of actually being able to find something in your walk-in closet.

    College tuition for children and mortgage payments are additional expenses that can go away. Taxes should decrease given the drop in work-related income. In addition, there’s no need to save for retirement anymore, because you’re living it!

    Expenses That Will Increase

    Yes, spending will increase in certain areas of your life during retirement. Some of these expenditures you will welcome with open arms, and some you will grudgingly pay wearing a look of disgust.

    Travel expenses can jump dramatically in the first few years of retirement. However, there can be a considerable difference depending on your travel style. Flying in first-class while hop-scotching around the Pacific, staying in 5-star

    5 Star Resort in the South Pacific on many people's bucket list

    resorts, and dining at 3-star Michelin restaurants is one end of the spectrum. Driving a few states away to attend a barbecue with your family who put you up for the weekend will be less expensive.

    The cost of health care in retirement is what every red-blooded American fears. But preparing for these expenses ahead of time can ease the sting.

    Budgeting

    If you don’t currently have a budget, I highly recommend you put one together. It’s retirement planning 101 and is key to projecting when you’ll be able to retire.

    Your budget is likely to change dramatically, however, at retirement, especially if you’re a traveler. I recommend you put together a second budget, which will begin once you retire.

    Many expenses in your life will not change at all. However, for those that will, do your best to estimate the change, especially for items that will significantly affect your budget.  

    One expense that can drastically move up or down is housing. Paying off a mortgage or downsizing can bring down the cost substantially.

    Is relocation a consideration? What does the cost of living look like in the new location? Do you want to buy a vacation home, but keep your original home? Adjust your budget for the potentially significant changes. 

    Budgeting for Travel

    If you love to travel, this part should be fun. Let your mind run wild and think of all the adventures you’d like to have in retirement. Create a travel bucket-list that contains all of the events you’d like to attend, destinations you’d like to visit, and experiences you’d like to…well, experience.

    Do your best to estimate your travel costs accurately.  How many trips will you take per year? How long will they be? Will spending be extravagant or constrained?

    Also, ask yourself how your travel might change. As people age, they tend to value service, comfort, and safety more, and they are willing to pay extra for it. Staying in nicer hotels and traveling with higher-end tour groups can be the result. For all but the most intrepid retirees, gone are the days of solo backpacking through Europe and sleeping 10 to a room in hostel bunk beds.

    Travel in Style - a hostel room filled with bunk beds

    However, there are also changes in retirement that can reduce the cost of travel. The time-freedom that comes with retirement allows travelers to vacation during the off-season, book last-minute deals, and travel in a more deliberate way, such as taking a bus or train instead of an expensive flight.

    If you’re like me, you weren’t in a very good mood the day your first invitation to join AARP arrived in the mail. However, a benefit of being over 50 is discount offers start piling up. By the time you turn 65, discounts on airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. are prevalent.

    Now that you’ve put some thought into retirement travel, include it in your budget. Be as accurate as you can, but don’t be afraid to err on the high side. It’s better to budget for a bucket-list trip and decide not to take it than the other way around.

    Here are some websites that will help you put together a budget and assist you with finding discounts:

    TripAdvisor – an excellent resource for trip planning and pricing flights, hotels, tours, and more.

    Kayak – another fantastic resource for pricing the major components of travel, includes one of the most flexible, user-friendly airfare search engines available.

    The Senior List – an extensive list of discounts on transportation, lodging, and dining for people 50+.

    Numbeo – if you’re trying to determine how expensive/inexpensive a city or country is, this website is includes the local cost of living index and the prices of everyday items.

    Winding Down

    A difficult part of budgeting far into the future is the many unknowns. One of the most important factors is health. I want to think I’ll still be the healthy, adventurous soul I am now when I’m 90. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case.

    Travel spending tends to decline with health. Ask yourself – how healthy and active are/were your parents later in life? How about your grandparents?

    Studies show, on average, travel spending starts to decline as travelers enter their 80’s, so this is a good time to start lowering the travel component of your budget. Just don’t do it too rapidly, as many older retirees are still actively traveling. If you want to be conservative, don’t drop it at all.

    Summary

    Don’t be part of the two-thirds of Americans who fail to budget for travel in retirement. Instead, take a pro-active approach to plan your future and start saving early. The 80% rule-of-thumb may leave you ill-prepared for the active retirement many travelers desire, so try and budget for the large expenses later in life as accurately as possible and be conservative when making estimates. A little planning should ensure you’ll end up crossing off your bucket list in style.  


    Enjoy what you just read? If so, you can subscribe to my newsletter below. You’ll also receive a PDF that shows you exactly what a comprehensive retirement plan for travelers looks like. Thanks for reading!

     

     
     
  • *Privacy policy: your email address is safe, and you will never receive SPAM.

    Financial Advisor David Tuzzolino

     

    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.