This Formula Will Tell You How Much You Need to Retire

Jared Dillian  |

Image: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

How much money do you need to retire? If you ask Google, you might get a wide range of numbers, mostly between $1 million and $2 million.

Of course, most people retire with less than that. They make it work.

Here’s my advice: stop thinking about retirement in terms of absolute numbers. It is all relative.

One of my longtime readers, Neile Wolfe, of Wells Fargo Advisors in Austin, TX has an elegant solution to the problem.

Neile is a fellow divergent thinker and is, hands down, the most thoughtful advisor I have ever met. Look him up.

Here Is the Idea

  1. Take the market value of your house, and multiply by 0.3. That is the income you need in retirement.
  1. Take that number, and divide by 0.04. That is the value of the assets you need to retire with.

Let’s do an example.

Let’s say you are fairly well off, and you live in a house whose market value is $1.4 million. Not what you paid for it—the current market value.

(You can look it up on Zillow if you don’t know, but my guess is you have a good idea what your house is worth.)

So take $1.4 million, and multiply by 0.3, which gives you $420,000. That is the income you are going to need in retirement.

You probably think that number is high, and that you can get by on less than $420,000. Let me tell you why you can’t.

First of all, $1.4 million houses are expensive to maintain. It will cost you, on average, 1–2% every year. 0% some years, and 5–6% other years. But that is the least of your problems.

If you live in a $1.4 million house, you live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Those houses have pretty nice cars in front of them, and so will yours.

Maybe you think you will have an old rustbucket sitting in front of your $1.4 million house. Then you will be that guy.

If you are living in a $1.4 million house, you are not buying your clothes at Old Navy.

You are not getting your furniture from Bob’s Discount Furniture.

You are not getting your jewelry from Kay.

You are not getting your groceries from Wal-Mart—you are going to Whole Paycheck.

All of this stuff adds up. Your lifestyle, and all the money you spend, comes from the house that you live in, and the zip code that it sits in.

If you really want to spend less money, get a smaller house!

The house is everything. This is why people downsize when they retire. It isn’t really about needing less space. It’s about taking down your spending.

Wait—it gets even better.

The 4% Rule

You have probably heard of the 4% rule. It says you can safely withdraw 4% from your retirement savings annually during retirement.

So if you have $1 million, you can take out $40,000 a year. Simple enough.

Let’s go back to the example above. You live in a $1.4 million house and you need $420,000 to live on in retirement. How much savings do you need?

$420,000 divided by 0.04 = $10,500,000.

You would need over $10 million in savings. That’s a lot!

You wouldn’t need $10 million in savings if you had a cheaper house. If you downsized into a $300,000 house, you would need $90,000 in income, and $2,250,000 in savings, which sounds about right.

The house drives everything. The house drives everything. The house drives everything.

Do the math with your own house. Or if you don’t own a house, use the market value of whatever property you’re renting.

My friend Neile also points out that assets like planes, boats, and second homes all require their own stream of income. And so they should be included in the calculations.

If the numbers don’t line up, you’re probably going to have to make some adjustments.

Retirement Is Relative

Imagine saving for retirement and thinking you have enough… and then you don’t have enough.

It’s good to think of retirement savings as a moving target rather than a fixed amount. Then you’re in control of it!

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