6 ways to measure if your retirement plan is on track

SHARE 6 ways to measure if your retirement plan is on track

How can you veer and steer toward successful retirement? It’s simple.

1. Total up your assets

You can’t project what you’ll need without knowing what you have. Most folks can’t rattle off what they have stashed, or where. Many have multiple accounts—particularly if married.  IRAs, 401(k)s left with former employers, savings accounts, maybe mutual funds in scattered brokerage accounts. Round everything up.  Add them together. Compute your total, separating out sub-totals for stocks, mutual funds, bonds, cash (including CDs and money market funds), annuities and other securities. Own your home? Set it aside — it isn’t liquid.

2. Determine what you’ll need annually

Don’t use rules of thumb like, “Plan on needing 70% to 80% of your current income.” That silly myth comes from presuming retired folk slow down and spend less. Few do. Some travel, adopt hobbies and finance grandchildren. But almost all spend unexpected sums on medical comforts not covered by health insurance.

List all your current expenses, separating them into “basic” and “discretionary” buckets. Food, shelter and utilities are basic. Hobbies and entertainment aren’t. Start bucket three: new expenses you’ll likely incur during retirement, like trips to see the grandkids and those health-comfort costs. Then use an online inflation calculator to total what it all costs when you plan to retire. (This one is good). If you totaled $75,000 “2018” dollars and want to retire in 20 years, you’ll likely need over $135,000 annually, minus Social Security and any employer pension plans you have.

3. Project

How much savings will you need? To minimize the risk of running out of money, annual withdrawals shouldn’t top 4 – 5% of your portfolio’s value upon retirement (the dollar amount can rise with inflation afterward). If you’ll need $100,000 annually from your assets, grab your calculator and divide $100,000 by .04 (4%). That totals a whopping $2.5 million. Few folks have anywhere near that. But that’s O.K.! Saving more and investing reasonably works wonders over time. So…..

4. Figure out your needed savings rate

If you need $2.5 million and only have $100,000 saved, saving $30,000 a year invested in historical stock market returns for 20 years puts you near goal. How do I know? A marvelous tool called an investment calculator. I used Bankrate’s. Enter your starting value, years to retirement, estimated investment returns and estimated annual savings.

Saving $30,000 isn’t easy. But it’s more doable than you think. If you max out your 401(k) and IRA contributions first, you’re nearly there — at $24,000 ($18,500 for 401(k) and $5,500 for IRA). An employer match may fully fill your shortfall. (If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), nag them into getting one or seek employment elsewhere.) Otherwise, grab your basic vs. discretionary expense list, above, and find something to trim.

5. Play with it all

Entering different investment returns in your calculator helps to show if you have the best mix of stocks, bonds, etc. Usually folks find they need more stocks long term than they ever suspected.  That’s O.K. Stocks are less risky than bonds over the long haul. To be ultra-safe, you might lower your expectations for stocks from historical averages. That forces you to lower your future expenses, own more stocks or work longer. Maybe all three. Feel discouraged?  Then …

6. Live longer, compound longer

As I documented two weeks ago, you’ll likely live longer than you think. Compound growth is miraculous. Even delaying retirement from 65 to 70, as more and more Baby Boomers are, makes a huge difference. Our $30,000 annual savings example and 10% investment returns for 25 years instead of 20, has the retirement portfolio leap to over $4 million. That’s $1.5 million more in five final years! So, keep your chin up, save and redo these six steps every few years until you feel better.  You will.

Ken Fisher is the founder and executive chairman of Fisher Investments, author of 11 books, four of which were “New York Times” bestsellers, and is No. 200 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Follow him on Twitter @KennethLFisher

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