The “million dollar” question many of those preparing for retirement ask themselves is simply stated but not necessarily easy to answer — “how much money do I need to save to secure a comfortable retirement?” In some circles, this is referred to as “the number” — that magical figure that tells pre-retirees how prepared they may be.

A recent survey from Ameriprise Financial found that working Americans ages 50–70 with at least $100,000 in investable assets estimated that what’s needed to comfortably retire, on average, was $930,000.

But what does that number really mean? How important is it? What assumptions must you make to arrive at a number — and how many rapidly changing factors impact your number? Preparing for retirement is about much more than arriving at a number, but some calculation is necessary.

Calculate Your Retirement Expenses

When determining how much you’ll need to save, it’s helpful to think in terms of how much income you’ll need to withdraw to cover expenses. But projecting future spending is an inexact science. Some expenses might go away (mortgage, FICA taxes, retirement plan contributions), but you may also have more time and energy to spend money on things you need and want to do. However, medical expenses could greatly increase too.

Essential Expenses

These are the required costs associated with daily living — food, shelter, utilities, transportation, insurance (health, life, long-term care) and taxes — that most likely will persist in retirement.

Lifestyle Expenses

This is the “fun” part of retirement — interests that you want to pursue such as golfing, travel, owning a vacation property or starting a business. To make these lifestyle choices a reality, enough money needs to be in place to finance them. Though separating out lifestyle expenses from required expenses can help you prioritize, using funds from your nest egg too quickly can jeopardize your long-term financial security. Spending on lifestyle needs can be adjusted as needed throughout retirement, as these are considered discretionary expenses.

Your remaining available assets can be used to fund lifestyle expenses. You may choose to invest this money more actively with a strategy of drawing down assets over time using a sustainable withdrawal rate.

A true number may be elusive, but using this process, you may have a better sense of what your ultimate savings goal is. It may be useful to set multiple goals — or “numbers” — to reach enough to cover essential expenses and then lifestyle expenses. Beyond these goals, you might also consider the amount you’ll need to cover unexpected expenses in retirement and to leave a legacy.

Planning financially for retirement can be complex as you near retirement: taking appropriate steps to calculate income needs in an evolving economic and political environment can become more complicated. Consider working with a financial professional who can help you work toward your short- and long-term goals.


Michael W. K. Yee at (808) 952-1222 ext. 1240

Michael W K Yee, CFP®, CFS®, CRPC®, is a Financial Advisor and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner™ with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Honolulu, HI. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 25 years. To contact him,, 808.952.1222 ext 1240, 1585 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1100 Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96814.
Advisor is licensed/registered to do business with U.S. residents only in the states of Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
1 The Money Across Generations IISM study was commissioned by Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and conducted by telephone by GfK in December 2011 among 1,006 affluent baby boomers (those with $100,000 or more in investable assets); 300 parents of baby boomers; and 300 children of baby boomers at least 18 years old. The margin of error is +/- three percentage points for the affluent boomers segment and +/- six percentage points for the parents and children of boomers segments.
2 United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Family and Medical Leave Act
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