What Percentage Should You Save

What Percentage Should You Save?

One of the key questions facing investors is “What percentage should you save of your income?” People like a quick rule of thumb, and so you will often hear “10%” as an answer. This is an easy round number, a mental shortcut, and feasible for most people. Unfortunately, it is also a sloppy, lazy, and inaccurate answer. 10% is better than nothing, but does 10% guarantee you will have a comfortable retirement?

I created a spreadsheet to show you two things. Firstly, how much you would accumulate over your working years. This is based on the years of saving, rate of return, and inflation (or how much your salary grows). Secondly, how much this portfolio could provide in retirement income and how much of your pre-retirement salary it would replace.

The fact is that there can be no one answer to the question of what percentage you should save. For example, are you starting at 25 or 45? In other words, are you saving for 40 years or 20 years? Are you earning 7% or 1%? When you change any of these inputs you will get a wildly different result.

10% from age 25

Let’s start with a base case of someone who gets a job at age 25. He or she contributes 10% of their salary to their 401(k) every year until retirement. They work for 40 years, until age 65, and then retire. Along the way, their income increases by 2.5% a year. Their 401(k) grows at 7%. All of these are assumptions, not guaranteed returns, but are possible, at least historically.

In Year 1, let’s say their salary is $50,000. At 10%, they save $5,000 into their 401(k) and have a $5,000 portfolio at the end of the year. In Year 2, we would then assume their salary has grown to $51,250. Their 401(k) grows and they contribute 10% of their new salary. Their 401(k) has $10,475 at the end of Year 2.

We continue this year by year through Year 40. At this point, their salary is $130,978, and they are still contributing 10%. At the end of the year, their 401(k) would be $1,365,488. That’s what you’d have if you save 10% of your 40 years of earnings and grow at 7% a year. Not bad! Certainly most people would feel great to have $1.3 million as their nest egg at age 65.

How much can you withdraw once you retire? 4% remains a safe answer, because you need to increase your withdrawals for inflation once you are in retirement. 4% of $1,365,488 is $54,619. How much of your salary will this replace? The answer is 41.7%. We can change the amount of your starting salary, but the answer will remain the same. With these factors (10% contributions, 2.5% wage growth, 7% rate of return, and 40 years), your portfolio would replace 41.7% of your final salary. That’s it! That could be a big cut in your lifestyle.

What percentage should you replace?

41.7% sounds like a really low number, but you don’t necessarily have to replace 100% of your pre-retirement income. To get a more accurate number of what you need, we would subtract the following savings:

  • You weren’t spending the 10% you saved each year to your 401(k)
  • 7.65% saved on FICA taxes versus wage income
  • Some percentage saved on income taxes, depending on your pre- and post-retirement income.
  • Your Social Security Benefit and/or Pension Income
  • Have you paid off your mortgage, or have other expenses that will be eliminated in retirement?

Many people will only need 75% to 80% of their final salary in retirement income to maintain the same standard of living. If their Social Security benefit covers another 20%, then they would only need a replacement rate of 55% to 60% from their 401(k).

Time Value of Money

The biggest factor in compounding is time. In our original example of 40 years of accumulation, the final portfolio amount was $1,365,488. However, what if you only save for 30 years? Maybe you didn’t start investing until 35. Perhaps you want to retire at age 55 and not 65? Either way, at the 30 year mark, the portfolio would have grown to $666,122. By saving for another 10 years, your accumulation will more than double to $1.365 million.

Here’s a chart that is perhaps a more useful answer to the question of what percentage you should save. It depends on how many years you will save and what percentage of your income you want to replace.

Income Replacement50%60%70%
in 40 Years12.0%14.4%16.8%
in 35 Years15.7%18.8%22.0%
in 30 Years20.9%25.1%29.2%
in 25 Years28.5%34.2%39.9%
in 20 Years40.3%48.4%56.4%

How do you read this? If you want to replace 50% of your income in 40 years from now, starting at zero dollars, you need to save 12% of your income. Actually, this is pretty close to the 10% rule of thumb. But no one says “If you are starting at age 25 and are planning to save for the next 40 years, 10% is a good rule of thumb”. What if you are starting later? Or, what if you want to have your portfolio replace more than 50% of your income.

As you reduce the accumulation period, you need a higher contribution rate. For example, at the 50% replacement level, your required contribution increases from 12% to 15.7% to 20.9% as you go from 40 to 35 to 30 Years. And if you are planning to retire in 20 years and have not started, you would need to save 40.3%.

Similarly, if you want your portfolio to replace more than 50% of your income, the percent to contribute increases as you stretch to 60% or 70%. These figures are quite daunting, and admittedly unrealistic. But one thing that may help slightly will be a company match. If you contribute 10% and your company matches 4% of your salary, you are actually at 14%. Don’t forget to include that amount!

What can you do?

We’ve made some conservative assumptions and perhaps things will go even better than we calculated. For example, if you achieve an 8% return instead of 7%, these contribution requirements would be lower. Or if the inflation rate is lower than 2.5%. Or if you can withdraw more than 4% in retirement. All of those “levers” would move the contribution rate lower. Of course, this cuts both ways. The required contribution rate could be higher (even worse), if your return is less than 7%, inflation higher than 2.5%, or safe withdrawal rate less than 4%.

If you want to consider these factors in more detail, please read the following articles:

If you’d like to play around with the spreadsheet, drop me an email (scott@goodlifewealth.com) and I’ll send it to you, no charge. Then you can enter your own income and other inputs and see how it might work for you. While our example is based on someone who is starting from zero, hopefully, you are not! You can also change the portfolio starting value to today’s figures on the spreadsheet.

The key is this: Begin with the End in Mind. The question of What percentage should you save depends on how long you will accumulate and what percent of income you want to replace in retirement. Saving 10% is not a goal – it’s an input rather than an outcome. Having $1.3 million in 40 years or $2.4 million in 35 years is a tangible goal. Then we can calculate how much to save and what rate of return is necessary to achieve that goal. That’s the start of a real plan.

You don’t have to try to figure this out on your own. I can help. Here’s my calendar. You are invited to schedule a free 30 minute call to discuss your situation in more detail. After that, you can determine if you’d like to work with me as your financial advisor. Sometimes, it isn’t the right fit or the right time, and that’s fine too. I am still happy to chat, answer your questions, and share whatever value or information I can. But don’t use a Rule of Thumb, get an answer that is right for your personal situation.

How to Save More Money

How to Save More Money

Growing your net worth is the product of saving and investing. Sometimes, we assume this means we have to slash our spending to be able to save more. Sure, you want to have awareness and planning regarding your spending. But it’s not much fun to give up coffee or never take a vacation. There has to be a balance between sensible spending and your saving goals.

Luckily, there is another way to increase your savings rate: earn more. Especially for younger investors, as your income grows you will find that you can easily save more. This may take a number of years. But, as your career takes off, your income may increase at a double digit rate during your twenties and thirties.

So, don’t despair if you cannot save as much as you would like today! Focus on growing your career and increasing your income. Saving will get easier.

Hold Your Spending Steady

As you get promotions and raises, avoid the temptation to keep up with the Joneses. You will see friends and classmates who are buying fancy cars and huge houses. Good for them! But what you might not see is how much debt they have, how little they save, or their net worth. You won’t know how stressed they are about their finances. They may be two paychecks away from being broke.

Hopefully, your current lifestyle is enjoyable and you find happiness in your relationships and the things you do. Getting more expensive things is not likely to create lasting satisfaction. The temporary, but fleeting, pleasure from consumption is known as The Hedonic Treadmill. If your priority is becoming financially independent, using a raise or bonus to save more is a better choice than spending it.

Put Your Savings On Autopilot

As your income grows, save your raises. Establish recurring deposits to your retirement plans and other accounts, and increase them annually. If take this step when you receive a raise, you will not miss the extra money. Skip increasing your monthly savings, and you probably aren’t going to have extra money leftover at the end of the year. If it’s in your checking account, you will spend it!

For couples, a joint income is a tremendous opportunity. If you can live off of one salary and save the second salary, you will grow your wealth at an amazing rate. In some cases, this could literally be saving one of your paychecks. Or, it may make more sense to participate in both of your 401(k) plans, and save the equivalent of one salary.

Multiple Sources of Income

Given the economic fallout from Coronavirus, many people aren’t getting a raise this year. A lot of us are seeing that our 2020 income will be lower than 2019. Hopefully, this will be temporary, but there are lessons to be learned. It is a risk to have all your eggs in one basket with one job. If you lose that job, you’re really in trouble.

As an entrepreneur, I have always had multiple sources of income. My financial planning business is diversified across a number of clients. I also sell insurance. I make music in a couple of orchestras and teach a few lessons on the side. Some of it is small, but having multiple sources of income gives me flexibility and safety.

Have you considered finding a side hustle, second income, part-time business, or online gig? Find something you enjoy and make it into a business. Find something people need and provide that service. You never know where that part-time work might take you. Maybe someday it will allow you to retire early or be your own boss! In the mean time, use your additional income to save more and build up your investment portfolio. Don’t give up your time just for the sake of buying more things.

How and Where to Save More

How much should you save? If you are saving 15% of your income, you’re doing way better than most people in America. Start at a young age, and a 15% savings rate will likely put you in a very comfortable position by retirement age. For those who are more ambitious, or just impatient like me, aim to save more than 15%. You could be putting $19,500 into your 401(k) each year ($26,000 if over age 50).

And you might be eligible for an IRA, too, depending on your income. Or, consider a taxable account, Health Savings Account (HSA), or 529 College Savings Plan. There are lots of places you could be saving! Put your savings on autopilot with recurring deposits to your retirement plans and other accounts. If take this step when you receive a raise, you will not miss the extra money, but you will be growing your wealth faster.

Do you need a reason to save more? The sooner you save, the faster you can achieve financial freedom. Even if you enjoy your work, it’s great to have the means to not have to worry about your job.

You can save more by spending less. That’s true, but you can only eliminate an expense once. Most people will have some tolerance for cutting costs, but austerity is no fun. Focus on increasing your income, hold your expenses steady, and increase your monthly savings. Put your energy into building your career, and aim for a high income. Couples have a great ability to save, if they can aim to live off one income. Look for creating a second or third income stream. A lot of the wealthy people I know have an entrepreneurial mindset. They have multiple income streams.

As your earnings grow, you will be able to save more and invest more. Most of my newsletters deal with investing, tax, or planning questions. But those benefits only accrue after you’ve done the first step of saving that money. It’s not how much you make that matters, but how much you keep!

How Much Should You Contribute to Your 401(k)?

Answer: $18,000. If you are over age 50, $24,000.

Those are the maximum allowable contributions and it should be everyone’s goal to contribute the maximum, whenever possible. The more you save, the sooner you will reach your goals. The earlier you do this saving, the more likely you will reach or exceed your goals.

At a 4% withdrawal rate in retirement, a $1 million 401(k) account would provide only $40,000 a year or $3,333 a month in income. And since that income is taxable, you will probably need to withhold 10%, 15%, or maybe even 25% of that amount for income taxes. At 15% taxes, you’d be left with $2,833 a month in net income. That amount doesn’t strike me as especially extravagant, and that’s why we should all be trying to figure out how to get $1 million or more into our 401(k) before we do retire.

I’ve found that most people fall into four camps:
1) They don’t participate in the 401(k) at all.
2) They put in just enough to get the company match, maybe 4% or 5% of their income.
3) They contribute 10% because they heard it was a good rule of thumb to save 10%.
4) They put in the maximum every year.

How does that work over the duration of a career? If you could invest $18,000 a year for 30 years, and earn 8%, you’d end with $2,039,000 in your account. Drop that to $8,000 a year, and you’d only have $906,000 after 30 years. That seems pretty good, but what if you are getting a late start – or end up retiring early – and only put in 20 years of contributions to the 401(k)? At $8,000 a year in contributions, you’d only accumulate $366,000 after 20 years. Contribute the maximum of $18,000 and you’d finish with $823,000 at an 8% return.

I have yet to meet anyone who felt that they had accumulated too much money in their 401(k), but I certainly know many who wish they had more, had started earlier, or had made bigger contributions. Some people will ignore their 401(k) or just do the bare minimum. If their employer doesn’t match, many won’t participate at all.

Accumulators recognize the benefits of maximizing their contributions and find a way to make it happen.

  • Become financially independent sooner.
  • Bigger tax deduction today, pay less tax.
  • Have their investments growing tax deferred.
  • Enjoy a better lifestyle when they do retire. Or retire early!
  • Live within their means today.
  • 401(k)’s have higher contribution limits than IRAs and no income limits or restrictions.

Saving is the road to wealth. The investing part ends up being pretty straightforward once you have made the commitment to saving enough money. Make your goal to contribute as much as you can to your 401(k). Your future self will thank you for it!

Do You Hate Saving Money?

Take your medicine. Make some sacrifices. Prepare for a rainy day. Tighten your belt.

Does this describe how you feel about saving and investing? Is it some sort of cruel punishment? Do you begrudgingly invest just enough dollars to get the company match and say that you “have a 401k”? You’re not alone. A lot of Americans feel the same. We are a nation of spenders, not savers.

The US household savings rate was 5.057% for 2015, according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation. Compare this to other developed countries: 8.563% in Australia, 9.668% for Germany, or 20.130% for Switzerland. The savings rate is estimated to be over 25% in China.

While the “average” household savings rate is 5.057% in the US, that average consists of a small number of people who save a significant amount of their income, and the majority of Americans who are living from paycheck to paycheck and save exactly zero. According to one study, 62% of Americans don’t have the ability to cover an unexpected $500 bill today.

I wish I could change people’s attitudes about savings. For some, saving money means buying an $80 sweater when it’s on sale for $40. But that is still spending money, not saving! Saving is setting money aside and having it grow. When you view saving as a negative – a chore that keeps you from having fun – your attitude may be the biggest roadblock to your own prosperity.

Saving and investing is the path to financial independence. Even if you don’t want to retire, we should still aim for financial independence, so you can work because you want to and not because you have to. Saving isn’t just for retirement planning, it’s developing a plan for financial security to free you from worry.

How can we make saving easier? What steps make you more likely to succeed?

1) Put your saving on autopilot through automatic monthly contributions. Whether it is establishing an emergency fund, contributing to a 401(k) or IRA, or creating a 529 college savings plan, making it automatic is the way to go.

2) Set goals. If you don’t have a finish line – a target amount for your nest egg – it’s hard to feel any sense of urgency to saving. When I was 30, I knew where I wanted to be at 50, which also meant I could determine where I needed to be at 35, 40, and 45. Those specific goals have helped me stay on track through the years. Without long-term goals, short-term actions often lack direction and a clear purpose.

3) Think big, not small. How many times have you read that you can fund your IRA by giving up your daily coffee fix. Forget that! If you get the big decisions right, the small stuff takes care of itself. Instead, be very smart, calculating, and objective on just two things: housing and cars. Those are the biggest expenses for almost everyone, and we have tremendous discretion in choosing how much we spend on these two categories.

If you want to jump start your saving, take a close look at all your recurring monthly costs: insurance, utilities, cell phone, cable TV, and memberships. Comparison shop, look for savings, and drop items you don’t use or won’t miss.

4) Focus on maximum saving. There is an oft-repeated rule of thumb that you should save 10% of your income. I am guilty of saying this one, too, especially as a “realistic” goal for new savers. However, there is nothing magical about the number 10%, and there is no guarantee that if you start saving 10% today that you will have enough money to accomplish all your financial goals. Instead, try to contribute the maximum to your 401(k): $18,000 or $24,000 if over age 50. And if you are also eligible for an IRA, fund a Traditional, Roth, or Backdoor Roth IRA. If you have self-employment or 1099 income, you may also be eligible for a SEP-IRA.

If it helps you to increase your saving, then let’s calculate each need separately and contribute to:
– Employer retirement accounts
– IRAs
– Health Savings Accounts
– 529 College Savings Plans
– Term life insurance policy
– Taxable brokerage account
– Savings for a first or second home down payment

Regardless of whether the market is up or down in 2016, I will have done my part by funding my accounts and accumulating more shares of my funds and ETFs. Over time, the returns will average out, but I accept that I have absolutely zero control over what the market does this year. What I do have control over is how much I save, and that’s more important.

I know a lot of millionaires who were great savers and invested in generic, plain mutual funds. But I have yet to meet anyone who has turned $5,000 into a million through their brilliant investing. Investing decisions matter, but you are likely to reach your goals faster if you can figure out how to save 50% more rather than spending your time trying to increase your returns by 50%, because it is not possible over any meaningful measure of time.

I feel great about saving and you should, too. It is empowering to see planning pay off when you have been diligent and consistent about saving. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear right now, and even as the market makes new highs, investors are very wary. If you want to become wealthy, divorce your feelings about today’s market from your feelings about saving. If you’re serious about getting to your goals sooner than planned, save more today!

How America Saves

Defined Contribution (DC) Plans are the backbone of retirement planning in America. Vanguard manages DC plans for 4 million Americans, with over $800 Billion in assets. So, I am always interested to read their annual report, How America Saves, which offers a window into the state of retirement preparation in America.

Link: How America Saves, 2016 Report

Looking through this year’s report, I see both reasons for optimism as well as concern. On the positive side, 78% of eligible employees participated in their company plan. And the average account balance was $96,288. It’s great that a majority of employees are participating.

However, it is surprising to discover the difference between the average and the median. (As a quick refresher, the median is the data point that is exactly in the middle – with half being higher and half being lower than this point.) The difference between the average and the median scores in Vanguard’s report belies a growing chasm between participants who save the minimum and those who save as much as they can.

While the “average” account balance was $96,288 in Vanguard Retirement Plans, the median participant had only $26,405. That means that half of all accounts have under $26,405, and that the average is skewed higher by very large accounts of $300,000, $400,000 and more.

The problem is that many participants are simply not contributing enough. The average deferral rate is 6.8%, but the median again is lower: 5.9%. Disappointingly, the average deferral rate is down from 7.3% in 2007, which means that most people are saving even less than they were 10 years ago.

People really do need to save 10% or more for their retirement. Instead, many invest only 3% or whatever is the default minimum. That’s because many participants only contribute up to the company match. In fact, when I ran a plan for a small company with a dozen employees, all but two only contributed up to the match. When you contribute the minimum over the course of a career, you are not thinking in term of the outcome. Will I have saved enough to fund a comfortable retirement? Am I on the path to financial independence?

However, there are good savers out there. 20% of the participants in a Vanguard plan are saving more than 10% of their salary into their retirement plan. These are the accounts which are bringing up the median of $26,405 to the average of $96,288. And this is what you want to do -you want to be a savings overachiever!

Over time, compounding makes a huge gap between people who contribute the minimum versus those who save more. To examine this, let’s consider two employees: Minimum Mike and Saver Sally. They both have the same salary of $45,000 and earn 3% raises over the next 35 years. Mike contributes 3% to his 401(k) and gets the company match of 3%. Sally contributes 10% and also receives the 3% match. Both earn a return of 7% compounded annually.

Here are their account balances after 35 years:
Minimum Mike: $567,615
Saver Sally: $1,230,417

Saving 10% really does make a big difference over the length of a career. Although the news media would like for you to believe that your financial future hangs by a thread on the outcome of the Brexit, or the Presidential Election, or whatever new crisis is on that day, the reality is that the biggest determinant of your long-term wealth is likely to be the percentage you contribute.

Being average is still a lot better than being median. If you want to be above average, start by increasing your deferral rate.

There is still time to increase your 401(k) or 403(b) contribution for 2016. The maximum contribution is $18,000 for 2016, with an additional catch-up of $6,000 if you are over age 50.

Don’t Budget; Focus on Saving

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I used to feel a bit sheepish when clients asked about my personal household budget, because I don’t have one and never have. I always worried that I was being lazy and a poor role model for my clients. I’d see articles, books, or CFP materials touting the benefits of having a budget to be able to track your spending. Some said that without a budget, you would not be able to plan how to achieve your financial goals.

Eventually, I came to recognize that you don’t need to have a budget to accomplish financial goals and that creating a budget would be a waste of time. It’s true, I don’t know how much I spend on dog food, and I don’t have a set amount that I plan to spend on clothing, eating out at restaurants, or for car maintenance. Over the years, I’ve found that many successful investors skip making a budget and that it is not the prerequisite that many people would have you believe.

If you follow these three steps, you won’t need a budget, either:

  1. Put your saving on autopilot. Figure out how much you need to save to accomplish your goals. Set up your contributions to your 401(k), IRAs, and other accounts. If you are saving your target amount (or more), don’t worry about spending the rest of your income. I think of this as reverse budgeting. Save first, and then whatever is leftover is yours to spend.
  2. Don’t ever deplet