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Two More Years for a Better Retirement

I've written before about how too many of us have not saved enough for retirement so far. When I do so, I often cite some info from my favorite retirement resource, our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. In it, Robert Brokamp has explained that to make your nest egg last, you should conservatively plan to withdraw about 4% of it per year in retirement for living expenses. If you end up with a $1 million nest egg upon retirement, you'd withdraw $40,000 in the first year to live on.

That might sound not so bad, but many of us can't count on that $1 million yet. If you've got only $150,000 socked away, and you're eight years from retirement, you'll have to earn an annual average of 27% on your money to hit a million in time. That's nowhere near a reasonable amount to expect. Even the market's historical average annual gain of around 10% is far from a sure thing. Over the coming eight years, you might well average 12% -- or 7%. Yikes.

A modest proposal
Are you stuck, then? Not necessarily -- there are always things you can do to improve your position. For starters, note that my example above begins with a static $150,000 and adds nothing. Over your coming eight years, you can always keep adding to your nest egg.

Better still, consider this suggestion: Work a little longer. Not a decade longer (unless you really love your work and can't think of anything else to do), but just a few more years. Remember how, with my initial example, you'd need to earn an annual average of 27%? Well, if you stretch your retirement to 10 years in the future, instead of eight, you'd need to grow your nest egg by just 21% annually. Make it 12 years away, and you'd need to earn around 17.5%. That's still too much to expect automatically, but it's a lot more reasonable.

In The Baltimore Sun, columnist Eileen Ambrose recently tackled this topic:

"[B]y staying on the job two or so years longer, workers delay cracking open nest eggs. They can continue sticking more money into a 401(k) and receiving an employer match. They won't have to tap Social Security benefits early (meaning they'll end up with higher Social Security payments when they start receiving it). And they'll have fewer years of retirement to finance. Additionally, they can remain on an employer's insurance plan instead of having to pay this large expense out of pocket until Medicare kicks in at 65. It also gives them more time to pay down debt, which can be a substantial drag in retirement."

See? It's win-win -- unless your job makes you want to poke needles in your eyes.

Running the numbers
A look at some scenarios might help you appreciate this strategy more. The table below shows the effects of 10% annual growth on different amounts of money during different spans of time.

Nest Egg





$1.1 million



$1.3 million



$1.3 million



$1.6 million



$1.0 million



$1.3 million



$1.7 million

See the power of just two or three more years? By waiting an additional seven years, you can nearly double your nest egg's size, simply by earning the market's historical 10% average annual return. You might even earn more than 10% by investing in some top-notch mutual funds, or by selecting some solid, growing companies. The list below shows you some well-known company returns, on an average annual basis, over the past 20 years.

  • Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) : 26%
  • Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) : 13%
  • Wrigley (NYSE: WWY  ) : 17%
  • Genentech (NYSE: DNA  ) : 15%

Meanwhile, impressive mutual fund Calamos Growth has grown by 18% annually, on average, over the past decade. It's invested in the likes of Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW  ) , Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) , and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) .

Get cracking!
So think about this strategy to boost your retirement's riches, and make sure you're tending to the whole big picture of retirement.

We'd love to help, via our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, my most frequent source for retirement guidance. You can try it for free -- and I urge you to do so. In its pages, you'll find specific guidance on asset allocation, investing for income, minimizing taxes, how to retire early, and much more.

Further retirement-friendly Foolishness:

Here's to a wonderful retirement!

This article was originally published on Sept. 20, 2006. It has been updated.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot. Home Depot is an Inside Value recommendation. Wrigley is an Income Investor pick. Schwab and Best Buy are Stock Advisor picks. Merck is a former Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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