As the baby boomers retire in large numbers, they're finally getting the chance to see how well their retirement planning (or lack thereof) has paid off. Unfortunately, many boomers aren't happy with the results: 68% wish they'd saved more, and only 24% are confident that they have enough money to last throughout their retirement, according to a study by the Insured Retirement Institute.
The good news is that you can learn from the average boomer's mistakes. Here are some ways to make sure your savings will see you through retirement.
Setting your retirement savings goal
The best way to set a retirement savings goal is to come up with a list of all the expenses you'll face during retirement, add 10% for unexpected expenses and fun stuff, and use the total for the basis of your retirement planning. For example, if you add up all your expected retirement expenses and reach a total of $3,000 per month, then add 10% ($300) and multiply the sum by 12 to get your minimum annual retirement income goal: $39,600.
Assuming you'll be able to take 4% of your entire retirement savings account balance as a distribution each year, (though the "4% rule" has its problems), then you can turn your retirement income goal into a savings goal by dividing it by 4%. For example, divide the above goal of $39,600 by 0.04 to get a savings goal of $990,000.
If you don't want to go through this process, or you're unsure what your expenses will be in retirement, then there are number of shorthand ways to find your retirement savings goal that, though less precise, will at least get you in the ballpark.
Planning your contributions
Once you have a savings goal in mind, you can work backwards to figure out how much you need to contribute to reach that goal. The good news is that you don't actually have to save $990,000 in order to accumulate that much money in your retirement savings accounts: Wisely investing the money you contribute will help you grow those funds by a significant percentage each year. The sooner you start contributing, the more time that money will have to grow.
You can use a savings calculator to figure out how much you'll need to contribute to your retirement accounts each month in order to hit your savings goal. For example, let's say your goal is to have $990,000 by the time you retire, you plan to retire 30 years from now, and you have nothing saved so far. Assuming you can earn an average of 8% per year on your investments, a savings calculator will tell you that you need to save $8,092 per year -- approximately $674 per month -- to hit your goal.
I can't save that much!
If the contributions you'd need to make to reach your goal are way too high, you have a few options. The simplest option is to delay retirement by a few years. Returning to the above example, let's say you decide to retire in 33 years instead of 30 years. Delaying retirement by just three years would reduce your annual contribution goal from $8,092 to $6,281, which works out to $523 in contributions per month. You could hang on to $151 more each month while still ending up with the same amount of money when you retire.
Another possibility is to reduce your savings goal by coming up with other sources of retirement income. For example, if you decide to get a part-time job during retirement and are sure you can make at least $1,000 per month at that job, then the amount of annual income you'll need from your retirement savings accounts will drop from $39,600 to $27,600. That means your new retirement savings goal will be $690,000. If you're retiring 30 years from today, you'll need to contribute $5,640 per year -- $470 per month -- to hit your new goal.
Finally, you could boost your retirement savings contributions by finding more income today or reducing your current expenses. Increasing your income could mean getting a raise, lobbying for a promotion, switching to a higher-paid job, or supplementing your income with a part-time job or side gig. Reducing your expenses could mean making some short-term sacrifices, such as cutting back on entertainment expenses, to free up some more money.
One extremely helpful way to reduce expenses is to pay off any credit card debt you're carrying. Getting rid of those monthly payments can save you a boatload in interest charges, freeing up that money for retirement savings.
Saving money is a huge challenge for the average American, but that means you can be above average just by spending a little time on retirement planning. And once you retire, unlike those unfortunate baby boomers, you'll be confident that you have plenty of money to finance your retirement dreams.