One of the most important steps of retirement planning is figuring out how much you need to save. That can be a challenging task, though, because everyone's needs will be different.
Rather than determining your unique retirement number, it's sometimes easier to simply throw a big figure out there and hope it will be enough. You may think that surely $500,000 or $1 million is enough to live on the rest your life, because it's just so much money. But that's not necessarily the case.
Approximately 58% of Americans say they think $1 million will be enough to last through retirement, a survey from TD Ameritrade found. Although it's a good thing workers are thinking big, the truth is, they may not be thinking big enough.
The rising costs of retirement
Workers' golden years are becoming more expensive, and the harsh reality is that $1 million may not be enough to last through retirement for many.
Healthcare costs alone are skyrocketing, and the average person in their 40s now is expected to spend roughly $335,000 on healthcare expenses throughout retirement, according to a study from Urban Institute. The numbers are even higher for those who expect to live long lives, too -- the average worker who lives until age 90 or beyond could spend around $500,000 on healthcare costs over the course of retirement.
Retirees also face astronomical long-term care costs as they age. Seven in 10 retirees will need long-term care at some point, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and those who do need it spend an average of three years receiving this type of care. The average stay in a nursing home costs roughly $6,800 per month, so at that rate, three years of care will amount to close to a quarter of a million dollars. As if that's not a hard enough pill to swallow, the kicker is that Medicare won't help with long-term care bills.
One other factor that affects retirement costs is life expectancy. Retirees are living longer than ever, with around one-third of today's 65-year-olds expected to live until at least age 90, according to the Social Security Administration. Furthermore, one in seven will likely live until age 95 or beyond. When you're spending several decades in retirement, that could increase your total costs by tens or potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Don't expect Social Security to shoulder retirement costs
Not only are retirement costs rising, but retirees are left to foot the bills with their own savings without as much help from Social Security. Although the program is not on the brink of collapse (despite what some startling headlines may say), the Social Security Administration could be forced to cut benefits as early as 2035. Right now, it's estimated that there will only be enough cash in the system to pay out around 75% of projected benefits.
Although that's not as bad as the program being eliminated altogether, it could put a strain on your savings. The average monthly Social Security check is only $1,471 to begin with, and a 25% cut makes it even harder to rely on your benefits to help cover your retirement expenses.
All of this is to say that $1 million may not be enough to retire comfortably. Healthcare and long-term care expenses aside, $1 million might not even be enough to cover daily living expenses. If you spend a modest, say, $45,000 per year and spend 25 years in retirement, that comes out to $1.125 million. Add healthcare and long-term care into the mix, and retirement could cost substantially more.
That's a frightening thought, especially if your savings are nowhere near the $1 million mark. However, there are ways you can boost your retirement income and increase your odds of enjoying your golden years comfortably.
How to create retirement income that lasts
The easiest way to increase your savings is to begin saving as early as possible. When you have decades to build your retirement fund, you won't have to contribute as much each month to still see significant gains.
If that ship has already sailed, and you don't have decades left to save, your next best bet is to consider delaying retirement. Because retirees are living longer, you may be able to work into your 70s and still spend a good 20 or more years in retirement. If you can muster it, working even a few years longer than you originally planned can potentially help you save thousands more. That said, be realistic about how long you'll be able to work. If you have health issues or other reason to believe you won't be able to work much longer, centering your retirement plan on being able to work forever could result in you being forced into an early retirement before your savings are ready.
Another option to increase your retirement income is to delay claiming Social Security retirement benefits. By waiting to claim until your full retirement age (FRA) -- which is either age 66, 66 plus a few months, or 67, depending on when you were born -- you'll receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to. But wait until after your FRA to claim (up until age 70), and you'll receive extra money each month for the rest of your life. For those with a FRA of age 67, waiting until age 70 to claim will result in a 24% boost on top of your full amount. If your savings alone aren't enough to get by, this extra cash can go a long way.
It can be disheartening to think about how expensive retirement may be, but don't let that discourage you from saving. It won't be easy to prepare for retirement, but the harder you work now to save, the more enjoyable your golden years will be.