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3 Ways to Help Your Retirement Savings Last Longer

By Katie Brockman – Aug 21, 2020 at 11:57AM

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Saving for retirement is only half the battle -- it's just as important to make sure your money lasts.

The average worker expects to need nearly $2 million to retire comfortably, according to a recent report from Charles Schwab. That's a lofty goal, especially considering tens of millions of Americans are unemployed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not everyone will be able to afford to save $2 million for retirement, and that's okay. What you can do, no matter how much you have saved, is ensure you're taking steps to make your savings last. And there are a few things you can do to stretch every dollar in retirement.

Older couple standing in the kitchen drinking coffee

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Establish a realistic withdrawal rate

Your withdrawal rate is how much you're taking from your retirement fund each year. If you don't establish a withdrawal rate and simply take whatever you need from your savings without considering how it will affect your long-term plan, you risk running out of money too soon.

One common withdrawal guideline is the 4% rule, which states that you can withdraw 4% of your total savings during the first year of retirement, then adjust your withdrawals each subsequent year for inflation.

The 4% rule is a good starting point, but it has its drawbacks. For one, it assumes you'll be spending the same amount year after year (adjusted for inflation), when in reality, your spending may fluctuate throughout retirement. In addition, the 4% rule is designed to help your savings last 30 years, which could result in you spending more conservatively than necessary in retirement if you don't need your money to last that long.

Exactly how much you withdraw each year will depend on your unique situation, so it may be a good idea to talk to a financial advisor and develop a plan. Or if you choose to go the DIY route, use the 4% rule as a benchmark to make sure you're in the right ballpark as you're deciding how much to withdraw each year.

2. Make sure you're investing appropriately for your age

Every so often, you may need to make some adjustments to your asset allocation to ensure you're not investing too aggressively or conservatively.

Generally, the older you are, the more conservative your portfolio should be -- meaning you should be investing more in bonds and less in stocks. This can protect your savings against stock market volatility, which will, in turn, help your savings last longer in retirement. If you invest too aggressively and a market downturn causes your portfolio to take a nosedive, your savings may not last as long as you need them to.

That said, it's also important not to be too conservative. When you're decades from retirement, you can afford to invest more aggressively because your savings have plenty of time to recover from any market downturns. However, even as you get older, you should still aim to allocate at least a portion of your portfolio toward stocks so your investments continue to grow as much as possible.

One good rule of thumb to consider is subtracting your age from 110 to determine how much you should be investing in stocks. So, for instance, if you're 65 years old, you should aim to allocate 45% of your portfolio toward stocks and 55% toward bonds. Keep in mind that this is just a guideline, so you might adjust these numbers based on how risk-tolerant or risk-averse you are.

3. Avoid withdrawing from your retirement fund before you retire

It can be tempting to pull cash from your retirement savings if you face a financial emergency, and in some cases, it may be unavoidable. However, if at all possible, try your best to avoid withdrawing money from your retirement fund before you retire.

Your savings rely on compound interest to help them grow, and every time you make a withdrawal from your retirement fund, that's money that is no longer growing. Over time, even small withdrawals can make a significant difference, and if you're repeatedly taking money from your retirement fund over the years, that will add up quickly.

For example, say you currently have $100,000 stashed in your retirement account, and your investments are earning a 7% annual rate of return. Without making any additional contributions, you'd have accumulated around $387,000 in 20 years. But if you withdraw $5,000 now, all other factors remaining the same, you'd only have around $367,000 saved in that time period. In other words, that $5,000 withdrawal can result in missing out on $20,000 in potential investment gains. And if you were to consistently withdraw from your savings, the results could be even more drastic.

No matter how much you have saved for retirement, it's wise to ensure you're making the most of every dollar. By being strategic about how you plan for your senior years, you can help your savings last as long as possible.

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