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  • 7-Minute Article
  • |
  • Jan 29, 2018

Can I Afford the Retirement I Want?

Follow this step-by-step process to estimate potential income and expenses in retirement.

Grandmother and grandchild on a swing featured in an article about being able to afford retirement

A common question among people planning for retirement is whether their savings and income sources will support the lifestyle they desire.1 While the “right” amount of savings depends on each person’s individual circumstances including potential expenses, planned retirement age, and life expectancy — there is a way to begin assessing whether retirement planning is on track.

Here is a step-by-step approach to estimate potential retirement income and expenses and help determine whether the current mix of savings and investments is sufficient to support retirement needs. Consulting with a financial professional during this process can help identify opportunities to strengthen a plan before retirement.



1. Start by calculating all guaranteed retirement income, such as pensions and annuities, as well as estimated Social Security. Each person’s Social Security benefit will depend on a number of factors, including earnings history and the age at which they claim benefits, but the maximum Social Security benefit for a person retiring at full retirement age in 2018 (between age 65 and age 67, depending on birth date) is $2,788 a month — or about $33,400 a year.2

To create a personalized estimate for Social Security benefits, use the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Estimator.

2. Next, estimate potential income from savings, including all assets in 401(k)s, IRAs, and other saving or investment accounts. A common rule of thumb for income planning is to assume a 4% annual withdrawal rate from savings. The theory behind this rule is that using this assumed withdrawal rate can help calculate how much is needed to last for 30 years in retirement, based on historical returns of the U.S. stock market. But the 4% rule is just a starting point — it’s important to work with a financial professional to determine an appropriate withdrawal rate for individual circumstances.

Here’s how to perform the calculation to estimate a 4% withdrawal rate:

  • Add up the total amount of money in all financial accounts. For example, a person might have $750,000 in total savings.
  • Divide that total by 25, which will provide a number equivalent to what a 4% annual withdrawal amount would be. In the case of our hypothetical $750,000 portfolio, the answer is $30,000 in annual income from investments and other savings.

3. Finally, list any other potential sources of income, such as pay from anticipated part-time work, income from rental properties, veterans benefits, or disability benefits.

Together, the figures from those three categories — guaranteed income plus Social Security, withdrawals from savings and investments, and payments from other income sources — will help provide an approximation of total annual retirement income. A financial professional can be a valuable partner at this stage to help develop more detailed estimates or answering questions about how much income to assume from different sources.



The second step in assessing retirement readiness is to estimate potential retirement expenses.

A common rule of thumb is to plan for 70%–80%,3 of pre-retirement income to cover retirement expenses. That figure assumes that many of the typical expenses for a working family — including transportation, the cost of raising children, and the need to save for retirement — decline as we get older. Following that guideline, an individual with annual household income of $125,000 would create a target for retirement income of $87,500–$100,000.

However, there are many variables that can affect how much a person will need:

  • Some expenses might decline in retirement, including commuting and clothing costs once a person is no longer working. Housing expenses also might decline if retirees pay off their mortgages.
  • Other costs are likely to increase in retirement, including discretionary expenses. A retirement plan that calls for frequent travel and enjoying more costly activities such as  dining out often should include appropriate estimates for those costs.
  • Some essential expenses also tend to get more expensive in retirement — including medical costs. Individuals over age 65 can receive Medicare coverage for hospitalization and necessary medical expenses related to certain conditions, but many retirees choose to protect themselves with healthcare coverage options such as Medicare Part B (for routine medical care) and Medicare Part D (for prescription drug costs). Read “6 Retirement Healthcare Costs to Prepare for Now” for a breakdown of potential retirement medical expenses.

Consult a financial professional to help explore these variables and develop personalized estimates for retirement income needs. These two tools also can help with the process:

  • Our Annuity Income Calculator provides a convenient way to pull together income and spending information and identify potential gaps. But remember: An estimate of annual expenses should then be multiplied by potential length of retirement.
  • The Longevity Illustrator can help estimate length of retirement. It allows people to enter personal information and discover their odds of living to specific ages.




The final calculation is to subtract estimated annual expenses from total projected annual income to reveal whether current savings and income sources will support a desired retirement lifestyle — or show if there’s a gap that must be filled.

  • For example, our hypothetical investor with a pre-retirement annual income of $125,000 and $750,000 saved might have a target annual retirement income of $100,000, based on projected expenses and desired lifestyle. If this person receives the maximum Social Security benefit, but has no other sources of income, their total annual income would be $63,400 ($33,400 in Social Security income and $30,000 from investment withdrawals at a 4% annual rate) — so their gap would be $36,600 annually.



There are several options to address a retirement income shortfall. Consulting with a financial professional can help build a strategy that works for an individual’s specific circumstances, but might include the following:

  • Assessing ways to boost retirement savings. For example, people with access to company-sponsored retirement plans might take advantage of wealth-building features such as receiving the maximum employer match for their annual contributions, or signing up for automatic annual contribution increases. If a plan doesn’t offer those features, consider boosting regular payroll contributions at least once a year or devoting a larger portion of any raises or bonuses to retirement savings. Anyone over age 50 also can take advantage of annual “catch-up” contributions to retirement plans — an additional $1,000 per year for an IRA or $6,000 per year for a 401(k) in 2018.
  • Delaying retirement. Working for a few more years provides more time to build savings and reduces the number of years that those savings will have to support expenses. Retiring later also provides the opportunity to get a larger monthly Social Security benefit, because each year a person delays claiming benefits past full retirement age (age 66 for people born between 1943 and 1959; age 67 for people born after) increases the monthly payment by about 8%. And because each person’s Social Security payment is based on the average salary of their 35 highest earning years, working a few years longer at a high salary also can boost a person’s benefit.
  • Looking for additional sources of guaranteed income. Many financial professionals recommend covering essential expenses (such as food, housing, and medical costs) with guaranteed income. Adding a product such as an annuity can provide additional guaranteed income, because annuities turn a one-time payment or a series of payments into a steady income stream that can supplement Social Security, pensions, and other guaranteed income sources.
  • Adjusting targets for discretionary expenses. Living within a retirement budget might mean making small changes to non-essential expenses now. A financial professional also can help create a plan to balance short-term expenses with longer-term retirement savings goals. Read our article on balancing competing financial priorities for more information.



The earlier people begin the process of analyzing potential income and expenses, the more time they have to address any gaps in the financial plan. Taking control over retirement planning can help pre-retirees feel more prepared as they approach their planned retirement date — and feel more secure about the future.

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