Want a prosperous retirement? Start with this.

How much money do you need for retirement? How much should you save each month to reach that goal? Can you afford that? What lifestyle can you afford if you save less than that? There is only one way to answer those questions. You must know what it takes to live your life now. If you know how much money you need to spend on a monthly basis now, you can work off of that number to determine how much you’ll need per month in retirement. Let me explain. (Warning: a little nerdy math ahead. Stick with it!)

If you think you need $50,000 per year that’s got to come from somewhere. Let’s say you have $18,000/year in social security. So you need to make up a difference of $32,000/year out of your own investments. So how much do you have to have invested to produce that stream of income for 30-40 years of retirement? Of course, that depends on how it’s invested. But generally speaking, we encourage our clients to withdraw only 4-6% of their investments per year. Hopefully growth will replace those withdrawals and over time, your money will last and you’ll be able to leave an inheritance. Withdraw more than that, and not only might you not leave an inheritance, you might run out of money prematurely! So if you wanted to keep your withdrawal rate at say, 5%, you’d need to have $640,000 invested somewhere. ($640,000 *.05 = $32,000). Make sense? But what if you only need $40k per year? Then you’d only need to have $440,000! (($40k-18k)/.05.) And there it is. The power of cash flow management. So how do you do it? It doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth!

At the most basic level, all we need is a monthly number. If you’re like my mother-in-law, (Love you Deb!) you can simply write it all down in a spiral notebook. Or if you use your debit/credit card for everything, just look at a statement. Of course, if you want to get a little nerdier, you can use excel. Or if you want to get REALLY nerdy (Like me. I’m a budgeting junkie.), you can use both excel (My budgeting workbook. Check this out!) and some finance software like Quicken! I’ve also heard good things about YNAB.com (you’re welcome, Alaina) and Mint.com, which is “free” but ad-supported. But no matter what you use, try to record it all. Cash, debit, credit, automatic bill payments, ACH withdrawals, charitable contributions and even salary deferrals. Everything. At this point, you’re probably pretty close to the real answer. Take a victory lap! You’ve done more than most people. You could stop there and be able to do some legitimate long-term planning. But you’ve come so far and you’re nearly done.

Now, when I taught Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class (yes, I’m one of those people), I got in the habit of not only accounting for my monthly spending, but also quarterly spending (Water bill, anyone?), and what I call “eventual spending”. These are expenses that I know I’ll have but I’m not exactly sure when. Like birthday and Christmas gifts, furniture replacement, vacations, home maintenance, car replacement/repair, etc. I just sweep a certain amount into savings each month and let it build up for those eventual expenses. Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s part of your cost of living and you’ll probably spend it in retirement so it needs to be quantified.

Sigh! That’s it. Well, step one. But it’s a huge step. And one that puts you in the driver’s seat. Armed with that budget, a financial advisor like ME is much more able to help YOU figure out what you need and how to get you there. Well done!

-Mike Macco