Becoming a millionaire seems like a surefire way to live comfortably. However, if you are no longer working, just how long will a million dollars last in retirement?
The answer is about 20 years, according to Brent Lipschultz, partner with accounting and advisory firm EisnerAmper in New York City. To come to that conclusion, Lipschultz used data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows those age 65 and older have average annual expenses of approximately $50,000. He also assumed inflation would be 2.9%, investments would earn 4% each year and a person’s state and federal tax rates would be 30% combined.
“A million dollars seems like a lot, but in today’s world, it’s not a lot of money,” Lipschultz notes. He calculates a retiree needs to save an additional $765,000 to fully fund a 35-year retirement.
However, these are average figures, and your personal situation may be different. Factors such as housing and health care will impact your budget and determine whether $1 million is the right savings goal for your needs. Keep reading to learn more about how to answer the question: Can you retire on a million dollars?
Is $1 Million Enough to Retire? Factors to Consider
How long will a million dollars last in retirement depends on the following factors:
— Health care.
— Retirement income.
— Investment risk.
Geography: Costs can differ dramatically throughout the country, and where you live could determine whether you can successfully retire with $1 million. The financial technology company SmartAsset found retirees in New York City would deplete $1 million in 10.21 years, while the cash would last 32.26 years in McAllen, Texas.
Longevity: While no one knows exactly how long they will live, people can make an educated guess based on their health and family history. Those who might live well into their 80s, 90s and beyond may find $1 million isn’t enough.
Lifestyle: Retirees need to make smart spending choices, and those who choose an expensive lifestyle will need more cash in their nest egg. “I’ve got clients with $10 million who spend like crazy and probably aren’t going to make it 25 years,” says Brian Walsh, a financial planner with Walsh & Nicholson Financial Group in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
Health care: The 2021 Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate found an average couple retiring this year can expect to spend $300,000 on health care costs in retirement. Healthy seniors may have lower expenses and find that helps their retirement savings last longer.
Retirement income: Most people won’t be living exclusively off their savings in retirement. Even those who don’t receive a pension can expect Social Security income. Those payments will reduce the amount withdrawn from retirement accounts.
Investment risk: Retirees also need to take a close look at their portfolio if they want to know the answer of how long will $1 million last in retirement. “Market instability can take a bite out of assets,” says Rafael Rubio, president of Stable Retirement Planners in Southfield, Michigan. Investing aggressively puts money at risk for losses, but being too conservative can mean savings don’t grow enough to offset inflation and withdrawals.
Inflation: While inflation has been near zero in recent years, there is no guarantee of that continuing. A rising inflation rate will erode the purchasing power of money and result in retirees burning through their savings faster more quickly.
All these factors make it difficult to create a universal rule of thumb for retirement savings. While some people may be able to live comfortably in retirement on less than $1 million, others will need significantly more.
[READ: How to Save for Retirement.]
How to Determine the Right Amount to Retire on for You
Rather than rely on a rule of thumb to determine how much to save for retirement, financial planners advocate for a more nuanced approach. “It’s really taking a step back and taking a holistic view,” says Andrew Rosen, a certified financial planner and president of Diversified Lifelong Advisors in Wilmington, Delaware.
That means taking the following steps to determine how much to save for retirement:
1. Estimate guaranteed retirement income from sources such as Social Security and pensions.
2. Calculate expected expenses based on debt and lifestyle choices.
3. Determine any shortfall that will need to be covered by retirement savings.
“The most common mistake I see is that (people) underestimate the cost to be them,” Rosen says. In other words, people don’t fully account for all their spending. They may total their monthly bills but ignore all the smaller items — such as gifts, vacations, travel and home décor — which can quickly add up.
How much people plan to withdraw from retirement funds each year should also factor into setting retirement savings goals. “The old rule of thumb was always 4% (withdrawals),” Rubio says. Four percent of $1 million provides $40,000 each year for retirement spending. If you can’t imagine living off $40,000 a year plus Social Security, it’s time to reconsider your savings goal.
If all this feels overwhelming and confusing, find a financial professional who specializes in retirement planning. They have both the experience and software to make calculations on behalf of clients.
How to Get to $1 Million in Savings
While $1 million may seem like a lot of money, compounding gains from investments means this number is within reach even for those with relatively modest incomes. “The power of compounding is huge,” Lipschultz says.
A 25-year-old would need to save approximately $400 a month to achieve a $1 million balance by age 65, assuming a 7% annualized return on the investment. While that may seem like a lot, workers with a 401(k) may receive automatic contributions to their retirement plan from their employer. Many companies also match employee contributions. Both can quickly add to retirement savings.
“I would tell people not to get discouraged by their lack of savings today,” Walsh says. The important thing is to begin setting money aside as soon as you can. “Any amount you can save is better than nothing.”
Young workers with relatively few expenses should make retirement savings a priority before life events such as marriage, children or homeownership chip away at their extra cash. Some employees may also have the option of a professionally managed 401(k) account. Although there are no guarantees, a properly managed account could result in better returns balanced with an appropriate level of investment risk.
Other strategies to boost savings include minimizing taxes, cutting expenses and looking for low-fee investment options. However you reach your goal, with careful planning and expert guidance, you should be able to stretch your $1 million or more across a retirement that is decades long.