• Retirement and Annuity Advisor Jennifer Lang

How Much Income Will You Really Need for Retirement?

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Calculating how much income you will need for retirement isn’t necessarily an easy task. Your health expenses will probably increase, but your mortgage payments may decrease or stop. Meanwhile, other expenses might continue to change over time.

Of course, you likely won’t have to deal with payroll taxes as much. Chances are you will also see expenses tied to employment, from transportation to a professional wardrobe, decline as well. But other costs may appear in retirement, from pursuing long-sought hobbies to traveling or spending more time with loved ones.

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Although you may not even know where to start when trying to estimate how much retirement money you will need, there are a few rules of thumb that you can follow to help get you started.

Start With Your Current Lifestyle and Income

The first thing to look at is the amount of income that you need right now. This will give you a baseline to work off. Say your current lifestyle costs $60,000 of income per year to support. Your future retirement lifestyle will probably need an income that is somewhere near that level, unless major medical expenses arise (which can happen).

If you needed much more income than that to support your future lifestyle, you might consider delaying Social Security. Your benefits will accrue with each year you wait. If you kept on working, it would also give you more time to invest and grow your nest egg. Ultimately, that would help you be even better prepared for the transition to a secure and comfortable retirement.

Since your current income supports your present lifestyle, it's a natural starting point to estimate your retirement income needs.

Calculate Your Expected Future Income

From there, start doing a deep dive into numbers. Write down estimates for expected future retirement spending. The more you go into your current expenses and really think about how those expenses might change over time, the better prepared you will be when you switch over to retirement.

You want enough, or better yet, more than enough annual income to cover your retirement spending needs. If you need help getting started with your expected retirement expenses, here are the common areas of retirement spending:

*Housing: rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners or renters insurance, property repairs and maintenance

*Food and grocery


*Utilities: gas, electric, telephone, cell, water, cable TV

*Transportation: car payments, auto insurance, gas, car upkeep and repairs, public transportation

*Insurance: medical, dental, disability, life, long-term care

*Healthcare costs not paid by insurance: deductibles, co-pays, prescription drugs

*Care services for parents or loved ones: costs for nursing home, home health aide, or other type of assisted living services

*Recreation: eating out, entertainment & hobbies, travel

*Debt: personal loans, business loans, credit card payments

*Taxes: income (federal and state), capital gains tax, alternative minimum tax (if applicable)Education: personal student loans, children's student loans or educational expenses, grandchildren's student loans or educational expenses

*Investments: contributions to IRAs, investment accounts, annuities, any other portfolio assets

*Gifts: charitable and personal giving

*Miscellaneous: personal caretaking, club memberships, subscriptions, pets, so on

Don't forget to include inflation in your projections here. Some expenses are likely to change during your retirement, such as the house payment or educational expenses of loved ones.

Healthcare will become more costly as you go along in retirement as well. Include some buffer in your projections for health costs. Ask for guidance from a financial professional to help you confirm that your estimates are on point and are realistic.

How Long Will Your Retirement Last?

You will need to decide the age you wish to retire and how long you expect for your retirement to last. That will determine how many years of annual income you will need that you were estimating above.

Family history and your personal medical history can provide strong clues of how long you might live for. Nevertheless, err on the side of caution and use a prudent timeline for your planning. A 30-year span or longer is a conservative time window to use in your income planning.  

Identify Your Sources of Retirement Income

From there, identify your sources of income. What sources of retirement income will be available to you? Does your employer offer you a pension?

What age will you claim Social Security? How much will you receive in monthly payouts from Social Security by claiming your benefits at that point?

Your other sources of income are likely to include a 401(k) or other retirement plan, IRA, annuities, taxable brokerage accounts, and other places you might hold investments. How much cash-flow you receive from these sources will depend on how much you have invested, the returns you earn, and their taxable status.