It’s possible, of course, but is it really common? From a number of recent articles, you’d conclude that we are now a nation of savers. In early December, I read, “Could You Be Oversaving for Retirement?” on Yahoo Finance. (To give you a hint as to how rare I thought this was, the word oversaving wasn’t in my speck check dictionary till now.) A couple weeks later, Jean Chatzky wrote You may be saving too much for retirement for CNN Money. I like Jean’s writing, and she was kind enough to cite the source for this wave of ‘saving too much’ articles that have sprung up. It was a paper by the Head of Retirement Research at Morningstar, David Blanchett. Estimating the True Cost of Retirement dispels, sort of, the notion that one will need 80% of their pre-retirement income post retirement. I say ‘sort of’ because one’s earnings aren’t linear, nor is one’s lifestyle, and there are too many variables to project 40 years out with any level of confidence. The 80% number is as good a rule of thumb as any especially when considering the alternatives. If, instead you plan for 60, and as you near retirement, realize that in those final years your lifestyle has crept up a bit, more vacations, a second home, any number of things, it will be tough to catch up to where you should be. But if you plan for 80%, and, with 5 years to go till retirement, you realize you have more than you need, it’s a simple matter to retire early, or just enjoy the fact that you have an extra cushion.
David’s paper makes excellent points, and is a worthwhile read, but it doesn’t discuss one thing, the amount we are actually saving. The average retirement savings for those 55-64 is $69,127. If you understand how averages and median compare, you know that for every saver with a million dollar retirement account, a hundred people will be $10K less than that average to balance out. This forces the median, the halfway point, far lower than the average. In fact, the same report cites that 39% of those age 55 and older have less than $25,000 in their retirement accounts. To be clear – No, we are not saving too much, not by a longshot.
There’s a point to be made that a reasonable retirement goal might be more motivating than one that appears so far out of reach. It’s also safe to say that retirement spending is better correlated with preretirement spending than with preretirement income. This is tougher for a younger person to analyze. I got married at 32, bought my first ‘real’ house at 34, and became a dad at 36. At 40, I had a real grown up budget, 20% to the mortgage, 10% to the college account, 15% to retirement, etc. Not tough to see the math show that 45% of our income was budgeted to things that would be gone when we retired.
In the end, the question isn’t about averages or rules of thumb, it’s about you. Only you can calculate your Number.