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How much do you need to retire comfortably?

How do these 17 key drivers that determine how much you need to retire and how much you can afford to spend actually work, and how do they apply to you?

This guide will help you come up with your own Number that suits your needs and goals.

It is not intended to arrive at an exact number, as forecasting is never an exact science. It is intended to help readers understand the issues, assist in refining goals, trade-offs and priorities, and provide a starting point for discussions with family and professional advisers.

Let's get started …

In Part 1 - What's your Number? Part 1: 'How much do I need to retire?', 'How much can I afford to spend?' – I outlined the idea of everybody having a ‘Number’ to aim for, and I used some generic examples to illustrate the concept.

Part 2 outlines 17 key factors that can make a big difference in estimating what each person’s own minimum required Multiple of Spending Budget, and their maximum Safe Spending Rate, given their individual circumstances.

For example, for the first factor – current age: taking two extreme examples - my 95-year-old mother needs a lot less capital (lower Multiple of her spending budget, and a higher Safe Spending Rate) than say a trust set up to support a 20-year-old disabled child for the rest of their lives, which may be many decades.

Quick re-cap on Part 1

In Part 1, we looked at the two key questions:

  • How much capital do I need to be able to finance a given spending budget (rising with inflation), with a good degree of confidence that I will not run out of money, ie that my money will last as long as I do, and with enough left over to satisfy my bequest goals (eg leave a financial legacy for my family and/or other causes). This is the minimum required Multiple of my spending budget, and
  • Given the amount of capital I have (or are aiming for at retirement), how much I can safely afford to spend each year with a good degree of confidence that I will not run out of money, and that my money will last as long as I do, with enough left over to satisfy my bequest goals. This is maximum ‘safe spending rate’ (or ‘safe withdrawal rate’). The Safe Spending Rate is merely the ‘reciprocal’ of the required Multiple. For example, if the minimum required multiple is 20, the maximum safe spending rate = 1/20 = 5%.
  • Other related questions like - ‘How long will my retirement savings last?’, and ‘When can I afford to retire?’ are driven by the same numbers.

‘Retire? Me? Never!’

Even if, like me, you don’t want to actually ‘retire’, but want the freedom to be able to scale back work or take an indefinite break, or donate your time to charity, or if you are prevented from working by health or family circumstances, it is useful to have an idea of how much capital will you need, and how much you can safely afford to spend given the capital you have.

NB.

‘Capital’ includes not just ‘superannuation’ fund balances, but also includes other investment assets excluding the family home, minus ALL debts, including any mortgage on the family home. You should also deduct large initial one-off expenses – like the ‘big trip’, or the house extension, or the 1965 Mustang you’ve always promised yourself.

The ‘Spending Budget’ can also vary over time – eg more in the early ‘active’ years, less in the middle ‘quiet’ years, then rising in the final years as medical and aged care expenses rise.

Part 1 also provided two quick tests to help readers see how far along on the journey they are now.

Those quick tests used a required multiple of 25 times the spending budget (ie a 4% ‘Safe Spending Rate’ on capital) because I have found over many years, and through many kinds of market conditions, that this is roughly where most people end up.

But you and I are not ‘most people’!

The actual Multiple and Safe Spending Rate will be different for everyone – depending on their own circumstances, and it also depends on market conditions at the time.

Wide range of possible outcomes

Depending on each person’s individual circumstances, there can a wide range of outcomes. At one extreme, if you are happy to rely on the government age pension (currently around $28,000 per year for singles, and $22,000 each for couples), and if are sure that all of your other capital and income needs are going to be paid for by others, and/or by selling the family home, then your required capital base and multiple is Zero.

This is the most popular option in Australia. After more than 30 years of compulsory employer superannuation in Australia, the median superannuation balance of Australians aged between 60-64 is just $181,000 for males, and $139,000 for females. Up to half of all retirees use their super to pay off debts when they retire, and so two thirds of Aussie retirees just go on a government age pension!

One very popular ‘retirement calculator’ that is used by countless super funds on their websites is provided by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA). On their numbers, a typical retired Australian couple aged 65-84 can enjoy a ‘comfortable’ retirement on an expense budget of $70,000 (December 2023 numbers), and they say this requires just $690,000 in capital.

That’s a spending rate of 10% (ie required capital is a multiple of 10 times spending budget). This, and almost all other online retirement calculators, assume you will be relying on the government age pension when your money runs out, and it assumes the government pension will remain in place in its current form and eligibility, and indexed, forever.

On the other hand, there are many cases where the minimum Multiple of spending budget is 30 or more, ie a maximum Safe Spending Rate of 3% or less.

Table of 17 key factors

Today’s table outlines 17 important factors that can make a big difference in estimating ‘How much do I need to retire?’ (minimum required Multiple of Sending Budget), and ‘How much can I afford to spend?’ (maximum Safe Spending Rate), for each person given their individual circumstances.

For each factor, readers can select where they are on a scale from 1 to 5, with a mid-point of 3. Some are relatively easy (eg factor 1: Current Age), but other can be quite difficult to assess.

Some factors appear straightforward (eg Factor 12: Importance of not ‘eating into capital’), but often requires a major re-think about goals and priorities once people realise how much more capital it requires in practice.


Click to enlarge

Green and pink zones

The green column describes the conditions that would require a lower Multiple of the spending budget and allows a higher Safe Spending Rate on capital. These apply to scores of 1 or 2 for the given factor.

The pink column describes the conditions that would require a higher Multiple of the spending budget, and a lower Safe Spending Rate on capital. These apply to scores of 4 or 5 for the given factor.

Mid-point ‘3’ on the scale

Our starting point or ‘base case’ with a mid-point score of ‘3’ is for a 65-year-old requiring a Multiple of spending budget of 25, ie a maximum Safe Spending Rate (or ‘safe withdrawal rate’) of 4% of capital.

Remember, this is just the starting point. Everybody will end up with a different Multiple and Safe Spending Rate depending on their scores on each factor (and everyone has a different Spending Budget to start with).

The aim of this exercise is not to arrive at an exact number for the Multiple and the Safe Spending Rate. There is no such thing as an exact number.

The aim is merely to outline the main factors that influence the outcome and provide users with a broad sense of whether they are likely to need more or less capital given their spending budget. It is intended as a starting point for discussions with family and professional advisers.

Example - Factor 1: current age

Starting with the easiest one - If you are currently 55 years old and you wish (or fear) never having to work for money ever again, you would circle ‘5’ for this factor. (Life expectancy is dealt with in Factor 2).

A score of 5 is on the pink side of the table, indicating that your required minimum Multiple of your spending budget is probably going to be higher than 25 – ie your maximum Safe Spending Rate is probably going to be lower than 4% of capital. (Alternatively, you may need to re-assess your desired spending budget).

On the other hand, if you are currently 75 years old, you would circle ‘1’ for this factor.

This is on the green side of the table, indicating that your required minimum Multiple of your spending budget is probably going to be lower than 25 – ie your maximum Safe Spending Rate is probably going to be higher than 4%.

How much higher or lower will depend very much on how you score on the other factors.

Factor 2: likely life span

Here you assess whether you are likely to live longer or shorter than actuarial life expectancy tables.

For example, if you are 65 years old now, you are projected to live to 85 (males) and 88 (females) according to official actuarial tables in Australia. We look at this in a separate story, but it worth noting here that if you think you are heathier, fitter, and more genetically blessed than average, you might give yourself a score of 4 or 5. In that case, your capital may need to last a lot longer than the life tables suggest.

It’s a cruel curse, but your minimum Multiple of spending budget will be higher, and your maximum Safe Spending Rate will be lower. On the other hand, your good health may allow you to work longer and build up your capital base. You’ll need it if you’re going to live to 110!

Some of the factors require more detailed explanation and require a lot more modelling to demonstrate the impact on capital needs and spending rates.

We will look at each of the main factors in separate stories in this series, to assist in in self-assessment, and to assist in discussions with your family and your adviser.

Two factors are already locked in

Two of the factors are related to the market environment and apply to everybody, regardless of their individual circumstances. These are:

Factor 16: Future inflation environment

I would give this a score of 4 at the moment, and it applies to everybody. We are probably heading into an era of above average inflation for the next decade or so, and certainly higher average inflation than we have had over the recent couple of decades.

If this is the case, it will mean that it is highly likely that future real returns on financial assets (shares, bonds, real estate) are going to be below historical averages, and therefore the Multiples will be higher and the Safe Spending Rates will be lower.

Factor 17: Current market pricing / valuations of financial asset markets

This is the second market-related factor that is already locked in for everybody, regardless of their individual circumstances.

High current levels of pricing of financial asset markets (shares, bonds, real estate) mean that future real returns are also likely to be below historical averages. Therefore, this is another reason that Multiples will be higher and the Safe Spending Rates will be lower.

How does current market over-pricing affect how much capital I need?

If share markets are currently priced at say 50% above their underlying, fundamental, ‘fair values’ (measured by pricing relative to profits, dividends, book values, and a host of other valuation techniques), it means that, when you look at your index fund balance of say $500,000, you need to realise that it is not really 'worth' $500,000.

The underlying sustainable fair value is actually more like $333,000 ($500,000 / 1.5), and the over-pricing will soon evaporate – it always does. In fact, when over-priced market booms collapse, as they always do, they always swing too far, into cheap territory, when you can buy assets below fair value if you have the nerve.

So, it works both ways: in over-priced booms (like now), your fund statement over-states the actual underlying fundamental value of the assets you own, so if you are going to use the boom-time portfolio statements that over-state you actual net 'worth', you will need a higher multiple of your spending budget, and your Safe Spending Rate is going to be lower.

On the other hand, after a major market correction when assets fall below their fair values, your fund statements will under-state the actual underlying fundamental value of the assets you own, so you will need a lower multiple of your spending budget, and your Safe Spending Rate is going to be higher.

Wrap-up

Once you have assessed yourself against the 15 factors (Factors 16 and 17 are already locked in), you can form an opinion about whether your overall score is likely to be higher or lower than the mid-point score of 3 on our 1-5 scale, ie whether your multiple of spending budget is going to be higher or lower than our reference point of 25.

You can take your estimated Spending Budget and go back to our two back-of-the-envelope tests in Part 1 to see how you’re going on your journey to reach your required capital base.

You can also see how much you can safely afford to spend/withdraw given your current capital base.

 

Ashley Owen, CFA is Founder and Principal of OwenAnalytics. Ashley is a well-known Australian market commentator with over 40 years’ experience. This article is for general information purposes only and does not consider the circumstances of any individual. You can subscribe to OwenAnalytics Newsletter here. Original article is here: What’s your Number? Part 2: 17 key factors driving ‘How much do I need’ & ‘How much can I spend?'

 

23 Comments
Mark
May 26, 2024

Thanks Ashley, a lot of useful information here to allow testing of various hypotheses.
Unfortunately your work is only targeted at a small % of Australians, whereas the bulk of people will utilise the aged pension at some time in their retirement.
In my own case my wife and I retired about 12 years ago and now have about $850K capital, aged 72 (we own our own home which leave us some options). We are not big spenders never have been. We obviously have not relied at all on the pension. On your numbers we can only afford a pretty miserable future, however, we have decided to draw down about $100K (we're happy with that) per year and with the support of the aged pension we can survive this way until we're about 90 (inflation indexed). If we survive beyond that we are happy to exist solely on the pension as our own funds will have been depleted. We will be extremely lucky to get to that age.
My point here is that we will have contributed $1M initially to our retirement expenses, plus all the earnings on that over the last 12 years, plus the earnings over the next 12 years (?) or so, then by the time we are 90 or so we will no longer be contributing to our expenditure. I don't see retirement/pension as a reliance on the generosity of younger people/Government (as you say) but more an agreement that we will fund most of it if they fund some of it, and certainly a lot less than if they funded all our retirement. My view is that pension will be available to all into the future if needed.
So I think to be more useful for a greater number of people you should include the aged pension in your calculations of 'how much do I need to retire"? Also need to consider the rate of return on capital when you are calculating Multiples, Capital Needs and Safe Spending Rates.

ashley
May 27, 2024

hi mark, Well done on your retirement!
You are right - 64% of Aussie retirees rely on the age pension. But I and my readers are not 'most people'. I don't want to have to rely on the charity of others, and the solvency/generosity of future tax-payers and governments! There is something to be said for self-reliance, independence, and peace of mind that I can fund my own lifestyle.
As I pointed out in the story, the ASFA and all other online calculators assume you will just go on the pension.
cheers
ao

Chris
May 29, 2024

Agree with Ashley. Gen X and other generations after them will be the REAL "self-funded retirees", not boomers that think that a "half and half" super with a state pension top up is somehow being "self funded".

By the time we get there, if there even IS a pension left, you won't want it and/or qualify for it. Currently, the pension is $26,065 a year for singles. The poverty line in Australia is $489 a week (or $25,428 a year). Not much difference.

"You own your own modest house which is > $1,000,000....computer says 'no', you're a 'millionaire' ". Watch this get included in the means test for the pension, which is at $609,500 at the moment for a single with a house, or $851,500 if you don't have a house.

People will howl me down and say "no chance" but remember that the $3m super cap won't be indexed and comes in from 1 July 2025; that was something people thought would never happen.

Jeff in Bris
May 25, 2024

The most comprehensive questionaire I have seen on this subject. I get a score of 37, and this shows I currently exceed my needs in capital and cash and super. The biggest problem remains - my wife is 9 years younger than I - how does that factor in??

Graham W
May 24, 2024

It could be worth doing the calculation for your wife and then average the two scores to get a better idea ??

ashley owen
May 27, 2024

hi jeff in bris!
thanks for the feedback. Very important topic - the partner. Whenever I meet pre or post-retirement clients I always insist on both partners being there. Very often the male 'takes charge' and looks after the finances but I insist on both in any meeting. Typically (but not always), the wife is a few years younger, and typically (but not always) their life expectancy is longer. Also, the husband (typically but not always) has contributed the bulk of funds to super & investments. But I gently remind them that the main beneficiary is actually the wife - because she will typically but not always be relying on the money for at least a decade longer than he will. ("Yes, I realise that you may have been the main breadwinner, but we're investing it mainly for her benefit!). I have used this line a thousand times: "One of you may live to 100, and (turning to the husband) - it's probably not going to be you!"
The second key point is that I always plan for downside contingencies. My first marriage ended in divorce and the ex took 2/3 of the loot (I initiated it, so I knew that was a likely outcome). For my second marriage we had pre-nups. Point is - having two pots if money is a nice bonus, but prepare for there to be only one pot - yours.
cheers
ashley owen

Peter S
June 08, 2024

I've only just got to this newsletter and scored 37 as well. Thankfully I have it covered. But I found it probably the most valuable and thought provoking article I have read in a few years. I have just printed to show my wife this evening to get her involved because my score and figures were for my spending and my capital - yes, separate finances (late bloomers!) Thanks Ashley, always love you work.

Douglas
June 20, 2024

Chris is right on the money the $3 mill super cap, it isn''t indexed from July 1 and you can bet this government will attempt to include some portion of your private home in any pension entitlement and the next " target " will be increasing the 15% tax on voluntary superannuation contributions to 30% .So much for people who have worked hard all there working life and made additional superannuation contributions so that they never rely on any part of a government pension.

Geoff
May 24, 2024

Proofing: your "pink zone" is actually yellow, unless I've suddenly developed some rare form of colour blindness. No need to print this... perhaps just amend.

Mark Hayden
May 24, 2024

I believe the Safe Spending Rate is considerably higher if you segregate assets - eg RHS of the bucket to be Cash & Term Deposits and are the sole purpose is to be consumed; LHS is the best long-term performer with dividends to the RHS, and crucially never needing to cash-in any LHS assets at the worst possible time.

Rob
May 23, 2024

Sorry Ashley - the Financial Services industry, of which I was a Member for many years, has turned "advice complexity" into an art form that for 90% of future and current retirees, totally confuses! The variables:

1. Your age - the only one you know with certainty!
2. Your after tax "expenditure", you should know, but most don't when asked
3. Earning rates - pick a number - personally use 7.5%
4. Your Date of Death
5. Moving Regulatory Goalposts

My suggestion for anyone who wants to be independent of Canberra in retirement, is to run a "preliminary screen" of Capital required at 65. 20*after tax expenses is a number I have used for years and it has proven to be remarkably robust. Cut it back to 15*after tax expenses at 75 if you wish!! If you pass that test, invest wisely and relax! If you fail the test, time to dig deeper as to what should change.

Keep it simple!
May 23, 2024

Rob, I think your comments are spot-on. I am currently a financial adviser and the amount of "complexity for complexity's sake" is staggering.

Ashley's model is extremely well thought through, but way to complex to implement with any degree of confidence. Any time you need to nominate a 'degree of severity' on a scale (such as the 1-5 scale we see here), the result becomes vague and subjective. One person's "1" is another person's "5".

I agree that most people don't know what their target living costs in retirement are. I see this as a key area advisers can assist - helping people articulate their own objectives. If your goals are not measurable you are wasting your time. Anyone who thinks that "maximise my wealth" is a serious financial goal they are lost I'm afraid.

I prefer to use a lower return rate (to be conservative) BUT review things every year; a retirement strategy is not "set and forget".

Dudley
May 24, 2024

"Anyone who thinks that "maximise my wealth" is a serious financial goal they are lost I'm afraid.":

Please explain? Are you referring to where maximum wealth is insufficient to support expenditure?

Kevin
May 26, 2024

The complexity is there to steal money.Tick the box to enter,or it is compulsory to enter. You want to leave,fill in 50 pages of B/S rubbish.That rubbish will never be in plain English.You can't leave because you haven't filled the forms in correctly.Start again.Sorry you you haven't filled the forms in correctly again .Start again.

Mission accomplished,they've given up.If they call ,ignore it, or play the recording "your call is very important to us .We are very busy.We estimate your wait time will be 4 hours"

Mission accomplished,they've given up.If they continue to call,keep ignoring it,once again mission accomplished.

Retirement is set and forget.The same as getting there was set and forget.To repeat, $6K for 1000 CBA shares.Reinvest the dividends until retirement.1,000 shares compounds to 6,000 shares.

6x1 = 6.Hang on that's not complicated enough.Use some brackets ,a star or hashtag sign.Using a multiplication sign ( X ) is far too simple.

CBA shares move the same as the market does,up and down.Buy more after they have gone down

A 6 figure net income in retirement,to be told set and forget doesn't work,it's not complicated enough.

Use the John Kalkman way for franking.Gross $142 K,the tax man gets 3x14 = 42..Hang that's too simple you can't just use a multiplication sign and move a decimal point.We have the make it more complicated.

Say after those decades of set and forget you have 11,000 shares in CBA, 10,000 as income,1,000 to use for the DRP.Exactly the same set and forget. Hang on,that's not complicated enough. Where are the 100 hypotheticals.What about the cost of living crisis.What about crying that the cost of living crisis means I have to go back to work.I'm only going back to work if the govt lets me keep all the money,and doesn't deduct any pension off me.My next demand is starting tomorrow the same pension system as New Zealand,or UK,or USA. Bolt it on to the Australian tax system.Then I don't, have to pax tax on it.Yiu pay tax on it in the UK etc but I like to cherry pick .

We can live off the dividends from CBA .Everything else is icing on the cake and a cherry on top. The set and forget plan will continue.

The final cut the grass ( coup de grace) is if it was that simple everybody would be doing it.After a lifetime of trying to make everything more and more complicated they fool themselves that simple and easy couldn't possibly work,if it did everybody would be doing it.

Amazing.

Rant over

Dudley
May 26, 2024

"Gross $142 K,the tax man gets 3x14 = 42.":

You mean;
= 3 * 142000 / 10 = 42600.

Alt net dividends to gross & tax;
100000 / (1 - 30%) = 142857.14,
142857.14 * 30% = 42857.14

Or net to tax;
100000 * 30% / (1 - 30%) = 42857.14

Lionel W
May 23, 2024

A well thought through action plan for the most vexing question for anybody retired or about to do so. If you score comfortably, good luck and enjoy. If your score causes some doubt, better to know sooner to enable you to do something about it.

Dudley
May 23, 2024

Minimum average net real total return per year required throughout retirement:

https://iili.io/JV1zXJp.png
[ https://freeimage.host/i/image.JV1zXJp ]

Example: Cell C5; with capital 128 times expenses, can lose 1.92% every year until death in 64 years from present.

Increasing Age Pension income 'kicking in' complicates calculations, so table less useful where that occurs - but not irrelevant.

ashley owen
May 28, 2024

hi dudley - I looked at the table in your link. They have the Capital/Expense ratio down to 3 decimal places, and the annual real returns down to 2 decimal places! Risks giving the user a false sense of accuracy. I would question anything beyond whole numbers in this sort of exercise. No forecast in real life is accurate to 3 decimal places! There are probably a dozen variables and assumptions behind how they got their numbers. Change any one of those by just 0.1% and it will probably throw out a lot of those 3 decimal place numbers on the table. But simple ready reckoners are still useful to start with. More important is getting behind the assumptions and testing the sensitivity of variables, and determining what input numbers to use for each person. Quantifying emotional needs is especially difficult - eg "I don't want to eat into capital", "I want to leave a legacy for my family" etc.
cheers
ashley

Dudley
May 28, 2024

"Risks giving the user a false sense of accuracy.":

I imagine most understand that estimating years to their death is a wild guess, only limited by being not less than 0 and highly likely not more than the age of the oldest person ever.

Similarly to their expenses.

Some might know their wealth precisely, or that it fluctuates with the unpredictable mood of the mob.

Having picked numbers for capital, expenses and demise, the calculation of the minimum return required to not become impecunious before demise can be performed to any degree of precision, partly to allow verification of calculation method.

Precision is not accuracy.

Picking a 'reasonable' range of values for capital, expenses and demise gives a broader area on the table to provide a range of minimum return values required. A little assistance to gestimations.

Steve
May 23, 2024

Hi, I'm a 30 year software engineer, soon to be retired status, and used to math and logic issues and solutions.

I found the background info useful, albeit not easy to follow the logical progression, but the thought of having to use a pen and paper to jot numbers down, or retain them and go to other charts was novel in this day and age..

It is just questions and simple maths - an excel SS would create your answer. Why not make in an interactive process? Or is it there hidden in full sight?

ashley owen
May 30, 2024

hi steve - yes where there are numerical inputs, there is a model! There are dozens of variables and so I have found it more instructive to model each factor separately, to demonstrate the sensitivities and the issues. Also most of the variables are only estimates of future outcomes (inflation, real returns, volatility, life expectancy, etc), so its a question of distributions of outcomes rather than a single number. Another problem is that in many cases even a very small change in variable can have huge impact in outcomes. The main thing is to get a broad feel for the major variables and the issues they create. Then go conservative - you only live once, and this money has to last. All of this is too detailed for Firstlinks articles!
cheers
ao

Mart
May 23, 2024

Thanks Ashley ... an interesting challenge to map your personal number. It would all be so much easier if only there was an expiry date on everybody's birth certificate .....

Disgruntled
May 23, 2024

My grandparents on both sides made it into their 80's. My parents the same. Barring unforeseen sudden death, I realistically expect to make it to my 80's

 

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