Quick check: Are you on track to retire?

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Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:00 am

It’s summer vacation time again and all across the fruited plain kids are pestering their parents with that age-old question: “Are we there yet?” Any answer other than “Yes” prompts the inevitable: “How much longer?”

When I was a kid, my parents would answer that question with an educated guess or just tell me to quit asking. Nowadays we have GPS devices that, as near as I can tell, use a scientific process called “Magic” to determine where you are and exactly how much longer it will be until you reach Walley World.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar device that could tell you how close you are to having enough saved for retirement? Knowing where you are puts your savings into context, provides incentive and lets you know when you need to make adjustments. A trusted adviser can provide you with a detailed analysis of your unique situation, but if you want a quick, back-of-the-envelope way to gauge your progress, ask yourself the following three questions:

>> What will retirement cost?

We all have different plans for retirement, so there’s no one answer to the question “How much is enough?” A popular rule of thumb, however, is that you’ll need about 85 percent of your pre-retirement income during retirement in order to maintain your standard of living.

Multiply your current income by .85. If you were to retire today, that’s approximately how much you’d need to pay the bills. For example, if you’re making $75,000 now, you could bid work adieu and get by on about $63,750 because increased spending on things like health care would be more than offset by reduced spending on items such as taxes, 401(k) contributions and office birthday parties.

It’s important to note that the 85 Percent Rule is a bit of a minimum standard. If your retirement plans involve things like expensive travel or hobbies, you might want to plan on replacing a greater percentage of your income to avoid running out of money. Also, if you’re many years away from retiring, you will want to adjust your income for inflation before calculating the 85 percent replacement figure.

>> How will I pay for it?

Next, figure out where that money will come from. Some are lucky enough to have a pension, but most will need to rely on a combination of savings and Social Security to fund retirement.

Recent research by Aon Hewitt shows that retirees will need Social Security plus savings worth about 11 times their annual income in order to hit the 85 percent benchmark and maintain their standard of living through their retirement years.

Charles Farrell did similar research several years ago and concluded that the typical person should aim to have about 12 times his annual income (plus Social Security) saved for retirement. To track your progress, he suggests having three times your annual income saved by age 45 and 6.5 times by 55.

With that in mind, divide your assets by your income. What’s the number? If your goal is to have an asset/income ratio somewhere around 11 or 12, how are you doing? Are you on track or do you need to make adjustments (save more, change your asset allocation, work longer, downsize your plans)?

For a more detailed review of your finances, you can download a free Financial Checkup Checklist at intentionalretirement.com/checkup.

>> What will I do when I retire?

Money is important, but it’s a means to an end. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “The desire of gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit.” I doubt that your end goal is to have a bunch of money. More likely, it is to use that money to have and do the things that bring you joy, meaning and purpose.

Your retirement is more than just a math problem. Save all you want, but you won’t truly be ready for the next phase until you have a good idea of what you want to do. Think about your ideal day in retirement. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be with? Where do you want to live? As you answer those questions, the nonfinancial aspects of your retirement will come into focus.

So how are you doing? Are you there yet? If so, great! If not, keep at it and continue to gauge your progress until retirement comes into view.

Joe Hearn is an Omaha financial planner. He can be reached at 402-331-8600 or by email at joe@intentionalretirement.com.

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