Planning for retirement is one time when a crystal ball would come in handy. If only you could see ahead to know exactly how much you’d need to live the good life in your retirement years. Unless you discover a crystal ball or develop clairvoyance, you’ll have to make do with educated guesses and advice from experts to plan a realistic retirement budget. Take the things you know and the experiences of others to paint a reasonable picture of how much money you’ll need in the years ahead.
Your lifestyle will probably change when you retire. You’ll spend less on work-related expenses such as clothing, lunches out and transportation, but you may spend more on travel and recreation. If you plan to move after retirement, your housing costs will change. Downsizing could mean lower housing costs, but moving to a resort area could mean you spend more on housing. If you plan to pay off your house before you retire, you won’t have to worry about a mortgage, but you’ll still need money to pay real estate taxes and insurance. Thinking about these kinds of lifestyle choices and looking at the amount you spend today and estimating future expenses will help you begin to draw up your retirement budget.
Even if you expect to be covered by Medicare when you retire, you’ll need funds for prescription drugs and co-payments Medicare doesn’t cover. Plus, the cost of Medicare comes out of your Social Security checks and rises with inflation. As people age, medical costs rise. The United States Department of Labor estimates that in retirement, medical costs will rise about 7 percent a year and that you’ll spend 20 percent of your budget on medical expenses.
Costs rise with inflation. While it’s impossible to predict future inflation rates, you can look to historical rates for clues. Between 1980 and 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that inflation varied from a high of 13.5 percent to a low of 1.6 percent. The Department of Labor suggests using 3.5 percent when estimating your future retirement expenses, which represents the average rate of inflation for the last 20 years.
One oft-quoted rule of thumb is that in retirement, your expenses will be about 70 percent of what you spent during your working years. With the average retirement stretching to 30 years, people remaining healthier and active longer, and with rising health care costs, the Department of Labor suggests you aim for a budget of 80 to 90 percent of what you currently spend.
Expenses are only half of your retirement budget. You need to know if you’ll have enough income to meet those expenses. The Social Security Administration will give you an estimate of what you can expect to receive in benefits, depending on when you begin to collect your checks. Add this amount to any pension benefits you’ll receive. If you have other retirement savings, such as a 401(k) or IRA, determine how much you’ll withdraw from these funds each year. Vanguard suggests aiming for a 3 to 5 percent withdrawal rate in order to make the funds last your full retirement. You can increase these percentages as you age if you need more money.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.