Jill On Money: What’s your retirement number?

Jill Schlesinger on

What will it take for you to retire comfortably?

For years, people would contact me to help them figure out their “NUMBER,” as if there were one, magic number that anybody could use.

A recent oft-quoted survey from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance tried to boil the results down to one number and (drum roll, please) it is $1.46 million, up “a whopping 53% from the $951,000 target Americans reported in 2020.”

Obviously, the survey result number is much higher than the median ($86,900) or mean ($333,940) amount of money held in a retirement account, according to the Federal Reserve.

It is unclear how respondents determined their numbers. My guess is that they had $1 million in their heads and then tried to factor in inflation and longer life expectancy to come up with some number that vaguely resembled their specific number.

To help remove the guesswork, here are the steps you should use to help crunch your retirement numbers. You can do this on your own, in consultation with one of the many retirement calculators out there provided by financial institutions. If you are not a do-it-yourselfer, then work with a Certified Financial Planner. But either way, you are going to have to do some of the work.


The hardest part is the simplest: Calculate how much money you spend on a monthly basis. There, I said it!

Regardless of how much money you earn or have saved, all financial planning starts at the same place: determining your monthly income needs in the future.

The way to get there is to start with where you are today. Include the basics like housing, food, utilities, insurance, health care. Then tally up the fun stuff, like gym or club memberships, going out for dinner, vacations.

Don't forget to add in any expenses related to ongoing obligations you have toward others, like aging parents, adult kids or helping out with grandchildren.


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