How Much Should I Have in My 401k?

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If you’re wondering how much money you should have in your 401k, your wait is over. Retirement savings is much of the talk in today’s personal finance world.

Personal finance specialists everywhere are sounding off about the dire straits of the average Joe’s retirement savings situation.

No matter what your current retirement savings situation, there are things you can do to increase the amount of money you’ve got saved for retirement – and decrease the amount of money you’ll need to retire as well.

However, if you need to devise a plan for increasing your retirement savings, you’ve first got to know if your current 401k balance is sufficient. Otherwise, it carries the potential of leaving you short-changed financially during your retirement years.

How Much Should I Have in My 401k Based on My Age?

There are a few different schools of thought on how much a person should have saved in their 401k based on their age.

Tip: Check out Blooom, which will give you a free analysis of your investments in your 401k.

Every financial expert has a different opinion. When deciding what the right number is for you, I think one thing to keep in mind is that it’s better to have more saved than less.

Creating a potential post-retirement budget as a guideline will help you determine how much money you’ll spend after you’re retired.

In an ideal world, you will be completely debtfree by the time you are retired and have minimal housing and other expenses. Aside from normal retirement expenses, you’ll want to be prepared to cover unexpected medical bills and other expenses as well.

Plus, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to have money set aside for replacement vehicles, etc.

A person’s income and expenses can make a difference when it comes to how much they should have saved at each interval age, but here are some general guidelines.

Use these guidelines in conjunction with your projected post-retirement budget to find out if you should have more or less saved by the time you retire than what is suggested here.

By Age 30

By the time you are thirty, you should have a minimum of one year’s salary (use your current salary for all equations) saved in your 401k. Currently, the average salary in the United States is $56,500.

If you started saving right out of college this shouldn’t be unrealistic at all. If you didn’t start saving until your late twenties or early thirties you may need to do some catch-up contributions.

By Age 35

By the time you reach thirty-five, you should have two years worth of salary saved in your 401k. This is an average of $113,000. The five years of compound interest between ages thirty and thirty-five and your continued contributions should make this possible.

By Age 40

By the time you’re forty, you should have three years worth of salary saved in your 401k. The average salary here is $169,500. If you started saving much later, as in your mid-to-late thirties, catch up contributions are vital.

By Age 45

By the time you turn forty-five, you should have four years worth of salary saved. An average salary at this point is $226,000. Again, the age in which you started saving could have an impact – for better or for worse – on how much you have saved at this point.

By Age 50

This is a good checkpoint age, and you should have five years worth of your annual salary saved by age fifty. The current average is $282,500.

If you don’t, now would be a good time to start making those catch-up contributions and to start saving in other retirement vehicles such as a Roth or Traditional IRA as well.

Also, you should start seriously considering getting all debt paid off at this point, including mortgage debt.

Debt payments are a serious hindrance to a comfortable retirement life.

As an aside, Deacon’s new book, You CAN Retire Early, has a plethora of valuable information on creating a plush retirement life.

If you’re earnest about retiring early, or simply retiring comfortably, this is an informative and inspiring read.

By Age 55

At this point, you should have six times your annual salary saved. The average salary amount is $339,000. Again, catch-up contributions are vital if you’re behind.

With only ten years until the typical retirement age, you’ll want to make retirement saving a major priority if you don’t have as much saved as you would like to.

Think of increasing your 401k and other retirement savings as buckling down big time to achieve a goal worth every effort: a comfortable retirement with little or no money worries.

By Age 60

At age sixty, you should have seven times your annual salary saved. This amounts to an average salary of $395,500. The wonders of compound interest should be working seriously in your favor at this point.

By Age 65

Age sixty-five is when most people who haven’t retired already are thinking seriously about gliding into a comfortable retirement.

At this point, you should have at least eight times your annual salary saved. By this age, the average salary is $452,000. So, if you’ve been making $70,000 per year, you should have at least $560,000 in your 401k account.

Average Current Retirement Savings Balance

Unfortunately, many people are woefully under-prepared for retirement from a financial standpoint. Here are some statistics on the median current retirement savings balances of Americans based on their age.

Families BetweenMedian Retirement Savings
32 to 37$480
38 to 43$4,200
44 to 49$6,200
50 to 56$8,000
56 to 61$17,000

Source: How Much the Average Family Has Saved for Retirement At Every Age

As you can see, there are a large number of families that are vastly under-saved for retirement. The mean averages in this report bring the numbers up substantially, which means there are a small number of power savers in each category who have substantial retirement savings. Let’s look at the mean numbers from this report.

Families BetweenMean Retirement Savings
32 to 37$31,644
38 to 43$67,270
44 to 49$81,347
50 to 56$124,831
56 to 61$163,577

Again, the mean averages show us that there are a few who are saving substantially for retirement, which is a good thing – for them. So what should you have saved for retirement based on your current age? Let’s talk.

Increasing Retirement Savings

In an ideal world, everyone would start saving for retirement straight out of college and continue doing so for their entire working career.

However, life gets in the way for many people and saving in a 401k is often not a priority or not a possibility.

Lower income earners have an even more difficult time putting away money, especially if they’ve got a family to support.

If you are behind on retirement savings, read on to discover some tips for finding more cash to increase your retirement savings to get it where you want it to be by the time you’re ready to retire.

1. Start Living on a Budget and Tracking Your Expenses

The fact is that until you know where your money is going each month you’re going to have a hard time finding money to set aside for retirement savings.

See Well Kept Wallet’s Resources Page for Deacon’s Starter Budget Form and Financial Game Plan form. Both are free for Well Kept Wallet readers.

The reason it’s so important to discover and track where your money is going each month is so that you can identify wasteful spending and reroute it toward causes that are more important to you.

Many people find when they start tracking expenses that they are spending money in $5, $10 and $20 increments (and sometimes even more) that seems like it’s not a lot but adds up to hundreds or thousands of dollars each month.

When my husband and I started tracking expenses in 2013, we were able to cut them down by nearly $1,000 a month – and we were making well under $100,000 per year at the time.

By trimming grocery expenses, cutting back on entertainment costs and being more mindful of each purchase, we found a lot of waste in our spending. We were able to use what we were wasting for much more important things, such as paying off our debt.

2. Increase Your Income if Need Be

Sometimes a lack of retirement savings is caused by mismanaged income. It’s common to get caught up in everyday frivolous spending that seems harmless but causes major savings deficits over the years.

Other times there is a real lack of income that has caused a person’s inability to save for retirement. If you’re managing your money well and minimizing waste but don’t make enough to save what you need to save for retirement – you may need to increase your income.

Luckily, there are lots of options out there for doing so. You can pick up a parttime job, ask for overtime hours at work or consider one of the dozens of side hustle options out there.

You can also increase your income by selling stuff you have and don’t necessarily need. Then take that cash and use it to fund your 401k or other retirement accounts.

However, it’s important to remember that as you increase your income, you need to be sure to take that extra money and target it all toward retirement savings.

It might be tempting to use it for fun stuff like vacations and new and shiny things – especially if you’ve been living on a tight budget for a long period of time.

Don’t make that mistake. Instead, commit to funneling all extra income into your 401k or other retirement accounts, even if it’s only for a specified period like five years or ten years.

After that time is up, you’ll likely see a significant increase in your retirement savings. That increase will help ensure you won’t be struggling to live in your later years.

3. Just Do It

Remember the old Nike “Just Do It” commercials? The point of it was to get consumers to put on their Nike tennis shoes and get out there and exercise.

“Just Do It” t-shirts and signs were everywhere during those prominent Nike years and everyone who was anyone wore Nike tennis shoes.

If you’re behind on your retirement savings, you need to have the “Just Do It” attitude. You need to decide that you WILL increase your retirement savings no matter how tough the going might get.

Since 401k contributions are pre-tax, you probably won’t notice much of a difference in your paycheck.

And most people find when faced with taking home a smaller paycheck that they adjust. They learn to make do on less because they have no other choice.

In the meantime, your 401k contributions are working silently on your behalf, growing to create a lush retirement fund while you sleep.

Think of increasing your retirement savings as running a marathon or saving to buy or build a home with cash.

Each day you can take small steps. Maybe you’ll sell something on eBay and be able to add another $100 to your 401k account.

Or you’ll cut your grocery bill by $50 one month and be able to put that money into an IRA. Each step you take might not seem as if it will make much of an impact, especially if you’re far behind on your retirement savings needs.

However, combined with the power of compound interest, your contributions will start to grow. And grow. And grow!

Over the course of a decade or longer, you can see a significant change for the better in your 401k and other retirement account balances if you’re willing to make small changes that result in more money toward retirement savings.

Debt and Retirement

It’s pretty typical these days for people to carry some type of consumer debt. They may have a credit card balance, car loan, student loan or personal loan – or a combination of all of the above.

It’s also common for many people to carry a mortgage loan.

In fact, this 2016 survey by Value Penguin shows that the typical person aged 65-69 has an average credit card debt balance of $6,876.

This New York Times article from November of 2016 stated that homeowners over 65 had a median mortgage balance of $82,000.

Those kind of debt payments can easily add a thousand dollars or more to a retiree’s monthly living expenses. With living expenses so much higher, 401k and other retirement balances need to be higher as well.

If you’re behind on retirement savings as it is, you’ll have a lot more catching up to do if you plan on carrying debt into retirement.

It’s Not Too Late

On the other hand, if you can commit to no more borrowing, saving up a few months worth of living expenses in an emergency fund and creating a plan to be debt free by the time you retire you’ll be able to live on less in retirement.

That means that your catch-up contributions if you’re behind on retirement savings won’t have to be as large.

No matter what your current 401k and other retirement account balances are, there are things you can do right now to increase your retirement savings and put yourself in a situation where you need less to live on.

Summary

It’s up to you to make the decision that you’ll change your current spending habits and do things differently so that you can get your retirement savings where it needs to be.

Depending on your situation, saving enough for retirement may mean you need to make serious changes. For example, you might need to downsize your house or seek out a higher paying job.

Big life changes such as these can be stressful. But it’s important to remember that the changes are for you creating a more financially secure situation for yourself – both now and in the future.

The smaller house, the better job, the relinquishment of “stuff” will all help you get to where you want and need to be financially.

It’ll help you change your life from “always struggling for money” to never giving money a second thought. You’ll know you’ve put yourself in a secure situation by changing the way you manage your money.

So, throw aside any temptation to panic or give up, and just get it done. You got this!

Were you surprised by the average retirement savings balance? What did you learn in reading this article? Comment below.

2 COMMENTS

2 responses to “How Much Should I Have in My 401k?”

  1. Josh Patoka says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the savings milestones broken down this way for a 401K. Usually, most experts say you need $X when you retire and to contribute enough to at least capture the minimum employer match. I’m guilty of spreading the same advice, but, my viewpoint is readjusted in an encouraging and achievable way.

    • Laurie Blank says:

      Thanks, Josh! Obviously the numbers will be different for everyone, but I think the milestone approach helps to give people something to aim for at every age. Looking at that final huge number can be so overwhelming. If people can work to at least increase what they’re saving now, if needed, they’ll be in a better position.

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