Kenneth Chavis IV
Workers often find themselves struggling with how much they should be saving for retirement. While it certainly depends on your situation, experts have general guidelines on what you need to have saved at each stage of your life.
For example, experts at Fidelity Investments recommend that you save:
At least one times your salary by your 30th birthday
Three times your salary by your 40th birthday
Six times your salary by your 50th birthday
Eight times your salary by your 60th birthday
Here’s how those numbers break down based on age, average income and monthly expenditure, according to nationwide data. Also included are emergency savings goals for three and six months of spending.
Average retirement savings goal by age
Retirement saving goal
Emergency saving goal
$14,282 to $28,564
$18,722 to $37,445
$19,339 to $38,678
$17,373 to $34,747
Note: Retirement savings goals are based on Fidelity’s recommendations above using data in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2019. Emergency savings goals are calculated using the average annual expenditure mean for that age group in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2019.
Think of these savings targets as less of an exact number and more of a general guide. They will show you how your emergency savings and retirement account balances stack up to the recommendations.
Below you’ll find a full savings guide that estimates how much you should have in savings and retirement accounts at different age milestones.
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How much do I need in an emergency fund?
Let’s start with your emergency fund. Standard financial advice says you should aim for three to six months’ worth of essential expenses, kept in some combination of high-yield savings accounts and shorter-term CDs.
“For a working individual earning income, the goal should be to have just enough cash to provide an emergency buffer to protect against any pitfalls that could hinder financial well-being,” says Sergio Garcia, a certified financial planner at Brennan Financial Services in Dallas.
Broadly speaking, there are six key costs to focus on: housing, transportation, food, health care/insurance, utilities and other household expenses. The first two categories typically require the largest monthly payments.
How much you need to save to survive an adverse life event comes down to you and your family’s financial situation and security.
A two-income family, for example, may only need to have three months’ worth of expenses, because of the greater stability offered by two earners. But if there is only one income, or wages are largely commission-based, “the amount held in cash should be closer to six months of expenses, or even longer,” Garcia says.
An easy formula for figuring out what your suggested emergency savings range may look like is by multiplying your monthly expenses by three and six.
You can also get a sense of your savings’ target by age by looking at recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS data show average annual income and expenditures by age and type. .
How much do I need to save in my 20s?
Households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 earn an average of $76,187 a year before taxes, according to the BLS’s 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey. This household should have about one times its salary socked away in retirement accounts.
As for your emergency fund, these households spend a monthly average in the following categories:
$1,708 on housing
$858 on transportation
$614 on food
$264 on health care
$285 on utilities
Toss in an estimated $68 per month on other household expenses and that monthly essential spending costs $3,797.
Saving anything may seem like a challenge after graduating. But the important thing is to start saving, and to start small, such as putting aside a few hundred dollars into an emergency fund.
Consider taking on a side gig or second job to generate a little extra income for your savings. Or you can consider some passive income ideas.
As you gain work experience and move onto a career track, you can amp up your contributions to your emergency fund and to your retirement account as well.
Here’s what you should plan on saving by the time you reach age 30:
Retirement savings goal: $76,187
Emergency savings goal: $14,282 to $28,564
How much do I need to save in my 30s?
Those aged 35 to 44 earn an average income of $103,272 before taxes, according to BLS data. Conventional wisdom states this couple should have three times that amount saved for retirement.
Their estimated average monthly spending consists of spending in the following categories:
That comes to a total of $4,877 a month.
Here’s what you should plan on saving by the time you reach age 40:
Retirement savings goal: $309,816
Emergency savings goal: $18,722 to $37,445
How much do I need to save in my 40s?
This is the time you hit your peak earnings. It’s also when you’ll spend the most money in your life.
Those aged 45 to 54 earn an average yearly income of $107,094 before taxes. Experts tell these stressed-out folks they need six times earnings in their retirement accounts.
Overall monthly expenses remain elevated during this decade. While housing costs actually go down slightly to $1,990 a month, other expenses remain at similar levels or rise:
Those amounts total $4,894 a month.
Here’s what you should plan on saving by the time you reach age 50:
Retirement savings goal: $642,564
Emergency savings goal: $19,339 to $38,678
How much do I need to save in my 50s?
Time to wind down. You’ve probably moved on from the most stressful period of your career, either voluntarily or not, and now you’re preparing for the last third of your life and retirement. That’s why earnings and spending start to fall.
Those aged 55 to 64 earn an average yearly income of $99,606. You’ll want to have saved at least eight times that for retirement.
Thankfully you may need less in your savings account during this time. This age group spends a monthly average on the following categories:
That’s a monthly total of $4,389.
Here’s what you should plan on saving by the time you reach age 60:
Retirement savings goal: $796,848
Emergency savings goal: $17,373 to $34,747
Other common savings goals
Of course, there is more to life than simply saving up for emergencies or socking away every spare penny for your retirement. Important as those goals can be, you’ll also want to save so you can take advantage of the good things life throws your way, whether it’s getting married, buying a house or simply going on a vacation with your family.
Whatever it is, you’ll want to have some money saved up, especially if you want to avoid getting saddled with thousands of dollars in expensive, credit-card debt.
You may want to open separate savings accounts for these additional expenses in order to avoid diluting your emergency fund. If you are looking to save a couple years out, say for a new car or a down payment on a home, you might consider putting money into a money market fund or a CD, which could earn a bit more interest than your typical savings account.
However, when you start saving for a child’s college education, the costs graduate into an entirely new level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, here are the average tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 school year:
$53,217 for students living on campus at a non-profit private college
$25,487 for in-state students living on campus at a public college.
For parents, that means having to save a lot of money. (You can crunch the numbers using Bankrate’s college cost calculator.)
For college, you may want to look at a 529 savings plan, which is offered by most states. These college savings plans work like an IRA or 401(k), with contributions invested in mutual funds and other financial assets. Money invested in 529s use after-tax dollars, but your earnings grow tax-free. Some states also provide tax deductions for contributing to these plans, so it can be worthwhile to check on whether your state does so.
How much should I have in my 401(k)?
The average contribution rate and retirement savings account balances can give you an idea of what others are saving. Here are the national averages by age, according to a 2018 Fidelity study of its 401(k) accounts.
AVERAGE CONTRIBUTION RATE
AVERAGE ACCOUNT BALANCE
How can you boost your 401(k) balance? Those who are fortunate enough to work for a company that matches a certain percent of contributions should try and take full advantage of that benefit. After hitting your match, make your emergency fund and money that can go toward paying high-interest debt, if applicable, your top priorities.
Bankrate’s 401(k) calculator can help you estimate your retirement earnings.
It’s never too early to start saving. Your 20s are a great – probably the best – time to start saving. Here are some other things to boost your savings:
Pay down debt. Paying off high-interest student debt and automating your savings so you squirrel away a piece of each paycheck are good places to start.
Go for an online account. An easy way to increase your savings is by putting it into a high-yield savings account or money market account. Both options offer a boost in earnings with minimal effort, but they are also highly liquid, meaning you can easily access them without a penalty in case an emergency arises.
Retirement accounts offer tax advantages. The contributions you make in a traditional 401(k), for example, aren’t taxed when you invest the money, and you might also get a matching contribution from your employer. The money itself takes advantage of compounding interest. If you save 10 percent to 15 percent of each paycheck, including any match, you’ll be on track. Your emergency savings, meanwhile, is funded with after-tax money that earns barely any return at all.
Consider a Roth 401(k). The Roth 401(k) can be a good alternative to the traditional 401(k), though your contributions will use after-tax money, meaning you won’t get a tax break today. Instead, your withdrawals in retirement will be tax-free, an attractive benefit. Plus, you can still take advantage of the employer match, if it’s offered.
It’s okay to start small. The important part is that you’re thinking about your financial future. As you progress in your career and become more financially stable, you can increase your contributions.
Prioritize your savings goals
Budgeting and then saving is the first step. But then you have to make sure you’re properly prioritizing your savings goals.
Consider an emergency fund to be your most important savings goal. Saving for this during good times is going to help you during an inevitable bad time. There’s no way to predict the cost of that unplanned life event.
If you get lucky with a salary raise or bonus, take it straight to the bank and try to live beneath your last salary. And when a debt is paid off, or an ongoing expense evaporates, put that money toward your emergency fund.
Automate as much as possible
Not having to remember to put away money makes saving easier. Automating saving is one of the most effective ways to achieve your savings goals. There are a couple of ways to do this:
This same principle applies to contributing to retirement. Those fortunate enough to have a 401(k) plan at their workplace can automate their retirement savings. This again shows the power of set-it-and-forget saving.
A savings account might not be the best option for long-term money. Once you have an emergency fund, you might be ready to invest.
You’ll also want to determine:
Your time horizon for when you’ll need to access the money you’re investing
The purpose of the money being invested
Your risk tolerance for the money
Savings accounts and CDs that are within FDIC limits and guidelines are some of the safest places to put your money. However, over time you’re more likely to make much higher returns by being invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks. But you’ll have to be comfortable with more risk, too.