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Looking to spend your days playing golf or tending the garden while most people your age are still decades away from retirement? If that picture sounds like your dream life, you're not alone.
Retiring well ahead of the norm is a topic that dominates online forums and many millennial-managed websites. But figuring out how to retire at 45 — and reaching that goal — isn't for the faint of heart.
If you're asking the question, "How much do I need to retire at 45?" — the general answer is "a lot." A typical adult in good health may go on to live more than three decades after they've reached their mid-40s, according to the CDC, and quite a few will reach age 85 or 90. Needless to say, if you're looking to leave the workforce early, you'll likely need a robust investment account to avoid running out of money during your lifetime.
Understanding What It Takes to Retire Early
The general rule of thumb in retirement is to withdraw no more than 4% of your savings in the first year, and then adjust your income for inflation after that. But those planning a prolonged retirement may want to err on the cautious side with a slightly smaller withdrawal rate.
To figure out the amount of savings you'd need at retirement, you'll need to determine your expected annual expenses in retirement. That can be daunting for someone who's still relatively young, but a retirement calculator can help you tally your projected living costs, including housing expenses, food, utilities, loan payments and hobbies.
One of the expense categories you'll certainly want to account for are health care expenses, which will likely represent one of your biggest costs even in your late 40s or early 50s. In the near term, that includes things such as health care insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and coinsurance. You may also have to shop for health insurance plans on an exchange since most people aren't eligible for Medicare until 65.
Long-term medical costs are another factor to consider. You may need to hire a caregiver or enter an assisted living facility later in life. The average cost of a home health aide is currently about $20.50 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Meanwhile, care at a nursing facility is even pricier, with a private room averaging $7,698 per month. If you plan to eventually take out long-term care insurance to help cover those contingencies, you'll want to factor that into your living expenses and account for inflation.
Estimating Your Savings Goal
Suppose you add up your potential expenses and figure you can live off $50,000 a year from your investments in your first year of retirement. (Our Retirement Cost of Living Calculator can help you do the math.) If you use the 4% withdrawal rule, you'll need 25 times your annual expenditures to avoid over-withdrawing your accounts over time, although this does not take into consideration market volatility, inflation or any taxes and fees on the account.
So, even with that modest budget, you'd have to save a hefty $1.25 million to stay afloat. As you typically can't pull money out of a 401(k) until you reach age 59½ without incurring penalties, saving aggressively is a necessity.
Regardless of your projected retirement budget, you'll want to calculate the necessary amount of funds you'll need using the withdrawal rate with which you're comfortable.
Making Early Retirement Work
Obviously, any illustration like the one above is only intended to give you a ballpark idea of what you would need saved in your retirement account. There are any number of factors that may alter your projections, including:
- Other sources of income in retirement, including a spouse's wages or a pension
- Your health condition and expected lifespan
- Your willingness to supplement investment income with part-time work
- Your assumptions about the market's future performance
So, if you're still wondering how to retire at 45, you'll want to take all of those variables into account. Discussing the implications with a financial professional could potentially give you a little extra reassurance before taking the plunge.
For those who aren't extremely high income-earners, reaching your savings goal by that age likely requires severe penny-pinching early in your career, matched with extremely robust retirement contributions. It may not be easy, but it isn't impossible.