• Hugh F. Wynn

Save A “Real” Million Bucks By Retirement

A couple of subscribers I’ve chatted with recently seem to think that if they retire with a million bucks in their retirement account, they’ll be in hog heaven. No doubt, it’s a very comforting figure. But should it be?

A couple of subscribers I’ve chatted with recently seem to think that if they retire with a million bucks in their retirement account, they’ll be in hog heaven. No doubt, it’s a very comforting figure. But should it be? I ran a hypothetical calculation for myself assuming I was 28 years of age. Hey, don’t giggle, I’m only about twice that age (if you’ll permit me to use the term “about twice” quite loosely). I simply want to present an example that at age 28, with a good job, and already having saved $10,000, how much more money would have to be tucked away monthly, invested at 7%, compounded annually, to achieve millionaire status at age 68 (40 years hence).


More Than Meets the Eye

I grabbed my abacas (Source: Bankrate’s Investing & CD Calculator - Save a Million Dollars Calculator), slapped around a few beads, and Voila! I had my answer. In addition to the $10,000 seed money, I’ll need to invest another $343 per month to reach that million-dollar goal. Seems doable – particularly if I have a generous employer who matches some of my contributions. And there should be nice raises in this mythical future even as my family grows and requires a bigger house, dependable cars and college or trade school educations.


But then I realized that there is more to the calculation than first meets the eye. I forgot to allow for Izzy The Inflation Monster! So, I threw in a 2.5% per year inflation factor to feed that hungry beast who will gobble up as much of my purchasing power as it can during those intervening 40 years.


The Inflation Monster

Using that 2.5% inflation factor, here are the numbers. Beginning with the $10,000 initial investment and adding $343 each month for 40 years, I do end up with roughly $1 million in my retirement account at age 68. Unfortunately, those “gray bearded” million bucks will only purchase $373,300 worth of goods in today’s dollars.


So, I go back to the abacas and bean-count how much more I must save to end up with $1 million in purchasing power at age 68. And boy is that a Zebra of a different stripe! To have $1 million in today’s purchasing power 40 years hence, I will need almost $2.7 million in my retirement account, not just $1 million.


What the...???

To achieve this new goal, it will require a monthly savings of… gasp… $1,020 instead of the $343 I mentioned earlier. But being a “glass-half-full” chap, I desperately try to see the silver lining of this cloudy dilemma. By saving at the $1,020 clip per month, I’ll have about a million bucks sitting in my retirement account by age 55 – a “fat-cat” millionaire 13 years ahead of the original schedule… for whatever that’s worth.


Still, take heart in the fact that although inflation steals an individual’s purchasing power, it also tends to exert upward pressure on paychecks. In short, the higher $1,000 per month savings requirement might be more achievable than one might imagine. Inflation tends to lift all boats… income as well as expenses.


Clear as Mud

But don’t forget, this scenario is hypothetical. Future rates of return aren’t predictable with any certainty (they can vary widely over time, especially for long-term investments like I assumed here). Investments that pay higher rates of return invariably come with higher degrees of risks and more volatility. And to really brighten your day, the loss of investment principal is also a possibility. So, immerse yourself in a bowl of Blue Bell® ice cream and hope that the (also mythical) Social Security trust fund (like so much of the other money we send to politicians) doesn’t soon disappear into that fetid, alligator-infested, Washington D. C. swamp – and for goodness sake, start saving!


By the way, there’s stirrings among political investment advisers about tax-free investment accounts for lower and middle-income families – and they’re not retirement accounts. These accounts would accumulate funds that, after five years, could be used to buy or improve homes, start new businesses, send kids to college or private schools, supplement income after job loss, or yes, even for retirement. It’s an interesting idea. We’ll talk more about it in a week or so.


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