A look at retirement-related “rules of thumb”

May 6, 2021

We’re forever hearing about “rules of thumb” when it comes to retirement, so today, Save with SPP will attempt to bring a bunch of these thumbs of wisdom together in one place.

A great starting point is the Retire Happy blog, where Ed Rempel rhymes off some of the most popular rules.

He speaks of the “70 per cent replacement rule,” where it is said that the “right” level of retirement income (this rule is widely disputed) is 70 per cent of what you were making before you retired. As Rempel notes, under this rule, a couple making $100,000 would thus need $70,000 in retirement.

(Another possible origin of this rule is the defined benefit pension world, where pensions normally provide two per cent of what you made at work per year you are a plan member. In the old days, membership was capped at 35 years – the math adds up to 70 per cent.)

Next, Rempel speaks of the four per cent rule of thumb. This rule suggests that the right amount to withdraw each year from retirement savings is four per cent of the total; a safe withdrawal rate to help you avoid running out of money later.

The “Age Rule,” writes Rempel, is the idea that 100 minus your current age is the percentage of your overall portfolio that you should invest in stocks. The thinking here is that the older you are, the less exposure you should have to risky investments – you should be gradually shifting over to fixed income.

Rempel also talks about the “cash buffer” rule – keeping enough cash to tide you over for two years, so you can “draw on it when investments are down,” and the idea of delaying Canada Pension Plan payments until 65 (some say 70) to get more than you would at 60.

A final rule from Rempel is the “sequence of returns” rule, the idea of investing conservatively to avoid losses during the drawdown stage.

A great list from a great blog!

We found a few others.

At Forbes magazine there is talk of the “25 times” rule. Basically, if you know what level of income you want to have in retirement – let’s say $50,000 – this rule tells you you need to save 25 times that amount before you retire. That’s a daunting $1.25 million.

We remember hearing this one decades ago as the “20 times” rule. Perhaps inflation has made the thumb bigger?

Over at Investopedia, “a good rule of thumb for the percentage of your income you should save is 15 per cent,” we are told. Other thumb guidelines include choosing “low-cost investments,” where management expense fees are as low as possible, and a Warren Buffett rule, “don’t put money in something you don’t understand.”

The article talks about exchange-traded funds as being examples of low-cost investments. Save with SPP likes to note that while ETFs have lower fees than most mutual funds, buying stocks and bonds directly is a way to not have any management fees.

Putting it all together, there are an awful lot of thumbs here, more than the two we usually depend on. That’s because there are a lot of moving parts to saving for retirement and then living off the savings. From figuring out how much you’ll put aside, on to growing that amount via investing, and on to finally “decumulating” your savings and enjoying the income, it can be quite an effort.

If you’re not a retirement geek who happily plots and schemes over spreadsheets on a daily basis (guilty glance in mirror), there is another way to manage all this in a one-stop, set it and forget it way. Why not consider joining the Saskatchewan Pension Plan? They’ll take your retirement savings and grow them under the watchful eyes of investment professionals (for a very low fee). When it’s time to retire, they can turn those saved, invested dollars into a lifetime income stream. And they’ve been doing it for an impressive 35 years. Check them out today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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