Should a person who retires at age 70 withdraw the same amount of money from their portfolio as someone who is age 40? You’re talking about a retirement period that is likely twice as long as the other. In an article titled The “Feel Free” Retirement Spending Strategy [pdf], Evan Inglis of Nuveen Asset Management and a fellow of the Society of Actuaries proposed a safe withdrawal strategy that adjusts for age.
To determine a safe percentage of savings to spend, just divide your age by 20 (for couples, use the younger spouse’s age). For someone who is 70 years old, it’s safe to spend 3.5 percent (70/20 = 3.5) of their savings. That is the amount one can spend over and above the amount of Social Security, pension, employment or other annuity-type income. I call this the “feel free” spending level because one can feel free to spend at this level with little worry about significantly depleting one’s savings.
You can think of this is as a lower bound. He also proposes an upper bound:
At the other end of the spectrum, divide your age by 10 to get what I call the “no more” level of spending. If one regularly spends a percentage of their savings that is close to their age divided by 10 (e.g., at age 70, 70/10 = 7.0 percent) then their available spending will almost certainly drop significantly over the years, especially after inflation is considered.
Therefore, the lower and upper bounds for a person retiring at 70 would be 3.5% and 7%. The lower and upper bounds for a person retiring at 40 would be 2% and 4%.
Note that he also admits that spending 3% of your assets each year is an even simpler rule of thumb:
Even though there are lots of things to think about, for the vast majority of people, very simple guidelines will be most useful. My simple answer to the questions “How much can I spend?” or “Do we have money enough saved?” is that if someone plans to spend less than 3 percent of their assets in a year (over and above any Social Security or other pension, annuity or employment income), then they have enough money saved and they aren’t spending too much. This is a fairly conservative estimate, but people tell me they want to be conservative with their retirement spending. They would rather feel safe than spend a lot of money, and I think that is very appropriate in our current economic environment.
Another idea to add to your knowledge banks. Basically, if you are young you have to be sensitive about permanently damaging your portfolio early on with the double-whammy of negative returns and high spending.
Others will say that you should spend more when you’re young, as you’ll be able to enjoy it more. That may be true if you have long-term care insurance. I know lots of people who are still quite active and traveling at 70. I’m also at that age where I have checked out some of those “nice” assisted-living facilities for my parents, and they cost serious bucks.
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