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How much money does a couple need to retire comfortably?

As a couple, you do daily life together—but you dream big dreams together, too. That often includes retirement. But making it a reality requires careful planning and saving. It's recommended that most couples save at least seven to eight times their combined annual income to retire comfortably. This number may seem daunting until you remember that savings compound over time. Over your working life, you'll aim for milestones like these:

  • By age 30: Aim to have at least one year's combined salary saved in a retirement account by the time you and your spouse are 30 years old.
  • By age 40: Aim to have three times your combined salary in retirement savings by the time you and your spouse are 40 years old.
  • By age 50: Aim to have five to six times your combined salary in retirement savings by the time you and your spouse are 50 years old.
  • By age 60: Aim to have seven to eight times your combined salary at 60 years old.

These are not hard and fast rules, but rather benchmarks that can help you revise your savings strategy. If you know you want to retire at 60, but at 41 years old you and your spouse do not yet have three times your combined salary saved, you can use this as a good indication that it's time to start looking for ways to save more.

Use a retirement planning calculator

Though the guidelines above serve as a solid rule of thumb, you and your spouse can refine those goals around your specific situation with a retirement income planning calculator. As you plug in numbers, you can see exactly how your strategy would play out if you made different choices, such as contributing different amounts of savings per month, front-loading savings or saving more down the road.

Another nice thing about leveraging a retirement income planning calculator is that you get to personalize your number using a few different assumptions. You can adjust the rate of return you expect to get on your savings or the amount of inflation you expect to occur over time.

Of course, looking at the different options in the retirement planning calculator can be daunting if you're both far away from retirement. Speaking to a financial advisor can help you to make these calculations and put a savings plan in place.

Fewer than 50% of Americans share financial priorities and decision-making with their partner.
Thrivent 2023 Valentine's Day survey

Factors that affect retirement planning as a couple

Every retirement strategy is a little different, based on individual needs and situations. However, Thrivent's 2023 Valentine's Day survey* found that fewer than 50% of Americans share financial priorities and decision-making with their partner. Working toward retirement as a couple requires ongoing conversations.

To start the conversation around how much income does a couple need in retirement, dig into the following five factors together.

1. How much will you live on?

Researchers have shown that retired people tend to spend about 80% of their pre-retirement income amount in retirement, so this can be a helpful metric for your budgeting plan. If you know your lifestyle will get less expensive, you might reduce that to 70%, or you might raise it to 90%. You even may choose to raise it more if you know you'll be traveling, taking up new hobbies or otherwise spending more money. In any case, it's valuable to confirm your target savings number with each other by working up some sample budgets and thinking through the key questions about retirement planning.

2. How much will you withdraw from retirement savings each year?

Retirement savings continue to grow even after you and your spouse retire, but your account may not grow as fast as you are withdrawing money from it, causing the total balance to decline. Declining balances are fine for retirement savings, but ideally, you want them to decline slowly enough so they don't run out before you no longer need them.

For many years, people have planned on drawing 4% per year from their invested savings, though this number can flex up and down based on market performance in a given year, other assets you can draw upon, and your own expenses in a given year. Some people, especially during an economic downturn, prefer relying on a more conservative figure. Meanwhile, others are comfortable taking out more because they don't mind if their savings balance goes down faster. This is often because they have other ways to pay their bills if needed.

Discussing as a couple whether you will withdraw a consistent percentage, or how you'll determine your withdrawal rate each year, is wise. You and your spouse want to be on the same page about how your retirement income and expenses will need to flex over time to meet all of your goals and provide the lifestyle you've worked toward.

3. How much will you receive from Social Security?

If you're both going to retire in the next few years, you may feel reasonably confident that you'll be able to receive Social Security income in retirement. However, because most people live on 70% to 90% of their working income in retirement, Social Security may not be sufficient in many cases. However, any income you receive from Social Security is income you won't need from your retirement savings.

To make the most of your resources, you'll want to understand your projected Social Security benefits as a couple and adjust your retirement planning calculator as a result.

If you're both fairly young and don't expect to retire for multiple decades, there is varying wisdom on how much to rely on Social Security for retirement. While you can factor it in, making a secondary strategy for what you'd do with reduced Social Security income is also a wise way to prepare for the future, since you're already thinking about retirement and have some time.

4. What are your other assets, income and pensions?

If you own rental property that brings in consistent income, plan to sell assets (such as land) when you retire or have access to a pension or annuity, these elements also can be factored into how you calculate your retirement target amount as a couple. While you can certainly factor these items in on your own, working with a financial advisor who is well-versed in retirement strategy may make the process easier and give you greater assurance.

5. Do you share an age gap (and therefore, eligibility differences)?

While every couple has a slightly different dynamic, there are a few factors that can influence the choice to retire at the same time. For instance, many of the daily rhythms of retirement may be more enjoyable if you and your spouse can both participate. If you intend to travel, traveling alone while your spouse works can be less pleasant and may cause friction. On the other hand, living a slower-paced life at home without your spouse's companionship during the day may simply be less engaging than time together. You know your rhythms as a couple best, so these may not hold true for you, but considering retiring at the same time could be helpful.

If there is an age difference between you, you might look at simply narrowing the timeframe between your retirements. For instance, if one of you could retire this year at 64 but the other is currently 59, perhaps you split the difference, with the elder member of the couple retiring at 67 and the younger at 62. That way, instead of one of you being retired five years without the other, you'll each retire at the same time.

You also can distinguish between when you retire from working and when you start drawing benefits like Social Security. Particularly if one of you didn't work for an income, you want to know what kind of spousal benefits you qualify to receive, and when it makes the most sense to claim Social Security.

A financial advisor can help you plan for retirement—together

You and your spouse aren't alone in mapping out your retirement strategy and wondering how much money does a couple need to retire comfortably. A Thrivent financial advisor can help you sort through what kinds of savings are likely to help you sustain a comfortable lifestyle for you, even for a decades-long retirement. They can explain how to create a strategy that prioritizes security for part of your savings while aiming for growth that can help your savings keep up with inflation over time.

Finally, they can help you work through budgetary thoughts about how you'll spend your time in retirement, creating the financial underpinnings that will support that creative art dream, world tour or family legacy that you've always wanted to have.

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*Methodology: This poll was conducted in January 2023 among a national sample of 1,500 adults in order to measure financial priorities and decisions consumers are making with their partners. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, education, age, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Thrivent financial advisors and professionals have general knowledge of the Social Security tenets. For complete details on your situation, contact the Social Security Administration.
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