How Much Savings for Retirement is Enough?

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When it comes to planning for retirement and saving for retirement every Christian investor should add a simple word to their vocabulary – enough.  The Bible seems to indicate that a Christian who neglects an I-have-enough attitude is considered a hoarder.  The danger of hoarding is that it can direct our attention away from God.

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (NIV Luke 12:16-21).

To simplify things, there are two analogies you can adopt as retirement saving strategies.  The two retirement options are the Wealth Snowball and the Ocean Tide.

What Is Your Retirement Savings Goal?

If your asking how much should I be saving for retirement that will depend on which of the following approaches you prefer.  This question, of course, should be asked only after you have asked yourself should retirement be the goal of life?

Choice #1: The Wealth Snowball

25 year old investor

50 year old investor

75 year old investor

The pattern is obvious. When you get ahead financially it is easy to stay ahead and become more and more wealthy.  Perhaps this is why the rich keep getting richer. The problem with an unchecked wealth snowball is that your life will be consumed with building bigger and bigger barns to store your wealth.  Depending on your savings habits it is quite surprising how easily one can become an accidental millionaire.

The inherent flaw with the wealth snowball is that it always grows and one might never realize when they have enough.

Choice #2: Ocean Tide

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The ocean pattern is painfully predictable.  The tides are equalizers.  If the tides kept coming in indefinitely we would have issues with flooding.  If the tides kept going out forever there would be issues of water shortage.  But, the tides, high and low, maintain a balance for an overall fixed sea level.

Applying this illustration to our finances, we should find a fixed level for our retirement savings.  This predetermined level becomes our equalizer.  When money comes in there is an opportunity to look around for helpful places to use those funds as a blessing to others.  Notice that those extra funds are not just going to be used to increase your nest egg; instead, they will flow out in the pockets of worthy churches, organizations or recipients.

When you appear to be falling short (tide goes out) you can once again rebuild your nest egg to your fixed level.  This allows you to ensure that you have enough, while also avoiding the temptation of hoarding.  It is essential that we all find a right savings balance.  Some people use the graduated tithe as a tool to help them find the balance.

Do I Have Enough To Retire?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer that for you.  I have enough difficulty answering that question for myself.  It is, however, a worthy issue to discuss with trusted friends and your church staff.  Pray over the issue, insightfully read your Bible, and trust that God will make things clear to you.  Then you can answer the question, how much do I need to retire.

When it comes to retirement planning, I suggest you define a point when you have enough so as to avoid the danger of hoarding as exemplified in Luke 12:16-21.  While that point will vary greatly by individuals, it honors God to determine when enough is enough.  You can learn more by exploring the question how much should Christians save?

Photo by jesse.millan.

What criteria do you use to help you determine when enough is enough?  How much is enough to retire on?

Comments

  1. says

    I would imagine the goal is to retire on an amount that can produce about 80-90% of one’s pre-retirement income. Assuming about 20%-30% will come from social security, that leaves about 60% from savings. This would take about 15 times one’s final income to produce.
    If your 25 year old were grossing $60,000/yr and saving that $6K, it would take about $1.5M using the equation above. But 50 years of 3% inflation is a cumulative 438%, and he would need just over $6M. (Of course, as his salary is rising, so is his savings, it wouldn’t be fixed at $500/yr)
    It’s unfortunate, but this is what it takes to sustain the same lifestyle into retirement.

    • Craig says

      Joe,
      Thanks for bringing up some great points and sharing a lot of wisdom. Your comment added a lot of value to the post.

    • Lucas says

      Retirement savings should be based on expense level not income. Changing your expenses and being content with less (and being out of debt) are the best things you can do to “save” for retirement.

      Best thing to do is to figure out your annual expenses and then divide by the historical safe withdraw rate of 4% so your assets would never run out (this assumes participation in the market/real estate or something above CDs and bonds). So if your expenses are ~$25,000, the base amount you need for retirement is $625,000. Every $ you can figure out how not to spend a year = $25 in effective retirement savings or every $ you can figure out how not to spend a month = $300 in retirement savings.

  2. says

    I don’t know my number. I think it’s safe to say retirement income should be 80% of preretirement. However, everyone’s situation is different. Paying off one’s house and other debts might bring that number lower. It’s a person to person thing. I think 80% is a standard good number.
    .-= Ken´s last blog ..Money Rules: Making More Is Not Enough =-.

    • Craig says

      Ken,
      I think you’re right that it is hard to find an exact number. Probably finding a ball park amount is best (like you’ve done). I do think it is important for each person to analyze their own situation.

  3. says

    Craig,
    The “enough” principle is definitely a factor to consider. The guy in Luke who kept building bigger and bigger barns was fixated on his wealth…not healthy.
    My wife and I have more retirement income (from pensions) than we do expenses, so we want to be responsible savers without being hoarders. That can be a fine line, but our goal is to be the ocean tide retirees. Thanks for the challenge!
    .-= Joe Plemon´s last blog ..What Is The Real Cost of Debt? =-.

    • Craig says

      Joe,
      I’m glad to have the perspective of someone who is already doing this stuff. I’m always up for challenging people (as long as it doesn’t apply to me :) ha, ha).

  4. says

    Craig–very counter cultural post here! We don’t always understand how money can change us, even control us, but this is an excellent example.

    We can take something good, like retirement savings, and turn it into a god via the more-is-better doctrine. No matter how much is accumulated, the goal will always move higher, until we’re chasing an illusion.

    I think that while we fixate on retirement balances, we need to redirect attention toward improving and preserving our health (very important!), paying off debt, lowering living costs, developing meaning for life after work and making important family, social and community relationships. Collectively, those will be at least as important as having a fat retirement plan.

    Also, our faith should increase as life moves on. Sometimes when the bankroll gets to big we start thinking about…other things.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Radical Self Reliance in the New Economy =-.

    • Craig says

      Kevin,
      As always, thanks for another fantastic comment. I take the ‘counter cultural’ statement as a compliment. I think that we should challenge those core assumptions.
      I love the idea that we need to focus our energy on other important things like improving and preserving our health.

  5. says

    Craig, counter cultural was meant as a compliment. We’re in a time where mass media and probably the education systems as well have galvanized ideas and lifestyles such as never before. When ever too many people start believing something to be inherently true it needs to be challenged.

    The “faith” that exists in tax sheltered retirement plans is one of those areas. What good is a multi-million dollar 401k if by the time you hit 65 you don’t (really)believe in God, no longer have your health but still think you don’t have enough money???
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Radical Self Reliance in the New Economy =-.

  6. says

    Interesting discussion. What muddies the waters even more is the inflation issue. Many people back in the early 70′s retired to Sun City with a fixed amount they thought was “enough” and they came up far short, a few years later, and had to re-enter the workforce while trying to overcome the age barrier.

    Today, unlike the 70′s, wages are being pushed down while true inflation is being hidden with sleight of hand. This makes retirement planning even more challenging.

    The question of how much is “enough” to retire on reminds us of another question that circulates among the legal profession when settling auto accident injury claims. The severely injured client bandaged up like the michelin man and wearing a neck brace asks their attorney how much compensation they should seek from the other party and their lawyer responds, “How much would you have to be paid to repeat the accident?”

    How much is “enough” can be a very difficult question to answer.

    • Craig says

      Your exactly right about the how much question. It is hard. While we might not ever find a specific answer (exact dollar amount) I think we all need a good sense of when enough is enough. Thanks so much for your comment and your great thoughts.

  7. says

    In continuing to think about this most interesting question of how much money is “enough” for retirement, it caused us to pause and think about the issue of having “enough” in others areas of our life and made us wonder if things haven’t become a bit skewed in our thinking.

    Individually, for example, can we have too much spirituality? When is enough spirituality enough? Can we read the Bible too much? How much Bible knowledge is enough?

    If balance in our financial lives is important, is balance in our spiritual lives also important? Is balance in congregations important? What is the right balance?

    How many congregations are ever satisfied with the number of members they currently have? How many congregations dream of having larger memberships, larger treasuries, bigger buildings, more classrooms, and more ministry programs? How many congregations are ever satisfied with the status quo?

    How many preachers would get up and tell their congregations that they believe their group was just about the right size and they should probably curtail their evangelizing program because it would only lead to building bigger barns (church buildings)? If so, how many would still have jobs the following Sunday?

    Can a congregation become too big? How would one know? When we will know when enough is enough? Have congregations become so obsessed with growth, finances, and continuing expansion that they become imbalanced in their spirituality? Are 5,000 member mega-churches large enough? 10,000? 20,000? Where does it stop? When is enough…enough?

    Do congregations become obsessed with their treasury funds? How often are there internal squabbles over how the money out of the treasury is spent? If we truly have given the money to God, does it even matter? Are there strings attached to the money we have given? If so, have we really given it?

    Does the Bible scripture that states…where your treasure is there will be your heart also…apply only to individual finances or could it also apply to a group of Christians who pool their funds for various types of spiritual endeavors? How much money in the church treasury is enough? Does a building fund become such an obsession in some cases that the end-state is the building itself instead of what the building was to facilitate?

    This question of just how much money is “enough”, in retirement, is a good one, but is it possible there is, in some cases, a double standard being applied to the question? Is one standard being applied to churches and another standard being applied to individuals? How could there logically be differing standards of conduct for the individual versus the group? Aren’t congregations simply groups of likeminded individuals? If congregations are composed of individual members, how could there be, in reality, a double standard? If there can’t be too much Bible knowledge, too much spirituality, too large a building, too much mission work, too many orphan’s homes, or too large a treasury, how could individual members ever have too much money? If the money for these ministries doesn’t come from these individual members, where does it come from?

    If half the membership decided they had “enough” money to retire on, what programs might have to be curtailed at that particular congregation? Or, if congregations became deeply indebted due to over expansion, how might that affect individual member’s decisions to retire? If individuals sometimes delay retirement because of personal mismanagement of debt, can’t groups and organizations fall victim to the same dilemma?

    It would seem to us that if we discover the answer to the question of how much money is “enough”, in retirement, we’ve also, by default, conceivably answered the question of how much money is “enough” in our church treasuries or how large a church building is “enough”. Likewise, if there is no limit to the good a congregation can do, the size of its treasury, or the size of its building, or the number of its ministries, how could there be a limit to the size of an individual’s bank account whether retired or not?
    .-= Steven and Debra´s last blog ..Disappearing Money =-.

    • Craig says

      Steve and Brenda,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to leave such a detailed reply.

      There must be a point when enough is enough otherwise the story in Luke 12:13-21 has no meaning. What was this man’s sin if it was not that he could not identify when he had enough?

      You asked, “If half the membership decided they had “enough” money to retire on, what programs might have to be curtailed at that particular congregation?”
      Actually, I was envisioning quite the opposite. Not that when we had enough we would stop working or stop contributing. But, once WE had enough we would then use our excess for giving and helping others. As a result, when Christians realize they have enough the extra is now available for Christian ministries.

      Thanks for stimulating some good discussion.

  8. says

    Steven and Debra – You’ve raised some really interesting points about individual behavior vs. group. I think you’re on to something with this.

    But I’d like to read more about your question, “can we have too much spirituality?” Most of the points you raise have to do with questions of demension–money, congregation size, etc–but this one stands out as being different.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Buying vs Renting a Home – Its Not All About Money =-.

  9. says

    We think the key to discerning the parable in Luke 12:13-21 is found in its conclusion, in verse 21. Too much emphasis has probably been placed on the front-end of the parable to the exclusion of its complete summation. The summation of the parable, in verse 21, is in two parts and connected with the conjunction “and” thereby giving it equal importance as a summation. The first part talks about the laying up of treasures and the second part implies the rich man wasn’t rich toward God. We make no claims to being authorities on Biblical scripture, but it would seem to us that the laying up of earthly treasures while being bankrupt toward God is the issue of the parable. Craig, in answer to your question, the rich man’s sin was his bankruptcy toward God.

    The aspect of being bankrupt toward God is not the exclusive domain of the rich (Proverbs 30:8-9). Many poor and impoverished people are consistently taking their meager earnings and placing bets (trust) in the lottery (Proverbs 28:20) to extricate themselves from their poverty or they place their bets (trust) in politicians (Proverbs 28:19) who promise them something for nothing.

    We see Biblical examples of rich men who had tremendous wealth beyond their immediate and foreseeable needs, but as long as their relationship to God was also rich they were blessed with even more. God allowed Job (a rich man) to be tested because Satan made the claim that if Job was deprived of his wealth that he would turn away from God. Satan was proved wrong and Job’s wealth increased even more. A New Testament example of a rich man and disciple of Christ (Joseph of Arimathaea) is found in Matthew 27:57-58.

    In our view, it is not wealth or the lack of wealth that causes the problem, but rather not being grateful for what we have and giving consideration to the true source and nature of our blessings. When we place our trust in lotteries and politicians (equally foolish) we enter the fleshly realm of envy, strife, scarcity, and social conflict. When we walk in the spirit (rich toward God) we enter the realm of abundance and peace.

    The one thing the Israelites (a congregation of the Lord’s people) consistently did that provoked God’s wrath toward them was their ungrateful nature. God repeatedly extricated them from their predicaments and they soon became unthankful. They, as a group, developed an entitlement mentality and became sassy and ungrateful toward God. So, we can see that the rich man’s lack of richness toward God can also apply toward groups of people including modern day churches or congregations. The parable of the rich man applies to individuals and groups because groups are nothing more than a collection of individuals. If something is good or bad for the individual it is also good or bad for the group (church). If we can have rich churches we can have rich men, but the more important consideration, as implied in the parable, is whether they are both rich toward God.

    Kevin, we hope we’ve answered your question as well.
    .-= Steven and Debra´s last blog ..Disappearing Money =-.

  10. says

    Steve and Debra – I’m speechless–OK, not really…

    Your basic point about the purpose of the passage sounds right on the money. It isn’t so much about money, but our attitudes toward it and what we think it can do for us. In the right hands money can be an unmitigated blessing; improperly managed it can be a curse.

    I love your point about the poor placing faith in lotteries and politicians. Lotteries are just gambling, and politicians are people just like the rest of us, not superhumans possessing some great reserve of knowledge and insight. I think we forget that when we get all caught up in politics as the answer to our troubles. And by expecting superhuman feats from them we put them into a corner where either they chase our expectations or we put them out of office.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Buying vs Renting a Home – Its Not All About Money =-.

  11. says

    Kevin, thanks for your feedback. This entire discussion about when enough is enough to retire on and Craig’s article on the poor people of PNG has prompted us to write a four part series titled: Are YOU a Hoarder? Are You Sure? We linked both of Craig’s articles from our blog. Please take a look and feel free to share your comments.
    .-= Steven and Debra´s last blog ..Disappearing Money =-.

  12. says

    Craig,

    The series began yesterday when we posted part 1. We’re not sure why Comluv is still showing a previous post. It you click on our name it will take you there directly. Please give us some feedback as we progress through the series. It is a vitally important subject to sort out. Thanks!
    .-= Steven and Debra´s last blog ..Disappearing Money =-.

  13. Donna says

    Prior to our marriage my husband and I were recruited by a mission group who provided many promises about our service, housing and assignment, etc. that were not honored once we were in place and working with them. Just after our marriage we went to the designated assignment in the country.

    The hours, particularly mine (Donna) were very long each day and duties continued on the weekends. At times our managers were unkind and often extremely critical, to the point of causing extreme stress. The promised housing never materialized for us as other missionaries with more pressing needs than ours were determined to be were given the housing that was promised to us. Consequently we lived in shared accommodation for the 3 years of the assignment. To this day we wonder how we survived the situation.

    Once we arrived on ‘the mission field’ we learned that decisions had been made about our personal affairs; e.g., starting a family, etc. Word had been circulated amongst those on the field that there would have to be an understanding that our jobs and the demands were such that starting a family would be out of the question.

    Now, as a management professional myself, I look back on those years and the lack of wise management, especially the way in which we were treated, and understand how irresponsible the situation was in which were.

    Our income was $100.00 month each. Now nearing retirement age, we have wondered about benefits which we feel should have been set aside for us. This would mean considerable benefit for a period of 40 years.

    When we wrote formally to the recruiter to ask about our retirement benefits, he responded informally in a handwritten message on a Christmas card.

    We asked with a Christian law firm about this situation (our Question below) and they replied as follows:

    Question:
    My wife and I, in our early married youth, responded to a call to work as school nurse and teacher, respectively, for the XXX Church Association…for 3 years (1966-70) in Country Y and 1 year on deputation in the US.

    Now that we have reached the age of retirement, we enquired recently as to receiving the retirement funds held aside for us during those 4 years. We were informed, in a very informal note, that there were no retirement funds held aside for us and that there would be nothing forthcoming. If this is true, we believe this to be a gross injustice and mismanagement. We believe that, as we were doing God’s work in Sierra Leone and the US, there should have been retirement funds held aside for us at that time from which we should now be able to benefit. We believe that this constitutes grounds for a legal case. Would you please be so kind as to assist us in the recovery of our retirement funds?

    Answer:
    I am sorry that I cannot assist you in this matter. The Christian Law Association has a firm policy of not taking a side in disputes between two Christians, between a Christian and a Christian ministry, or between two Christian organizations.

    Sincerely,

    FIRM Z.
    ——–

    We would appreciate some insights re. professional
    directions we might take.

    Thank you.

    • says

      @ Donna

      I’m truly sorry about your experiences. That must be very difficult. It is extremely frustrating to work with an organization that does not keep its word and it is even more painful when that organization is Christian.

      Many such missions’ organizations usually lay out a grievance process. Have you contacted them to see the appropriate way to appeal the decision?

      Also, many such organizations have donors who fund their projects. Could you get the contact information for a large donor to explain your situation in a kind and humble way? If I supported such an organization I would be gravely concerned about the health of this organization.

      Basically seeks an influential third party that could arbitrate a mediation session.

      To be honest it seems like this group has proven to be one that does not fulfill their commitments. If they did not honor their word back in the late 60’s I doubt that they will do so now. I do not anticipate that they will help you.

      In the end, you and your husband will prayerfully need to decide how much emotional energy you are willing to invest into this situation.

  14. Donna says

    Thank you for your thoughtful response Craig.

    Yes, the behavior then was disappointing and hurtful. We hope that bringing the situation into open discussion will assist others who may have experienced similar things under a mission organization, and that it will assist those taking on assignments to be vigilent about possibilities that can emerge on the dark sides of what some mission rhetoric presents.

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