My wife and I are 62 and have about $3 million. I think she can retire. ‘How do you know when you have enough money?’

Dear MarketWatch, 

My wife and I are 62. We have one adult child who lives at home with us currently and is doing very well.

We have $2.1 million in retirement savings, in 401(k), IRA and Roth accounts. We have $260,000 in savings — in cash, money markets, CDs, etc. We own our home outright and it is currently worth about $600,000. We intend to remain in our home. Our living expenses are currently about $6,600 per month.

I am retired and receive Social Security disability, with an income of about $32,000 per year before taxes. My wife works full time and earns approximately $190,000 per year. We live in suburban New York.

I think my wife could easily retire now. She could take her pension now and receive about $2,500 per month in income. She could take Social Security now and receive approximately $2,400 per month in income. The problem is that my wife wants to delay claiming Social Security until she is 70 in order to receive the maximum amount. She continues to work because, frankly, the income is good, and she continues to build up her pension.

How do you know when you have enough money?

See: I want to leave my job and tap into my $2.1 million 401(k) plan at age 55 — should anything stop me?

Dear reader, 

You’ve asked one of the toughest questions in retirement planning — it’s right along the lines of “How much do I need to save for the future?”

As you can already guess, there’s no one way to answer either of those questions, which is why retirement planning is so crucial.  

To even get close to an idea of how much is enough, you should start with the present. Look at how much you spend and what you spend it on, and ask yourselves honestly if any of that will change when you get to retirement. 

For some people, the answer is yes — they will spend less on things like commuting or meals out. For others, the answer is no — they may not pay as much in transportation costs, but they might go out to eat even more often. 

“Everyone knows that they spend different amounts before retirement but yet they think there is a magic number for everyone for after retirement,” said Larry Luxenberg, a certified financial planner and founder of Lexington Avenue Capital Management. “The habits of a lifetime don’t change overnight, if ever, and retirement spending reflects the long-established patterns of earlier years.” 

Location and lifestyle are two of the biggest determining factors for your spending, Luxenberg said, so be extra considerate when you account for those expenses. 

When thinking about your lifestyle, think of everything. Not just hobbies, meals out and travel, but also your cars and your home, should you ever want to move. “A homebody with no debt who likes to read and garden and drives their Honda CRV until 200,000 miles is going to have a very different number than someone with a $3,000-a-month mortgage payment, who enjoys eating out and traveling, and replaces their $70,000 vehicle every five years,” said Crystal Cox, a certified financial planner and senior vice president of Wealthspire Advisors. 

There are other factors you’ll need to incorporate into your calculations, too, some of which you can only estimate. These include inflation, rates of return dependent on risk tolerance, and healthcare costs, said Monica Dwyer, a certified financial planner and vice president of Harvest Financial Advisors. There are also the unexpected expenses — home or car repairs and a medical emergency, for example. 

Speaking of healthcare, if you and your wife are both 62 and she retires now, what will you do for health insurance? Private health insurance can be expensive, but you have to wait until age 65 to begin Medicare. And when you’re running the numbers, make plans for your future healthcare and long-term-care needs. How much will it cost you if you choose to reside in an assisted-living facility versus aging at home? How much will it cost to hire a home health aide — or what might the financial impact on a family caregiver be? All of those answers should go into figuring out what you think “enough” means. 

Also see: I’m 70 and am thinking of going back to work to qualify for Social Security. Should I? 

I always mention working with a qualified financial adviser, such as a certified financial planner, to review your numbers and get recommendations on how to improve your financial circumstances for now and the future, but there are a few other tasks you can undertake. Like we said before, being realistic about your financial needs in retirement and understanding interest rates, inflation rates and rates of return will certainly help, Dwyer said. You should also be aware of your own risk tolerance, which is how much risk you’re willing to take on your investments while still feeling comfortable, as well as hidden risks, such as how your investments or pensions may change when one spouse dies, she added. 

Review your financial plan regularly, once or twice a year at least, and adjust it when big life events take place. 

But the truth is, “enough” may not be a specific figure. 

“Most think ‘enough’ is a certain dollar amount — a certain balance in investment accounts,” said Ed Snyder, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Oaktree Financial Advisors. “But ‘enough’ is enough cash flow each year during retirement to pay for everything you need to live comfortably.”

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