How Does Your Magic Number for Retirement Compare to Others’?

Americans this year expect to need more to retire comfortably than they thought they’d need last year. Here are four questions to get you thinking about what you’ll need.

An older couple drink coffee while sitting on the waterfront outside their truck.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

No two people are exactly alike, and neither are their dreams for retirement. However, there is a common thread that unites them: Most Americans believe they will need $1.27 million to retire comfortably, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2023 Planning & Progress Study. This number ticked up from $1.25 million last year.

The good news is that Americans are saving and investing more than ever to create future prosperity. Their retirement savings increased in 2023 by 3%, growing to $89,300. That’s a step in the right direction and a reverse of what we saw last year when the gap widened rather than narrowed. The challenge, however, is clear: There continues to be a big disparity between what people think they’ll need to retire and what they’ve saved to date.

While it’s interesting and instructive to hear what others might need for a comfortable retirement, it’s important for people to remember that they are living for their own hopes and dreams, not someone else’s. That’s why I strongly urge everyone to focus on what’s important to them and what makes sense for their retirement. A personalized, comprehensive financial plan can protect the wealth that has already been built and create future prosperity — and, with the help of a knowledgeable professional, people can achieve retirements as distinctive as they are.

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From my experience, there are four questions that can help Americans define their retirement so they can build the life they want today and tomorrow.

1. What’s the ideal retirement?

Does retirement mean walking away from a job completely, or is it finding new work that gives life greater meaning? One of the best gifts that financial planning provides is time, and our study shows that with formal planning and discipline, Americans believe they could retire four years sooner — unlocking nearly 1,500 days of purposeful living.

2. What number makes sense?

Cost of living, lifestyle, longevity, risk tolerance and a retirement date are all important to consider. The study shows Gen Z plans to live until 100 and retire at 60, which gives them 40 years of retirement.

That goal sounds incredible to me, but an extended retirement like that demands careful planning to ensure they have enough savings. Most Americans plan to work until 65, up from 64 last year.

3. Are you ready for any situation?

Unfortunately, unexpected things will happen to all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a layoff, long-term illness, injury or inflation, are you ready financially for the unexpected?

On average, Americans say there is a 45% chance they may outlive their savings — and 33% haven’t taken a single step to address it! Interestingly, for those who have a financial adviser, the story is different. Nine out of 10 (89%) of these adviser-client relationships have addressed the possibility of outliving savings.

Planning and discipline are vital. Partnering with an adviser can help people plan for the years ahead and any difficulties they may encounter.

4. Can you 'fill the gap'?

More than 42% of Americans can imagine a time when Social Security won’t exist, and many are depending on it to provide more than a quarter of their overall retirement funding. This number goes up for Boomers and down for Gen Z and Millennials, who have tempered their expectations for what Social Security will fund.

If Social Security does meaningfully change, how will retirees fund “the gap”? Planning ahead for this possibility can help Americans proactively prepare and not rely on a best-case scenario.

Americans have 1.27 million reasons to start planning for retirement, but it’s important to plan comprehensively. It’s one thing to accumulate and grow wealth; it’s another to protect it from risks like inflation, market volatility, healthcare costs and more.

That’s why I recommend gaining professional advice from a financial adviser who can help people develop a holistic plan that safeguards what they have built and creates future prosperity.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Aditi Javeri Gokhale
Chief Strategy Officer, President of Retail Investments and Head of Institutional Investments, Northwestern Mutual

Aditi Javeri Gokhale holds executive accountabilities for Northwestern Mutual’s strategy to drive growth, competitiveness and relevance. In addition, she leads teams that oversee more than $540 billion in company and client assets, including over $325 billion in the institutional investment portfolio and $215 billion in retail client assets. She is also accountable for NM Future Ventures (the company’s venture investing arm) along with digital disruptor, Wyshbox.