Save 50% of salary to retire by 50

Many millennial workers do not aspire to retire in their mid- or late 60s, like their parents. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

Although Dr Devangi Patel, 33, has been working at a large medical centre in the United States for only two years, her goal is to be able to walk away from her job at 50.

She is not alone in her quest to become financially independent - and at a fairly early age. It seems that a generational shift is well under way: Many millennial workers don't aspire to retire in their mid- or late 60s, like their parents.

Instead, many with professional careers are seeking to leave their jobs by 50 and work for themselves or take a lower-paying role that is more aligned with their interests, studies are showing, and financial advisers are finding.

"I want to get to a point where I don't have to work for money any more, and I can work for pleasure," she said.

While many millennial workers like her want financial independence in their 50s, it's not easily achieved, said Mr Christopher Lyman, a certified financial planner with Allied Financial Advisors.

"I have a lot of people coming in and saying, 'I read these articles. I see people doing this. I want to do this, too'," he said. While he never tries to dissuade clients, he does inject some realism - that achieving that independence by 50 will most likely require saving between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of their salaries.

Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996, came into their professional lives during the Great Recession and are navigating a world in which traditional pathways to wealth, such as home ownership, are out of reach for a larger percentage of them than of those a generation ago.

Their attitudes are also being shaped, in part, by uncertainty: They are witnessing significant economic shifts just as they are striving to establish themselves. And they want to enjoy a post-career lifestyle sooner than later.

"It requires saving as much as possible and spending as little as possible, and doing both of these as soon as possible," Mr Lyman said.

While some millennials following this path identify with the movement known as Fire (financial independence, retire early), others, such as Ms Brit Minichiello, have broader goals.

"With traditional Fire, we would spend no money and squirrel it away forever," Ms Minichiello, 36, said. Instead, she is aligning her savings with her desire to enjoy life before she turns 65, which is why she and her husband, Dave, 42, recently focused their savings strategy on buying a second home.

For Dr Patel, it's challenging to save 50 per cent of her salary, even though she is not a big spender.

"I would have to give up vacations and the things I like that are splurgy, like eating in finer restaurants or flying to New Jersey to see my family at the drop of a hat," she said, adding that she could save US$3,000 (S$4,200) a month if not for her US$250,000 medical school loan obligations.

Aspiration v reality

Mr Mark Smrecek, a retirement consultant and financial well-being leader at the consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, said most millennials he works with are not really able to save enough for financial independence by 50 - it's just not realistic given their living costs and the lifestyle they aspire to.

This year, the company's global benefits attitudes survey showed that 36 per cent of millennial workers in a broad range of industries were saving 5 per cent or less of their income. About 26 per cent also took a loan from their state pension fund - yet, 52 per cent said they expected to retire before 65.

The 2022 retirement insights survey from TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America) revealed similar views, with 31 per cent of people aged 30 to 39 indicating that they have an above-average level of confidence in their ability to plan for retirement. Young millennials, those 25 to 29, are the most assured: 40 per cent said they had an above-average level of confidence in their ability to plan.

Despite this confidence, millennials aren't saving enough, and many aren't contributing enough to their pension fund to get the full employer match, Mr Smrecek said.

Not waiting till 65

Ms Minichiello said she and her husband started saving about 53 per cent of their after-tax income in 2010, in hopes of leaving their current jobs when she reaches her late 40s, and he reaches his early 50s. Ms Minichiello, a co-founder and partner of a healthcare consulting company, wants to explore her interest in non-profit groups and executive coaching - a field, she said, that doesn't pay as much as her current position.

"I don't want to get caught up in save, save, save, and then retire at 65," she said. She said she had seen too many people put their lives on hold until they retired, only to become ill or have their spouses die.

Saving half of their take-home pay hasn't been that difficult, Ms Minichiello said. "We never have the newest tech, we don't buy new cars, and we use everything until it doesn't function any longer," she said. Both she and her husband have six-figure incomes.

To retire early, you would need other assets, like real estate, an investment account or a business that generates passive income to create enough wealth, Mr Lyman said.

To achieve his goal of not working at 50, real estate agent Joshua Frappier, 34, is focused on creating several revenue streams beyond his full-time job as a real estate agent. Without passive income, he said, "you don't have a means of getting ahead of your financial limitations". NYTIMES

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