How much should I save for retirement?

Working out how much you need to save for retirement can feel a bit like trying to answer the question “how long is a piece of string?”

You might not know yet exactly when you’re going to retire – or what your financial circumstances will be like when the time comes, especially if your income has recently fallen or stopped due to coronavirus.

But tempting as it may be to just avoid the question altogether, it’s worth getting to grips with roughly how much you should be putting away, so that hopefully once you’re back on track financially you’ll be able to start topping up your retirement savings.

Here’s what you need to know.

Keep it simple

You’ve probably seen lots of scary headlines about the amount we should all be saving for retirement.

Recent research from the Institute of Actuaries, for example, found that to achieve a ‘moderate’ retirement, you’d need to save a whopping £800 a month throughout your working life from the age of 22 until you retire at 68. This would provide an income of £20,200 a year in retirement net of tax, which the Institute claims is enough to cover most people’s essential bills and a few luxuries such as a two-week annual holiday in Europe. This figure includes a full State pension amount (£9,110 a year in the 2020/21 tax year and £9,339 in the 2021/22 tax year). Find out more about how the state pension works here.

Putting away this amount every month probably seems like pie in the sky to most of us, so rather than focusing on these sorts of daunting figures, think about how much is achievable for you.

A good rule of thumb to help you decide how much you should be putting away is to take your age, halve it, and then contribute this percentage of your salary to your pension every month for the rest of your working life.

If, for example, you’re 50, you should aim to save at least 25% of your salary before it’s taxed every month until you retire. That means if you’re earning £2,000 a month, you should ideally pay £500 of this a month into your pension (25% of £2,000).

How much will I end up with if I stick to auto-enrolment contributions?

If you’ve been auto-enrolled into your employer’s workplace pension scheme, under current minimum contribution limits, you’ll be paying in 5% of your salary before tax (of which 1% is tax relief), whilst your employer will pay in 3%, bringing the total contribution to 8%.

It’s worth noting however that these auto-enrollment contributions only have to be paid on ‘qualifying earnings’ of between £6,240 and £50,270 in the 2021/22 tax year. This means low and high earners may in fact have a lower effective contribution than the headline percentage figures. If in doubt, speak to your HR department or workplace pension provider to understand how your workplace pension scheme works.

Some employers will pay in more than the minimum contribution, and you can also pay in extra if you want to. If you’re not able to pay in more though, don’t panic. The Institute of Actuaries says that people making the minimum auto enrolment contributions, and who have a full record of National Insurance contributions (NICs) and so are eligible for the maximum State Pension (£175.20 a week in the 2020/21 tax year and £179.60 a week in the 2021/22 tax year) should be on track to achieve what they call a ‘minimum’ retirement living standard – enough to cover all your needs, with a little bit of spare cash left over.

Based on the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association’s Retirement Living Standards, you’d need an income of £10,200 a year to achieve this minimum standard.

The government’s Money Advice Service has a useful workplace pension contribution calculator to help you work out exactly how much you and your employer are paying into your pension each month.

How do I find out how much income my pension pot will provide me with?

One of the biggest challenges you may face when saving for retirement is working out how much income your retirement savings are likely to provide you with.

The Money Advice Service has a special pension calculator (separate to the workplace pension contribution calculator) which can give you an estimate of the income you’ll get when you retire based on the current value of your retirement savings. The calculator factors in income from defined benefit and defined contribution schemes, which are the two main types of pension, plus the State Pension.

It’ll also show you whether you’re facing a shortfall and how much you need to save to make this up. If you’re planning to increase the amount you save, remember that there are limits on the amount you can pay into your pension and still benefit from tax relief. You can get tax relief on contributions up to an annual allowance of £40,000 or your annual earnings, whichever is lower. Read more about the different annual and lifetime pension allowances here.

Where can I find out how much I’ve got in my pension?

Your pension provider should send you a statement every year telling you what your pension is worth. If you can’t find yours, give your scheme administrator a call and ask them for a current value.

To help ensure we’re all better informed about our pension savings and how much we should be putting away, anyone who’s over-50 and has pension savings will receive a ‘Wake-Up’ pack from their pension provider.

This will tell you how much you’ve already saved, what sort of income it might provide you with in retirement, where your money is invested, and how much you’re paying in charges. These packs will be sent out every five years until you start taking money out of their pension pot.

Planning for retirement isn’t always straightforward, so if you’re not sure whether you’re saving enough, or you don’t fully understand where your money is being invested, you might want to speak to an independent financial adviser who can recommend the best course of action based on your individual circumstances.

You can find a local financial advisor on VouchedFor or Unbiased, or for more information, check out our guides on How to find the right financial advisor for you or How to get advice on your pension.

If you think you might be interested in speaking with a financial advisor, VouchedFor is currently offering Rest Less members a free pension check with a local well-rated financial advisor. There’s no obligation, but once you’ve had your check, the advisor will discuss the potential for an ongoing paid relationship if you think it might be useful to you.

Are you considering topping up your pension savings, or have you sought advice on how much you should be saving? Join the money discussion on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, VouchedFor is offering Rest Less members a free pension check with a local advisor. There’s no obligation but once you’ve had your review, the advisor will discuss the potential for an ongoing paid relationship if you think it might be useful to you.

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