$1 Million Isn’t What It Used To Be

$1 Million Isn’t What It Used To Be

December 12, 2018

If you had to take a wild guess, how much money do you think you would need to experience a comfortable retirement? If you guessed $1 million, you are on the same page as more than half of Americans who responded to a survey conducted by Merrill Edge. (1) But while we spend much of our lives wishing we could be millionaires, a $1 million nest egg might not get you as far as you’d think. Here’s why.


Put simply, inflation erodes your money’s value. Inflation has often been nicknamed the silent retirement killer because so many people forget to account for it in their income planning. Unfortunately, inflation is one of the few certainties in life. Over the last 50 years, the cost of goods and services has increased an average of 3.7% per year. (2) Let’s say inflation continues to average 3% a year. In 40 years, $1 million will be worth $306,000 in today’s dollars, and that’s definitely not enough to buy you a comfortable 30-year retirement.

To put these numbers in perspective, let’s look at history. If you wanted to have the same purchasing power as a millionaire from 1914, you would have needed $3 million in 1980. But here’s the shocking number: in 2018, you would need $25 million to match the $1 million of 1914. (3)

Rising inflation tends to happen so gradually that it’s hard to see the effects of it on your wallet year to year. When saving for retirement, you need to calculate that effect forward anywhere from 10-50 years in the future. So if a new car costs around $5,000 in 1980 and $34,000 in 2019, you could find yourself spending over $65,000 to upgrade your vehicle in 2041. (4)

How To Plan For Your Ideal Retirement

We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare well based on historical data. Since you need your retirement savings to last as long as you do, implement these potential solutions in your financial plan.

Conservative Withdrawal Rates

Since you know that stocks have historically earned an average of 7-8% a year, you might assume that you can afford to withdraw 7-8% of the initial portfolio value (plus a little more for inflation each year). (5) But in reality, to protect against the uncertainty of the market, you may need to limit your withdrawals to less than 4%. (6) Because there is no simple, one-size-fits-all plan, you need to figure out what will work for you and your unique situation, taking various factors into account, such as time horizon, risk tolerance, asset allocation, and unexpected living expenses.

Set Up Contingencies

There is sophisticated software available to factor in inflation and calculate how long your money will last based on where you live, which withdrawal rate you choose, and what the markets will do. But there are some things a computer just can’t predict, such as your health.

According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the average couple at age 65 will require anywhere from $151,000 to $255,000 just to cover their healthcare costs in retirement. (7) Build contingency funds over and above your regular retirement account to give yourself a bit of a savings buffer. There will always be unexpected expenses in life, whether it’s needing a new car, home repairs, or unexpected long-term care expenses. Planning ahead will give you peace of mind.

Save More And Spend Less

The longer your planning horizon, the more resources you will need for retirement. The most obvious way of lowering the risk of outliving your money is by saving more before you retire and underspending when you reach retirement. If you have any debt, focus on reducing it as much as possible so your resources can be devoted to saving.

Adjust Expectations

Retirement often means major lifestyle changes. As a result, your expectations may need to change as well. If you want a comfortable retirement, you may have to rethink how much you will be able to give your children as a down payment on a house or an inheritance.

You may even need to downsize your home or relocate to a more affordable area. Cost of living varies drastically across the U.S. When you are determining how much money you need for retirement, location can make all the difference. For example, if you live in California, $1 million (in today’s dollars) will only last 16 years and 5 months, mostly due to real estate costs. But if you live in Michigan, it’s estimated that $1 million will last 25 years because of affordable housing and healthcare and utilities that fall below the national average cost. (8)

Stay flexible and be willing to make adjustments in order to secure your financial future and stretch your wealth as far as possible.

Secure Your Retirement  

It can be disheartening to look at the numbers and realize that what you were aiming for is not enough. But by making small changes now and planning ahead, you can set yourself up to experience the retirement you dream of. Instead of focusing on a specific number you want to see in your accounts, work with a professional to discover exactly what you need and what will work for your unique situation. If you want a customized financial plan to get you from point A to point B, I would love to help. Simply call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128 or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

About Mike Loo

Mike Loo is an independent financial advisor with more than 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. His mission is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of clients and the people they care most about, help them make educated decisions with their money, and build a strong financial foundation for both themselves and their next generation. Mike is committed to meeting a high standard of excellence, taking the time to listen to clients’ needs, and designing strategies that aim to help clients save money and reduce debt. He seeks to fit a client’s investments into their life and educate them so they’ll understand their investments. To learn more about how Mike may be able to help, connect with him on LinkedIn, call his office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email him at michael.loo@lpl.com.

Mike Loo is a registered representative for LPL Financial (LPL) and an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) for Trilogy Capital (TC). Securities offered through LPL, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through TC, a Registered Investment Advisor. TC markets advisory services under the name of Trilogy Financial (TF), an affiliated but separate legal entity. TC and TF are separate entities from LPL.


(1) https://olui2.fs.ml.com/Publish/Content/application/pdf/GWMOL/Merrill_Edge_Report_Spring_2018.pdf

(2) https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/historical-inflation-rates/

(3) https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1000000&year=1970

(4) Estimating 3% inflation rate. https://www.financialsamurai.com/are-you-a-real-millionaire-3-million-new-1-million/

(5) http://www.simplestockinvesting.com/SP500-historical-real-total-returns.htm

(6) https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/your-money/some-new-math-for-the-4-percent-retirement-rule.html?_r=0

(7) https://www.ebri.org/pdf/notespdf/ebri.notes.oct13.retsvgs1.pdf

(8) https://www.gobankingrates.com/investing/how-long-million-last-retirement-state/2/