There is a new three-legged retirement stool we should all be aware of. But first, let's review the old three-legged stool for retirement. It consisted of:
1) Pension (Company)
2) Social Security (Government)
3) Personal Savings (You)
The Old Three-Legged Retirement Stool Is No More
Given less than 15% of Americans have pensions or will receive pensions, no longer is having a pension part of most Americans retirement plan. Therefore, we can throw pensions out the window for future generations. For those of you with a pension, bless you. Your pension is perhaps more valuable than you realize.
Given our Social Security system is underfunded by ~25%, the government will either cut the average Social Security benefit by ~25% or raise the minimum age eligible for collecting Social Security by at least several years.
As a result, relying on a government that has perpetually mismanaged our finances is not a wise retirement strategy. Besides, the average monthly Social Security benefit for 62 – 70 year olds is only $1,827 in 2023 according to the Social Security Administration.
Personal Savings (You) is the only leg of the old three-legged stool that's able to provide support. Everybody who has the opportunity to contribute to a 401(k) plan should. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 55% of the American workforce has access to a 401(k) and only about 38% of the total workforce participates.
Meanwhile, for those who do participate, the average 401(k) contribution was only about 6.5% of salary when employers didn’t contribute and 11% of salary when employers contribute. Only 18% of 401(k) participants save more than 10 percent of their salary for retirement.
401(k) Maximum Contribution Limit For 2023
For 2023, the new 401(k) maximum employee contribution stays at $22,500, up from $20,500 in 2022. For 2023, the employer maximum contribution limit is $43,500. Therefore, the total contribution limit is $66,000 for those under 50. If you are over 50, then the total contribution limit is $6,500 more, or $73,500.
Do not underestimate the power of working for a stable and highly profitable employer with a strong benefits program. 401(k) matching or profit sharing can significantly boost your retirement funds over time compared to working for a sexy startup that might not even have a 401(k) plan due to a lack of profitability.
When I left my day job in 2012, I forewent roughly $20,000 a year in profit sharing. But at least I got them to pay for my MBA and give me a severance. Now, I contribute as much as possible to a Solo 401(k), SEP IRA, and 529 plan.
The New Three-Legged Retirement Stool
Now that we understand the old three-legged retirement stool, let's look at the new three-legged retirement stool. It consists of:
1) Personal pre-tax savings (You)
2) Personal after-tax savings (You)
3) Personal hustle / X-Factor (You)
Everybody should figure out a way to contribute the maximum to their 401(k) savings each year, even without a company match. Your goal is to minimize your taxable income, allow your investments to compound tax-deferred for as long as possible. Then build a large enough after-tax portfolio to give yourself options to change jobs, take a break, be a stay at home parent, or retire before the age of 59.5.
Clearly, in order to build this type of wealth, it will take a tremendous amount of discipline. You can’t go blowing your money on stupid things you don’t need. You need to continuously reinvest the large majority of your savings into risk-appropriate investments. Delay your gratification.
The third leg of the new retirement stool is earning money doing something you enjoy: your X factor.
One of the most dangerous things about post-work life is letting your mind and body atrophy. This is one of the reasons why I let my dad edit most of my posts. The more you can stay active post traditional work, the better your retirement lifestyle.
In my case, I stay active in post-work life by:
- Being a stay at home dad
- Coaching high school tennis for 3-4 months a year
- Recording the Financial Samurai podcast (Apple)
- Writing daily on Financial Samurai
- Working on the next great personal finance book (takes two years to produce)
- Consulting part-time
Most of these activities have a monetary component that enables me to better preserve my retirement nest egg. In retirement, you want to find something you're good at, that provides meaning, the world needs, and that can generate income. In other words, you want to find your ikigai for a more fulfilling retirement.
What you'll discover after leaving full-time work is that it becomes extremely difficult to spend down principal. After decades of accumulating wealth, it's hard to go in reverse.
Being stay at home parents allows us to save ~$3,000 a month on childcare. Coaching high school tennis brings in about $1,250 a month and allows me to build relationships with other members of the community.
But most of all, these activities give me a sense of purpose and meaning.
Keep Building Your Three-Legged Retirement Stool
One of America's biggest retirement failures is allowing employees to decide how much they should save for retirement.
Given the choice between spending money on cheeseburgers, cars, fancy clothes, shoes, vacations, electronics, and more cheeseburgers or saving for a retirement that is decades away, obviously the majority of Americans are going to choose the former.
Thus, it is unsurprising that roughly 66% of Americans are overweight and the median retirement savings for all families is less than $10,000. Our lack of discipline is literally ruining our lives.
We should have adopted a forced retirement savings system where companies automatically deduct money from each employee's paycheck for retirement, much like how payroll taxes are automatically deducted. It's worked in countries like Australia and Singapore.
But it's already too late for change. Therefore, the only thing we can do is count on ourselves. If we can depend on our own hustle to survive in retirement, all other government benefits will simply be a nice bonus.
Finally, if you have the audacity to retire early, the new three-legged stool for retirement becomes even more important. Your chance of retiring for 40 or 50 years goes way up. Therefore, investing regularly and planning ahead is even more important.
Generate Retirement Income Through Real Estate
Given we need to depend more on ourselves in retirement, I believe the best way to generate income is through real estate. Real estate accounts for about $150,000 out of our ~$380,000 annual passive retirement income.
The combination of rising rents and rising capital values is a very powerful wealth-builder. In retirement, you income buyer power will continue to increase as a result.
In 2016, I started diversifying into heartland real estate to take advantage of lower valuations and higher cap rates. I did so by investing $954,000 with real estate crowdfunding platforms. With real estate prices down, I'm dollar-cost averaging into real estate today.
Take a look at my two favorite real estate crowdfunding platforms. Both are free to sign up and explore.
Fundrise: A way for all investors to diversify into real estate through private funds with just $10. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and manages over $3.3 billion for 400,000+ investors.
The real estate platform invests primarily in residential and industrial properties in the Sunbelt, where valuations are cheaper and yields are higher. The spreading out of America is a long-term demographic trend. For most people, investing in a diversified fund is the way to go.
CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations and higher rental yields. These cities also have higher growth potential due to job growth and demographic trends.
If you are a real estate enthusiast with more time, you can build your own diversified real estate portfolio with CrowdStreet. However, before investing in each deal, make sure to do extensive due diligence on each sponsor. Understanding each sponsor's track record and experience is vital.
Recommendation To Build Your Retirement
Sign up for Empower, the web’s #1 free wealth management tool to get a better handle on your finances. In addition to better money oversight, run your investments through their award-winning Investment Checkup tool to see exactly how much you are paying in fees. I was paying $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying.
After you link all your accounts, use Empower's Retirement Planning calculator that pulls your real data to give you as pure an estimation of your financial future as possible using Monte Carlo simulation algorithms. Definitely run your numbers to see how you’re doing.
I’ve been using Empower since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket during this time thanks to better money management. The new three-legged retirement stool is here to stay!