How much do I need to save for retirement? It’s the million-dollar question – literally. We’ve all asked it or wondered it at some point. Will I have enough to retire? How do I know how much I need? Do I really need $1 million?
Truth is, figuring out how much you need to retire will always be based on your own personal calculation. While we can throw numbers around – like $1 million – and offer various “rules of thumb” for advice, you’ll never know how much you need until you look closely at your own budget, expenses, and expectations.
That said, there are some ways to get a ballpark estimate of how much you might want to save. Below we’ll look closely at some data from Statistics Canada and help you get a rough idea of what other Canadians have saved for retirement.
How much money do you need to retire in Canada?
If you and a spouse (or significant other) were to retire together today, then you would need at least $1,211,325 to cover $48,453 of expenses annually for the next 25 years.
Where did we get these numbers? Well, first, we looked at data from the 2019 Survey of Households (the last year this survey was published). This survey found that Canadian couples over 65 spent on average $48,453 per household.1 Assuming you’re going to live for another 25 years (a reasonable assumption if you retire at 65), then that would come out to roughly $1.2 million and some change.
Of course, there are some shortcomings to this. In terms of inflation, 2019 was a very different year than 2023. Inflation increased 3.4% from 2020 to 2021 alone and has remained high ever since.2 Because of this, it’s better to assume you need at least $1.2 million in total retirement savings, but probably more.
How to calculate how much you need to retire in Canada
If $1.2 million feels like too much (or too little), there are some rules of thumb that can help you calculate a more accurate number.
One popular method is the 70% rule. According to this rule, you’ll need 70% of your pre-retirement household income each year in retirement for 25 years. For example, if your household brings in $150,000 in the year before you retire, then you’ll need $105,000 annually. Multiply that by 25 years and your retirement savings goal would be: $2,625,000.
That’s a lot of money. But it might be accurate if you’re spending roughly $105,000 each year on your typical household expenses, like food, utilities, insurance, and transportation.
If $2 million is out of reach, you can use a withdrawal rule, like the 4% rule. This rule states that you should withdraw only 4% of your retirement savings annually for at most 25 years. For example, if you’ve saved $400,000, this rule would recommend withdrawing only $16,000 per year (not counting pensions and other additional income). The advantage of this rule is that it starts from what you have, rather than what you don’t.
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How much money does the average Canadian retire with?
Data from Statistics Canada tells us that Canadians in economic families between the ages of 55 and 64 have roughly $645,599 in retirement savings and $163,600 in financial savings. That would come out to a total of $809,100 saved for retirement.3
Individuals (those not in an economic family) had slightly more than half what couples had saved: $377,300 in retirement savings and $69,200 in financial assets for a total of $446,500 saved.
Based on this information, we can assume the average Canadian couple is approaching retirement with roughly $800,000 to $810,000 in total retirement savings, while individuals will likely have $445,000 to $450,000.
Questions to ask when calculating how much you need to retire
The numbers above will give you a good estimate, but they might not be realistic for you. Depending on your lifestyle and personal income, you might need more than $1.2 million, or you could live comfortably with less.
To fine-tune these numbers for yourself, here are some questions you can ask:
- What are my retirement goals? Your retirement lifestyle will profoundly affect how much you need to save. For example, an active retiree, that is someone who travels frequently or engages in various hobbies, will likely need to save more than someone who expects to stay put.
- Will you work in retirement? Second jobs, remote work opportunities, or consulting work might be a way to help bolster your retirement savings.
- Will you live at the same residence? Downsizing, or moving to a less expensive part of your province or territory (such as a rural area or smaller town) could help you spend less and live longer on your retirement savings.
- How much debt will you be carrying? Ideally, you won’t have any debt when you retire. But if you do, you’ll need to factor in how much you’ll pay in overall interest—and how that will affect how much you need to save.
- What expenses will you carry over into retirement? For example, groceries, utilities, entertainment, dining out, and clothing will likely stay the same.
- What expenses will retirement eliminate? Many retirees pay off their mortgage before retirement, in which case you can eliminate a major expense from your budget. Other expenses that could disappear in retirement include commuting for work, life insurance premiums, and saving for retirement.
- What new expenses will retirement likely bring on? While retirement itself doesn’t automatically create new expenses, getting older will. You might pay more for healthcare or long-term care, for instance.
Is a million dollars enough to retire in Canada?
Old financial wisdom used to say that a Canadian couple could retire comfortably with a $1 million nest egg (an individual could retire with $500,000).
But this advice might be outdated and could mislead some Canadians into thinking they have more than enough. As we mentioned above, a couple retiring at 65 will likely need more than $1.2 million to retire comfortably. That is, if they expect to live for another 25 years.
But do the math for yourself. Your retirement goals and lifestyle might allow you to live happily on less than $1 million in retirement savings, especially if you work past the normal age of retirement (64 to 65). It’s always wise to make a retirement plan for your specific household, as there’s only so much you can learn from rules of thumb and general advice.