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The Rule of 300: How Much You Need for Retirement

30 Oct 2015 
SOURCE: The Fifth Person

There are countless models you can use to calculate the amount of money you need to retire comfortably in your golden years. But if you've ever been overwhelmed by the many different methods out there and the complex calculations used, not to worry because there's one quick and simple way to estimate how much you need for retirement: the rule of 300.

Simple take the average amount you spend every month and multiply by 300. That's it!

So if your average monthly household expenditure is $5,000, then you need $1.5 million to retire (5,000 x 300) and that amount should last you for the next 25 years. So if you retire at 65, your retirement fund will last you till 90 — which is a pretty nice time to go.

How Does the Rule of 300 Work?

As finance blog, Johnny Moneyseed, pointed out, the rule of 300 is based on the 4% rule in retirement. The 4% rule refers to your withdrawal rate: the annual percentage amount you withdraw from your investment portfolio when you retire.

So if you have $1.5 million in your portfolio, you withdraw 4% a year to use in your retirement.

So in your first year, you withdraw:

$1.5 million x 4% = $60,000

Which works out to exactly $5,000 a month for you to spend.

What about Inflation?

Yes, we all know that the price of goods and services rise in price over the years, so you need to factor inflation into your withdrawal rate every following year as well.

So if inflation in growing at, let's say, 4% a year, then your second year's withdrawal amount is $62,400 (60,000 x 104%). Your third year's withdrawal amount is $ 64,896 (62,400 x 104%) and so on and so forth.

So the question now is: how does the rule of 300 and the 4% withdrawal rate keep up with the pace of inflation?

Simple. It assumes that your portfolio also grows in value every year – at least 4% p.a. as well, in fact. So if your portfolio grows by 4% a year, inflation is at 4% a year, and you withdraw 4% of your portfolio for spending every year, theoretically, the rule of 300 of will last you comfortably for 25 years before your funds are all withdrawn. Click here to view a table

 

Of course, if our portfolio grows by more than 4% a year, then your funds will last longer than 25 years. And if you've been reading this site for some time, you know that getting anything above 4% p.a. is very achievable; REITs alone give you a consistent 5-8% yield per annum (even higher if you buy at the right time!). Take a look at our S-REIT data table to see what we mean.

Disadvantages of the Rule of 300 and the 4% Rule

The 4% rule was first mentioned when a paper, Retirement Savings: Choosing a Withdrawal Rate that is Sustainable by Philip L. Cooley, Carl M. Hubbard and Daniel T. Walz, was published in 1998. Since then, the 4% withdrawal rate has been used as a rule of thumb for retirement planning.

The 4% rule and the rule of 300 is easy to use but, of course, when any model is that simple and straightforward, it can't take into account every possible scenario that might occur in your retirement. For example:

  • Market fluctuations. The market doesn't give steady returns year after year and fluctuates up and down most of the time. Of course, if you invest in more stable assets like large-cap dividend stocks, REITs, and bonds, you're more likely to generate steady returns every year compared to an investor who hunts for growth and quick capital gains.
  • Market crashes. Sometimes, the market collapses (like in 2008-2009) and the value of your portfolio will drop substantially. Do you still withdraw your entire 4% then? On the other hand, a market recession is usually the best time to purchase great stocks at bargain prices that will drastically increase your returns and yield once the market recovers.
  • Lifestyle changes. Even from 65 to 90 onwards, you can't assume you'll be living exactly the same lifestyle you live now which requires the same amount of expenditure every month. Your tastes and preferences will change over time and you might find yourself buying that red sports car you never got to drive when you were young, virile and had no wife to nag you about buying that red sports car. Well, it's never too late, but if you plan on spending more, you have to adjust your finances accordingly.
  • Health costs. And of course, the biggest worry and financial stress we all face in old age is the cost of medical care if we fall ill. Doctors and hospitals are expensive and if you're not properly insured in your old age, your assets could be wiped away after a few years of pricey medical treatment. So make sure you are fully covered by insurance early!


Conclusion

The rule of 300 is a great way to find out how much you need for retirement quick and easy. If you have no idea at all what you need for retirement, you can use the rule of 300 right now to quickly find out how far away (or near) you are from your retirement goals.

At the same time, you probably want to factor in additional possible scenarios (medical care, market recessions, etc.) just to make sure you're on the safe side. While it's great to have too much money at the end of your life, nobody wants to have too much life at the end of money! So use the rule of 300 as a simple rule of thumb to get yourself started on your retirement needs and work from there!

 

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