'Am I saving too much for retirement?'

@Money August 7, 2012: 11:40 AM ET

(Money magazine) -- I'm 24, make $65,000 a year and between contributions to my Roth IRA, 401(k) and the company match to my 401(k) I save 21% of my income. Am I saving too much for retirement? Do you think I should save less and spend more while I'm young? -- Matt, Hoboken, N.J.

There's no question that when it comes to saving for retirement, you, my friend, rank near the very top. Most people with 401(k)s contribute about 7% or so to their retirement accounts and the national savings rate isn't even close to double digits.

But just because you save way more than most of your compatriots doesn't necessarily mean you're saving too much.

When I plugged your numbers into one of my favorite retirement calculators, it estimated that you would have a greater than 90% chance of being able to retire at 65 on 75% of your projected pre-retirement salary. Most people would die to have those odds.

But as attractive as your retirement prospects may appear now, you need to step back and take a reality check. We're talking about forecasting 40 years into the future. So even though you manage to save more than 20% of your income now, is it realistic to assume that you'll be able to keep up that pace over the next four decades?

Maybe, but it would be tough. You're only 24, a point in your life where you probably have relatively few financial obligations. As you get older, you may want to start a family, buy a house, perhaps go back to school for an advanced degree. All of those things will place more demands on your income, possibly crimping your ability to continue salting away money at your current rate.

There are also plenty of things beyond your control: a layoff or health problems could derail your savings regimen, market setbacks might seriously impede the growth of your savings, possible changes in the Social Security system could make your benefit less generous than is currently projected.

All of which is to say that, from a purely financial point of view, I think it makes sense to stick to your ambitious savings rate while you can.

Think of it as an insurance policy of sorts, providing a bit of cushion should you find yourself unable to save as much as you'd like down the road or if poor investment performance prevents your nest egg from growing as expected.

That said, there's more to life than saving for retirement. We all want to enjoy our lives today, as we're living them, not just defer our hopes and dreams to the future.

After all, what would be the point of reaching the end of your career with a massive nest egg if doing so required you to live a life of privation in the 40 years leading up to retirement?

If you're happy with the life you're leading now even as you stash away savings at this exceptional rate, then why change anything? Maybe you're one of those people who doesn't need to spend as much to enjoy yourself as others do. Perhaps you derive pleasure from the act of saving itself, or maybe you like having a financial cushion because it gives you the freedom to explore more options than if you're living hand-to-mouth.

If, on the other hand, you feel you're leading a cramped, stunted life because of your savings regimen, then I don't see any reason not to re-calibrate how much of your income you devote to the future. Yes, paring your savings rate would definitely cut into the safety margin. But it's not as if you'd be acting irresponsibly if you decide to put away, say, 10% to 15% of your income.

Bottom line: You can pore over stats all day showing how your spending and savings habits stack up against others'. And you can spend hours crunching numbers on a retirement calculator to see how different levels of saving might affect your retirement prospects. But determining the right balance for you between living for today vs. saving for tomorrow is ultimately a subjective call, and one that only you can make. To top of page

Help! We need a makeover
Young dad, $15,000 in credit card debt
Readers' Choice

Carlos Rodriguez is trying to rid himself of $15,000 in credit card debt, while paying his mortgage and saving for his son's college education.

$400,000 portfolio, too many holdings
Readers' Choice

Susan Carson and Laura DeLallo make $225,000 and have half a million in retirement savings, but their sprawling portfolios is proving hard to manage.

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.45%4.49%
15 yr fixed3.89%3.91%
5/1 ARM4.21%4.20%
30 yr refi4.45%4.49%
15 yr refi3.87%3.90%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
  • -->