Do you consider someone with a net worth of $400,000 rich? Well-off? Comfortable? Would you set a lifetime goal for yourself at $400,000?
Actually, a net worth of $400,000 sets you well above the median net worth in this country, and in the world, to say the least. But these statistics don’t matter… what matters is your immediate environment. In your immediate environment, could you give up working once you have $400,000 when you subtract your liabilities from your assets?
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I think many people will say “no” to this question, yet they’re willing to set a goal of $1,000,000 in the future — say, 30 years from now. $1,000,000 sounds much, much better than $400,000. With $1,000,000, one might be able to stop working and live off the income. At a 4% safe withdrawal rate, that’s $40,000 a year.
This is why some financial planners, some columnists, and even some bloggers are big on telling people what they can do now (how to invest) to increase the chances of ending up with $1,000,000 thirty years from now. It’s simple: invest $8,250 a year, invest in stocks, and pray for good markets at the end of the time period and a yearly average of an 8% increase.
The huge problem with this model is the fact that it completely ignores the effect of inflation. Assuming a 3% inflation rate over the next thirty years (it could be higher or lower, who knows, but this is a historical average), your $1,000,000 then will only be worth what about $400,000 is worth now.
By the time you’re a millionaire, a billion dollars may be what is needed for the “comfortable” life. With $1,000,000 in the bank, at the safe withdrawal rate of 4%, you’ll be living off the equivalent of today’s $16,000. (For that safe withdrawal rate — the amount you can withdraw while not depleting your funds over time — it’s assumed the money will be invested in the stock market, not sitting in a bank.)
Methinks you should strive for something well beyond $1,000,000 if your time horizon is 30 years.
Updated September 24, 2015 and originally published May 31, 2006.