Once upon a time, the average person thought of $1 million as an enormous sum on which members of a family could live in luxury for the rest of their lives if only such an amount was within their reach, which it wasn't. But times have changed. A new study suggests that $1 million is now a reasonable total to set aside for retirement, and even those who manage to do so may eventually run out of cash. That includes people who settle in Denver, which is ranked in the lower half of major cities when it comes to stretching these seven figures.
"How Many Years $1 Million Lasts in Retirement," an analysis by SmartAsset, looked at 23 cities across the country and calculated the likely life span of a pile this size in each. Tampa, Florida finished first, with $1 million calculated to support 32.04 years of retirement, while New York City came in 23rd, at just 12.54 years.
Denver, for its part, landed at number 13 on the list. A million bucks is estimated to keep folks in the Mile High City going for 25.99 years, which sounds good at first blush. But more and more folks who retire at age 65 are living into their nineties these days — and SmartAsset's digits suggest that a mid-sixties Denverite with $1 million will be broke shortly after becoming a nonagenarian.
A complete breakdown of the Denver data is accessible by clicking here.
To get more details about the findings, we chatted via email with AJ Smith, SmartAsset's vice president of financial education. The conversation is below.
Westword: I would think that figuring out how much a retiree would need ten or twenty years down the road would be extremely difficult. What factors did you use to determine the amounts over the short term and extrapolate them into the future?
AJ Smith: We wanted our study to show how location can impact your finances and financial needs. Here's our methodology. SmartAsset calculated the average cost of living for retirees in the largest U.S. cities. Using that calculation, we determined how many years $1 million would last in retirement in each major city.
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First, we looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the average annual expenditures of seniors throughout the country. We then applied cost of living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research to adjust those national average spending levels based on the costs of each expense category (housing, food, healthcare, utilities, transportation and other) in each city.
We assumed the $1 million would grow at a real return (interest minus inflation) of 2 percent, reflecting the typical return on a conservative investment portfolio. Finally, we divided $1 million by the sum of each of those annual numbers to determine how long $1 million would last in each of the cities in our study.
How did you settle on the million-dollar figure?
We needed a specific number to compare across cities. Whether the number is higher or lower, the rankings show how the city performs relative to others.
Does that amount include or exclude Social Security benefits and company retirement plans?
This study shows how long $1 million in savings would go on its own.
Even good middle-class savers may find it difficult to save a million dollars for retirement — but will they potentially find themselves in dire financial straits if they don't?
Saving for retirement can be an intimidating topic. Using tools like a retirement calculator can help guide your specific situation. The sooner you think about it, plan for it and act toward it, the better off you will be.
How does Denver fare in comparison with other major cities in terms of making dollars go furthest?
Denver ranked 13th out of the 23 big cities currently included in the study.
What cities score the best in this area?
The city in the West where $1M lasts the longest is Phoenix, AZ, where it stretches 30.18 years, according to our study.
Which ones score the lowest?
In the west, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle all rank toward the bottom of the study.
Which are the most similar to Denver?
The two cities most closely aligned to Denver in this study are Dallas (#12, 28.31 years) and Miami (#14, 25.88 years).
What kind of people would you advise to move to Denver if they're already approaching retirement age? What kind would you suggest to look elsewhere?
If people are looking to move to Denver before retirement (or really moving anywhere at any time!), it's important to consider the cost of living.
With life spans continuing to lengthen, would you recommend that people save even more than they think they'll need, because they could be around for longer than they may anticipate?
It's important to plan for retirement and think about what you want or expect your retirement to look like. This is one of the reasons we publish studies like this — to get people thinking about it in that context and working towards those goals.
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If there's one piece of advice you'd give to people interested in retiring to Denver, what would it be?
Before retiring anywhere, it's important to make sure you are comfortable with the cost of living. This includes things like housing costs, utility costs, food costs and taxes.
Is there anything else I may have neglected to ask about that you feel is important to add?
We hope this study gets people thinking and talking about money in general and retirement in particular. Our objective is for people to be inspired to plan for the financial goals they deem most important.