This question is another tricky one because it depends on who is asking it. If you’re 18 and asking this question, well, I’d say you’re starting off right by asking, and if you are putting away 10% – even if you’re only making $20,000 per year, you’re saving $2,000/year and in 50 years you’d be sitting on about $2,500,000 at 10% (yes, that is 2 MILLION off someone that makes $20,000 per year). You’d have put in $100,000 and interest would have accounted for the other $2,400,000 of it. Ridiculous how compoud interest works, eh?
If you bump it to 15%, you’d be investing $150,000 and your egg would be almost 66% larger at $3,800,000! Obviously this is taking some big assumptions, being that you’re going to continue making $20,000 for the next 50 years (which I hope you’d get a raise in there at some point), the return will be 10% (this can go up and down, but it’s a safe figure to estimate by, as another tangent, if your return is 15%, and investing $2,000 per year, you’re looking at almost $16,000,000), and it isn’t taking into account inflation (usually around 3% which would peg that 16MIL down to about 4.5MIL). But that’s all you really CAN do with 50 years to play with, however, that’s the big thing, get in early.
If you’re 40 years old and wondering where to start, you’re going to certainly need some catch up against the 18 year old putting in 10%; to match with the 18 year old investing $2000/year, you’re going to need to put in $17,000 per year to hit that 2.5 million plateau. Attainable yes, but preferred, probably not. Even at 40 years old and investing $2000/year you’re still going to be looking at $300,000 by 68, which isn’t bad, and is much better than $0.
A good rule of thumb I’ve read is 10% minimum, and 15-25% preferred of your salary should go to retirement. But that, of course is an estimate and should vary depending on your age – I’d say a better breakdown would be:
18-30 years old – 10-15% of your salary
30-40 years old – 12-18% of your salary
40-50 years old – 18-25% of your salary
50+ – 25% or more of your salary
Again, they’re estimates based on a lot of generalization, but the big key is start stuffing something, even if it’s not much. It’s amazing what time can do to the almighty $.