Finding the Right Retirement Calculator

There's no one-size-fits-all.

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

I read your article in last month's issue regarding retirement calculators and found it very informative; however, I am having trouble getting an accurate picture of my retirement when I use them. Let me explain.

I live in an area of the east coast with a high cost of living. My salary is comparable to others who live in my area--if not a little higher. However my plan is to retire to a part of the country that has a more reasonable cost of living (one of the southeast states). When I use the usual retirement calculators that ask me to input my current income the results inform me I need to be saving far above what I think I will really need in retirement.

Is there a calculator you would suggest I use given my situation? Should I calculate my current income based on what it would be cost to live in future retirement area right now and use that figure for that calculation?

We really each need our own individualized retirement calculators that adjust not only for our personal situations, but also accurately predict exactly what the stock market will do over the 50 years.

Unfortunately, such calculators don't exist.

There are too many variables -- including rate of return, cost of living, the state of the larger economy, and inflation rates -- to know just how much money we need to save so we have enough when it's time to retire. That's why most financial experts recommend focusing on the big picture instead.

That means saving enough to generate about 80 percent of your pre-retirement income. To play around with various scenarios, check out this caclulator from T. Rowe Price or this one from T.D. Ameritrade.