Maximize Social Security. Social Security provides a base level of income that your retirement savings should build upon. Take steps to maximize the amount you get by making sure you have at least 35 years of earnings under your belt before you sign up for payments, so that zeros won't be factored into your calculation. And carefully consider the age at which you begin to claim benefits. Payouts increase for each year of delayed claiming between ages 62 and 70.
Don't plan on retiring at 65. A male born in 1946 can expect to live 18 years after retirement at age 66, according to Social Security Administration projections. Men born in 1980 should plan for at least a 19.3 year retirement, after the higher retirement age of 67. For women, the average projected length of retirement jumps from 20 years for those born in 1946 to 21.2 years for those born in 1980. And these are just the averages. "Generation Y's life expectancy is going to be a lot longer," says Farr. "They have to fund more years of retirement than the old financial planning models built in."
Of course, you don't have to retire at age 65, or at what the Social Security Administration defines as the full retirement age, which is 66 for most baby boomers and 67 for younger people. Working a few extra years gives you more time to save, allows your investments a longer time to compound, and reduces the number of retirement years your savings must finance. If you're 25 now and willing to work until age 70, you could reach $2 million by saving just $95 per week, assuming an 8 percent annual return and not even counting the 401(k) match.
Don't get hung up on the number. How much you need to save for retirement largely depends on your expenses. If you're willing to pay off your mortgage before retirement, move to a smaller house or low-cost area of the country, and live a modest lifestyle, you may find a way to get by on less. Conversely, those who want a lavish retirement will need to save more. "If you've got a goal based upon assumptions about inflation and rates of return, it's actually counterproductive, because those numbers can be pretty big, especially for young folks," says Alfonso. "It's more important to focus on the things that you can control, such as the percent of your gross income that you save and to really focus on your career and moving up the salary chain."