Do You Have Real Retirement Goals at Ages 20, 30, or 40?

Does the word “retirement” sound like a word in a foreign language? For a lot of folks, even thinking about retiring is a long and far away thought that is rarely discussed. If you’re a Gen Xer (born between 1965 and 1980ish) you might have it cross your mind, but if you are a Millennial (Generation Y born after 1980 to 1996) you probably think more about the toppings on your next pizza then any retirement goals, but should you? If you are now an adult, a 20-, 30-, or 40-something, do you have any real retirement goals or is it all just like a line from “Gone with the Wind”: “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”

20-something man fishing with retired man who’s living his retirement goals

The Numbers Just Don’t Lie

Too many Americans are unprepared for retirement, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis. Around a quarter of all U.S. adults have no savings at all for retirement, and only about one third are on track in their planning. You should be making real retirement goals, based on your age, income, and marital status. Dare I repeat it again, start saving for it from day one when you get your first real job.

There is almost no reason, even when you may be young (and foolish), not to show a little wisdom and ambition about more than pizza toppings and think about your savings goals, even for your retirement!

Why? It’s fairly simple. You are going to someday want to retire. You’re going to need money to do it and the amount you have saved, invested, and cultivated over time will determine the lifestyle you will have when you do. The longer you actually grow your money, the more you will have to enjoy in retirement.

Starting Young Means Many More Years of Growth and That’s Key

Some of the biggest financial advisors will tell you that retirees who want to retire at the traditional full retirement age of 67 will need about ten times their final salaries to live about the same lifestyle they have been living while working. To have the life you “dream” about and get to that number you will need, you have to grow your money over a long period of time.

Exponential growth occurs through steady contributions and compounding that only time gives you. Starting young is your secret weapon to get there.

When I Say Money, You Need to Put It Into a Real Perspective

You may not be able to relate to this, but I will tell you it’s all true. Inflation, a word you hear about all the time, is a huge enemy of retirement.

It’s not a joke when your grandfather tells you that a car used to cost less than $2,000 when he was a teen or that a movie matinee ticket was just a quarter. That’s what it was back in the 1950s and ’60s and then a funny thing happened. Just 50 or 60 years later, in my lifetime, all of those numbers went straight to hell! When I made $7,800 a year in 1972, I had a car, an apartment, and a wife too—all of it on $150 a week as my gross pay. Did I ever imagine that that would be a number I’d be paying in real estate taxes today? Of course not! Inflation never sleeps and is always lurking.

2021 was a bad year for us because of it and 2022 may be even worse. Even if you are young, you saw it. So what are you going to try to do to prepare for it and your retirement because of it?

Here are some useful starting points to get you moving. These general financial and personal retirement goals by age can help you reach the goals you set when you keep them on the front burner of the mind.

When You’re a 20-Something

If you are 20 or around that number, the chances are you are still dealing with your education and racking up debt while you are at it. Working may not even be a part of your life, but if can swing working a job and your education, you will actually get out of the gate running here. I’m not going to spend much time on this early stage, but by the time you finish school and you reach your mid to late 20s, you will be earning money and have the opportunity to reduce your debt and save, too. Do it.

As soon as you are able, open a retirement account or participate in your company plan. Even a small contribution each pay period will come back to you in growth numbers when held onto over a period of years and years!

When You’re a 30-Something

While you should start saving before age 30, your actual saving goals are likely subject to change around this time. Many people use their 20s to figure out who they are, what they want, and settle into the workforce. They also usually lack the same responsibilities that encourage people above the age of 30 to focus on their retirement, such as marriage or a family. So they might not have the same means or the motivation to create a structured plan yet.

Still, it’s essential to start saving as soon as you possibly can, even if you don’t have a strict schedule yet. Have you noticed a recurring theme here?

While it may be acceptable to have been unmotivated in your 20s, it’s different now in your 30s. To actually help you build significant wealth and take advantage of compound interest, you must make regular contributions towards retirement that can build over the decades into a valuable resource during your senior years.

You should have already started on creating an emergency fund in the case of an unexpected costs or job loss. The number should be around three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved which you can store in a high-yield savings account. Look at online banks (like Synchrony Bank) which are paying the highest around the U.S. (even though the rates are generally not very good). If you can get 0.5% – 1.0% interest, that’s about the best you will find in a high yield insured and accessible savings account.

Longer term IRA accounts like in CDs are a better option and investing in your own corporate retirement plan will even be better. It’s a time to investigate and make good decisions. Keep in mind that you can be a little aggressive in this stage of your plan. As you age, the risk tolerance you have will most likely decline.

You should also have established your credit by this time and begun buying life and health insurance policies.

Your savings may wind up being a flat percentage to put away on an annual basis. As little as 5% of income or as much as 50%, it depends on your current income level, age, and future retirement goals, needs, and plans.

When You’re a 40-Something

Up until your 40s, your main goal is likely to maximize your savings and take advantage of interest rates. One of the main ways to catch up to your target savings is through investment. At this age, you can still take on riskier investments in your portfolio, like stocks. Because you still have some time—maybe another 20-30 years—to recover from potential downs in the market, you don’t have to limit yourself quite yet.

It’s also a time to get even more focused on two important areas: life insurance and college funds. Health concerns, end-of-life planning, and education costs can eat away at your savings. So covering these expenses will help safeguard your future funds.

If you don’t yet have life insurance, you may want to consider purchasing it by this time. It’s relatively inexpensive to buy a large term life policy at this age, but insurance costs begin to climb as you age so buying now is the best time to do it. It can help take care of your loved ones if you were to unexpectedly pass and pay for burdensome costs, like monthly bills, mortgage payments, and funeral arrangements.

As for your kids’ college expenses, you have a couple of options. You can simply save money, or you can look into a tax-free option such as a 529 plan. These plans make it simple to save for qualified college expenses, and other family members can contribute, helping you grow the fund. These are now front burner issues for you and your family when you have kids.

Once you pass the age of 40, you really need to start considering ways to reduce your risk of financial loss. So while you’re still building up your savings, you may need to pull back on your spending.


Although I haven’t mentioned it here, making a budget and looking for new ways to save money are as important as earning money and growing it in retirement accounts. It’s simple math, the more you save, the more you have. In fact, it is just another way to increase your wealth that you almost never consider. That’s why I created Super Saving Tips: saving more is earning more.

Related Posts
Retirement Investment Strategies That 20 Somethings Need Now
“Will I Ever Be Able to Retire?”
Can You Be a Millionaire By Retirement?

Final Thoughts

You might be one of those who never wants to retire and wants to work until they find you slumped over your desk with a pen in hand making big decisions for the rest of your coworkers. If so, congratulations and boarding for planet “Crazy” is at Gate 17. Enjoy your fight!

Seriously, besides having a retirement dream of the good life, you may run into problems that force retirement like mine did. Health problems and the cost involved will dent your dreams and finances if you are not prepared for being a “senior” and want to push yourself to work longer.

Just keep in mind the following when it comes to approaching retirement and getting older. Lower your risk by revisiting your investment portfolio. You may need to opt for safer investments or further diversify your asset allocation. Shying away from potentially risky choices and sticking to long-term investments or stocks will help you avoid financial losses and help you reach your real retirement goals.

What does your retirement look like to you right now? Is it planned well or are you still putting it off? When did you begin to focus and can you make it to your goals assuming you actually have them?

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