When can I afford to retire?

Pensions and retirement
Views & insights

Wanting to retire and being able to afford to retire are two very different things. Here are four questions to ask yourself


13 July 2023 | 3 minute read

Many of us look forward to the day when we can finish work for good and focus on the things we enjoy the most. You might even have a date in mind, but how certain are you that your target retirement age is realistic?


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After all, wanting to retire and being able to afford to retire are two very different things. To help you get started, here are four questions to ask yourself.

What does my ideal retirement look like?

The first step to working out when you can afford to retire is to determine what you actually want to do in retirement.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ retirement, so your dreams and ambitions could be very different to those of your friends, colleagues and neighbours. For some it could be moving abroad, travelling the world or taking up a new hobby; for others it could simply be spending more time with friends and family.

An increasingly popular choice is to take a ‘phased’ approach to retirement, where you gradually reduce your hours, perhaps working part-time or on a consultancy basis.

How much will it cost?

Once you’ve thought about what you want to do in retirement, you can begin to work out how much it is likely to cost.

Your outgoings will probably fall into two broad categories: essentials and non-essentials. The essentials will include things like mortgage repayments, rent, council tax, utility bills, insurance, the weekly food bill, and birthday and Christmas presents. The non-essentials may revolve around entertainment, leisure and holidays; the little luxuries that make life more pleasurable.

A financial adviser can help you add up all these outgoings and explain what level of retirement income this would translate into. They’ll also look at how your income needs may change over time – perhaps starting off high as you enjoy your newfound freedom, gradually reducing as you get older, and possibly increasing again further in the future if you need to pay for care.

What size pension do I need?

Once you have a clear picture of your required income in retirement, the next step is to work out what size pension you need to generate that level of income. This is a complex calculation as you need to take into account things like life expectancy, investment growth, tax and inflation.

A financial adviser can work this out for you. They can also demonstrate the impact of different scenarios or choices, such as reducing or increasing your retirement income, taking your tax-free cash lump sum versus leaving it invested, and retiring earlier or later.

Are my existing savings enough?

The final step is to compare what you need with how much you already have. It may be the case that you’re on track to meet your goals and that your retirement is in sight; in this case, it’s time to start focusing on how you’re going to access your money in retirement. This can be complicated, so make sure you seek advice.

If there is a shortfall in your savings, try not to panic as there could be several ways to boost your pension. Think about whether you could increase your pension contributions between now and retirement. Personal pension contributions benefit from tax relief at your marginal rate of income tax, helping to supercharge your savings. Another option is to continue working and paying into your pension for a few years longer. Over time, the combination of additional pension contributions, tax relief and investment growth could make a significant difference to your pension pot.

Make sure you consider any other savings and investments you have, as these could also be a valuable source of retirement income. For example, while ISAs don’t benefit from tax relief on contributions, withdrawals are completely tax free, making them a tax-efficient source of retirement income.

There is also the state pension, which pays £203.85 per week for those who qualify for the full rate. An adviser will be able to give you a true picture of all your assets and potential income sources, so you can make a fully informed decision about whether your savings are sufficient.

Next steps

Working out when you can afford to retire means answering some complex questions, and it isn’t always easy to do this on your own. That’s where getting some smart advice can help. By understanding you and your ambitions for the future, an adviser can help you decide whether your target retirement age is realistic and, if not, the steps you could take to boost your savings. This will help you feel confident you’re doing the right thing with your money and that you’re on course for the retirement you’ve been dreaming of.

The value of investments, and any income from them, can fall and you may get back less than you invested. This does not constitute tax or legal advice. Tax treatment depends on the individual circumstances of each client and may be subject to change in the future. Information is provided only as an example and is not a recommendation to pursue a particular strategy. Information contained in this document is believed to be reliable and accurate, but without further investigation cannot be warranted as to accuracy or completeness.

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