The No. 1 question Americans ask most about retirement

And some of the best — and most controversial — answers to it.

  • By Catey Hill,
  • MarketWatch
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It’s all about the money.

In honor of April, which is financial literacy month, Google unveiled the 10 questions that Americans ask most about retirement.

The question Americans ask the search engine most often about retirement: “How much do I need to retire?”

10 most-asked retirement questions, past year U.S.

  1. How much do I need to retire?
  2. How to retire early
  3. When can I retire?
  4. What is the retirement age?
  5. How much to save for retirement?
  6. How to save for retirement
  7. How to retire at 50
  8. How to retire
  9. What is full retirement age for Social Security?
  10. Where to retire

Answering the question of how much you need to retire is complicated. For years, many experts threw out $1 million as a figure we should all aim for. And according to a survey by personal finance site Nerdwallet, half of Americans think that $1 million will be enough to live on in retirement.

Save more for retirement

Here's an infographic guide to annual contribution and tax deduction limits for 2019.

But, most people won’t be able to retire the way they want with just $1 million: “With people living longer with the advances of medical care and the higher costs of living, a million dollars just doesn’t go as far as it used to,” Mitchell C. Hockenbury, a certified financial planner at 1440 Financial Partners, told MarketWatch.

For her part, finance guru Suze Orman says the magic number is $5 million or more — and MarketWatch reported that some people agree with that number, while others think that figure is far too high.

Another oft-cited formula for how much to save is Fidelity’s, which notes that by age 40 you should have three times your starting salary saved, by 50 six times and by 67 10 times. Financial author and planner David Bach says this philosophy is a good starting point, but adds that “you might need to be saving more than that” and “you definitely don’t need to be saving less.”

Of course, how much you will need to retire depends on a number of things — some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. These include asset allocation and location, saving and spending, market returns, longevity and more — all of which this chart from J.P. Morgan very clearly lays out.

And while much of the advice on how much to save for retirement is debatable, there are a few rules that nearly everyone agrees on: start early and make regular contributions, set up automatic enrollment and auto-escalation of your retirement plan, cut expenses and bump up your contributions when you get a raise.

If you want to retire early — which was the second-most-asked retirement question -- you’ll likely need to turbo-charge some of those retirement to-dos, like dramatically cutting spending and upping your savings rate.

The FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) movement, in which people reach financial independence and leave the workforce much earlier than traditional retirement age, has gained traction in the past few years.

One couple that’s on track to retire early told Marketwatch that they do it by saving 70% of their income and slashing their spending from $110,000 a year to $44,000 a year. Another woman who’s going to retire at 38 told Marketwatch she’s seriously frugal about some things, driving a 15-year-old Honda Civic and “sitting in a 55-degree house tending a fire of wood.”

All of this interest in retiring — and how to pay for it — comes as a staggering number of Americans are financially unprepared for retirement. Almost 60% of working age people don’t have any retirement assets from an employer-sponsored 401(k) or similar plan, an IRA, or defined-benefit plan, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

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