What Saving for Retirement Looks Like At Age 20, 30, 40, and Beyond

Saving for retirement can seem intimidating, whether you're fresh out of college or well into your golden years. No fear, here's how we suggest making it all happen.
by Sarah Li Cain October 17, 2019

Getting deep into statistics, retirement calculators, and delving into expert advice is a great start in gaining a knowledge base. And while some of those figures can definitely be helpful on a macro level, what retirement looks like for you, and at what stage of your life, is very personal. 

So how do you prepare for what you don’t know? Well, a good place to start is by breaking down what retirement looks like in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and a bit down the line. Another important piece of the puzzle? Considering what you’re saving for retirement could look like when you increase your health savings account (HSA) contributions… but more on that to come.

Your 20s

Benchmark: Have at least one year’s worth of your salary put away before you turn 30.

How to do it: We get that you’re probably straight out of college and have a bunch of debt to pay off. Retirement seems so far away!

The good news is that time is on your side—but if you’re not saving now, even just a little bit, you don’t have your friend “compound interest” to help you out. Even $25 each paycheck is better than nothing. Look into any employer sponsored plans like a 401k, for which many employers will match your contribution, to help you get started.

Your 30s

Benchmark: Work towards saving the equivalent of 3 years of your salary before you turn 40.

What to do: Maybe (hopefully!) you’ve finally gotten rid of those student loans. Yay! But now that that’s over with, you’ve got other monetary wants and needs. Like, say, a house? Starting a family… the list goes on. So even though you may be making more money, with these increased expenses it can seem harder.

But you’ve still got time. A general rule of thumb is to save at least 18% of your income in your 30s. Consider increasing your contributions by taking money from tax refunds or your raises to add to your nest egg.

Your 40s

Benchmark: Have at least 6 years of your salary socked away.

What to do: See how the benchmark number is increasing? By the way, if you’re only just starting to truly save now, experts recommend beginning by setting aside 35% of your income towards retirement. That’s a big jump from 18%!

If you haven’t started thinking about retirement yet, it’s definitely the time to get serious. If you only have an employer sponsored plan, consider other types of investment accounts like an IRA or HSA to accelerate your finances.

Your 50s and Beyond

Benchmark: You need to have at least 10 years of your salary saved by the time you’re 67.

What to do: You’re getting close! Those golden years are near. It’s time to pay off all your debt and take advantage of what could be some of your highest earning years to date. You have the opportunity for catch-up contributions to your retirement accounts during this time as well, so be sure to do that if you can.

Freaking Out About Retirement?


Just because you may have less saved than you’d like (totally normal), doesn’t mean you can’t make up for lost time now.

There are plenty of ways to save for retirement (have you ever considered gig working? It’s a great way to increase your contributions in this home stretch!).


It’s also important to remember that these benchmarks are just recommendations, not a personalized strategy.


For example, many recommend you max out your 401k, but there are other ways to invest, like with a health savings account (HSA). This little known investment vehicle offers some tax benefits, plus it offers savings for qualified health expenses. Oh, and remember that mention of health savings accounts before? When making your retirement plans, don’t forget about your HSA! Which many consider critical to helping you pay for medical expenses in your golden years!

At the end of the day, there are no hard and fast rules to saving for retirement—just “rules” you incorporate into a financial strategy that works for you.

Happy saving!

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