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ChatGPT vs. financial adviser: How much money should you save for retirement at every age?

Here’s what AI and human professionals say about the magic number.

Since we’ve asked the professionals this very question before, we decided to consult ChatGPT. Then we asked a human financial adviser to respond.

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Do you have enough cash saved to successfully leave the workforce? If your answer is no, then you’re likely not alone. As many as one in three workers say they don’t think they’ll have enough to retire, while another one in 12 suggest they may never stop working at all, a Retirement Industry Trust Association (RITA) report found. So how much do you really need? Is there really a magic number? 

Since we’ve asked the professionals this very question numerous times before, we decided to consult one of the latest advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) — ChatGPT — and ask the platform to reflect this often complex topic and see how detailed it can really get. Then, we also asked a financial adviser to respond. (Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can match you to an adviser who meets your needs.)

How much money should you save for retirement at every age?

ChatGPT-4 response

It should be noted that much of this response from ChatGPT was nearly directly pulled from various stories on the topic from places like Bankrate, NerdWallet and Fidelity, to name a few.

“The amount one should save for retirement at every age can vary based on individual circumstances, goals, and lifestyle. However, here is a general guideline for how much you should aim to save based on your age:

1. In your 20s: Experts recommend saving at least 10-15% of your annual income for retirement. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k) and contribute enough to receive the full employer match if available.

2. In your 30s: Continue saving 10-15% of your income for retirement. If you haven’t already, increase your contributions to maximize employer matches and consider opening an individual retirement account (IRA) for additional saving.

3. In your 40s: Aim to save 15-20% of your income for retirement. Use this decade to catch up if you have fallen behind on your savings goals. Consider making catch-up contributions to retirement accounts if you’re eligible.

4. In your 50s: Increase your savings rate to 20-25% of your income to make significant progress towards your retirement goals. Review your retirement plans and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you’re on track.

5. In your 60s: Keep saving as much as possible during your final working years.”

Response from a human financial adviser and our analysis: 

The ChatGPT advice is indeed a nice starting point, but how much you’ll need in retirement also depends on what you want to do in retirement and the life you want to live. Indeed, the right answer to this often complex question is extremely personal, says Bryan Hasling, a certified financial planner at Modern Financial Planning in Fort Worth, Texas. “An algo may see two people who look the same on paper, and choose to give the same guidance,” Hasling says, adding that, “in reality, those two people are on separate journeys with different agendas. The right answer for you is likely different for me.”

No matter your financial situation, though, Hasling explains the answer comes down to two critical questions that everyone hoping to one day retire needs to ask themselves: What are you saving for? And how will saving more help you achieve that goal?

“When you’re faced with large life decisions, you need your own rule sets and values to follow,” he says, adding that “when it comes to savings, it’s only possible when you have more than what you need. Many in this world don’t have anything left to save because they never have extra, but if you do happen to have a strong income and the ability to grow that income, you might be wondering, how much you should save now, versus later in the future.”

For some perspective, Hasling says just because an algorithm might say, for example, you need to save 20%, if you’re comfortably able to do 15% consistently and easily, that may be enough for your own financial needs. When working with his own clients, Hasling says he likes to “help people get a sense of their tendencies and describe some extreme-examples, see how people feel about those, and then find the happy medium.”

For one set of extremes, Hasling says he points to those in the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) community and see what hyper-saving looks like. “FIRE folks want to stop working as soon as possible,” he says, adding that setting aside the disclaimers — most have high incomes and low thresholds for living standards — “FIRE discussions are great because it focuses on the highest-possible savings rate possible. And if you were to look at doing the same, what would you need to give up, and for how long? If this helped you reach your goals X-years faster, how happy would that make you?”

By discussing those extreme scenarios, Hasling says he is able to discover what’s negotiable among his clients and whether they are able to stretch their ability to save. “From there, we craft a savings plan that both feels achievable, and helps them get where they’re going, on their own terms.” (Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can match you to an adviser who meets your needs.)

The verdict

Simply put, there is no singular dollar amount that everyone will need to comfortably reach retirement. While yes, ChatGPT is able to successfully shed some light on the averages and what most people will need to comfortably leave the workforce, a human financial adviser can help add context and deliver some real, live-case scenarios to achieve an individual client’s goals. That said, chatbots such as ChatGPT are still in their infancy, and there will likely be a day when even AI can help provide this personalized context.