Retirement calculators and spending
Retirement calculators and spending categorizes retirement calculators by the type(s) of retirement spending models they use. For a detailed discussion about the various types of retirement spending models, refer to the articles in the Retirement spending wiki series (Sidebar to the right).
There are many other criteria besides spending that can be used to categorize retirement calculators. Examples of these criteria include: tax calculation method, asset classes included as investments, Social Security claiming guidance, types of tax-advantaged savings plans, and types of annuities. The restriction of these tables to just spending model categories does not imply that this aspect of the calculation is any more important than the others mentioned!
One of the most important characteristics of a retirement calculator is the method used to simulate potential future investment returns. Because of this importance a column has been added in each table that lists the method(s) used by each calculator.
Abbreviations used in the calculator tables
These abbreviations are used to keep the tables compact while still maximizing the amount of descriptive information they contain.
Runtime Environment Abbreviations. These are used to indicate computational requirements for using a calculator.
- Web = Runs only through a web browser
- Win = Runs only under MS Windows
- Xcel = MS Excel spreadsheet
Calculator Type Abbreviations. These are used to categorize the calculator's approach to estimating future growth in retirement savings.
- Det = Deterministic. The calculator uses fixed, user selected future stock and bond returns.
- HRet = Historical Returns. The calculator uses historical stock and bond returns as a guide.
- HStr = Historical stress test. The calculator uses historical U.S. stock and bond returns (and sometimes the corresponding inflation) starting from one or more specific years in the past to Stress Test the retirement plan for worst case scenarios.
- MC = Monte Carlo. The calculator uses a Monte Carlo model of stock and bond investment returns as a guide.
Initial Retirement Spending Abbreviations. These are the potential types of spending models that could be used to describe retiree spending at the start of retirement.
- RepR = Replacement Rate
- STot = Single Budget, total spending only
- SWks = Single Budget, worksheet included
- DTot = Dual Budget, total spending only
- DWks = Dual Budget, worksheet included.
- N/A = Calculator doesn’t allow user to independently set spending in retirement.
Spending Model as Retirement Progresses. These are the different methods used for modeling spending.
- Constant-Real - starts at an amount that is adjusted for yearly inflation.
- Retirement Stages - two or more different constant or real spending levels.
- Returns Dependent - spending adjusted depending upon earnings returns.
- Flexible Spending - two or more spending categories.
- Life Cycle - spending varies according to stages of life.
Free retirement calculators
Free retirement calculators are widely available on the Internet. As seen in the table below, the majority of these calculators only incorporate a Constant Real spending model as retirement progresses. For the average retiree this type of spending model does not offer as realistic a description of spending patterns as the other model types (see discussion in Constant (real) Spending Models).
Purchased retirement calculators
Most of these retirement calculators have Trial Versions that can be used before a final purchase decision. Sometimes the trial version has restricted capabilities. In other cases the trial version is fully functional, but only works for a limited time period.
Calculator Name Runtime
Spending Model as Retirement Progresses Constant
AnalyzeNow! Pre & Post Retirement Planner Xcel Det, HStr STot X X eFinPLAN Web Det, MC SWks, RepR X X ESPlannerBASIC  Web Det, MC STot X X X X ESPlanner Win Det SWks X X X ESPlannerPLUS Win Det, MC SWks X X X J&L Financial Planner Professional  Win Det, MC, HRet SWks X X X Money Tree: Silver Financial Planner Win Det, MC SWks, DWks X X X X Money Tree: TOTAL Planning Suite  Win Det, MC SWks X X Otar Retirement Calculator  Xcel HRet SWks X X X Pralana Retirement Calculator Xcel MC SWks X X Real World Retirement (RWR) Xcel Det, MC SWks X X X Simple Planning Retirement Planner Xcel Det SWks X VeriPlan Xcel Det SWks X X
- The AARP calculator asks you to categorize your retirement spending into 3 categories relative to your pre-retirement spending lifestyle: Less Expensive, About the Same, or More Expensive. These 3 choices clearly correspond to a Replacement Rate approach.
- The American Funds calculator has 2 modes: 1) Quick Analysis, and 2) Detailed Analysis. Only the Detailed Analysis mode is described here.
- The actual method used to adjust spending based on changes in Total Savings and Investment Returns is not well explained.
- Ballpark E$timate uses a 2-page worksheet that can be completed either online or printed.
- It uses the Robert Shiller data (to make it HRet, discussed in the tutorial page http://www.cfiresim.com/tutorial.html) and has a Monte Carlo option in the "Investigate" section of the site. However, it should be noted, that just like Firecalc, the Monte Carlo simulation is limited to a Mean and STD return, and is applied to the whole portfolio.
- Use the Conventional Planning mode in ESPlannerBASIC to set a discretionary spending in retirement. In the default Economic Planning mode, the program doesn't allow you to independently set your retirement spending.
- ESPlannerBASIC allows you to enter up to 4 special expenses that can be started and stopped in arbitrary years.
- The Fidelity Retirement Income Strategy Evaluator is similar to this program but focuses more on incorporating variable and fixed annuities into your investment mix.
- Even though Fidelity calls the approach an "Historical Market simulation", the Detailed Methodology document clearly states that a Monte Carlo calculation is used.
- It is not clear that the Fidelity Retirement Income Planner is capable of distinguishing between Essential and Discretionary spending when it runs the retirement income simulation.
- Create a Stages of Retirement model by opening the Budget Worksheet and dropping to the "Custom Expenses" box at the very bottom. Click on a "Vary Expense" link to set up a spending stage. Other approaches to setting up stages are also possible.
- Access to Financial Engines is free through many company retirement plans. Vanguard investors with at least $50,000 also have free access. Others may need to purchase access. The free version of the Financial Engines tool may not automatically optimize asset allocations for certain investments (forum reference).
- The Monte Carlo capability in FIRECalc 3.0 is limited. Only a mean return and corresponding standard deviation can be entered, and these are applied to the entire investment portfolio.
- Calculator has an option to utilize Ty Bernicke’s Reality Retirement spending model.
- The Flexible Spending model in FIRECalc 3.0 is limited to only three spending additions or reductions during retirement.
- The FAQ section at the Flexible Retirement Planner web site explains how to set up a Deterministic calculation.
- In Flexible or Conservative mode the Flexible Retirement Planner allows spending to fall in a user adjustable range above and below the real spending target. This is effectively the same as creating a Dual Budget model and allowing spending during retirement to be adjusted based on annual investment returns.
- The FAQ section at the Flexible Retirement Planner web site explains how to set up a Stages of Retirement spending model.
- The Optimal Retirement Planner includes a complete federal tax analysis based on the current year's tax code. This allows ORP to project more realistic after-tax cash flows across your retirement life span. ORP can also optimze the withdrawal sequence from and the conversions among your various taxable, tax-deferred and tax-free savings accounts.
- The allowable spending calculated by the Optimal Retirement Planner is similar to that from a Life Cycle retirement calculator: it gives the maximum, constant real spending for the entire retirement lifespan. Includes rollover to Roth IRA.
- The T. Rowe Price calculator can be run in 3 separate modes: 1) Saving for Retirement, 2) Preparing for Retirement, and 3) Living in Retirement. The mode you choose will control which program features are made available in subsequent windows.
- A Replacement Rate is only available in the Saving for Retirement mode. A fixed 75% replacement rate is used.
- TIP$TER has 4 choices of Monte Carlo: Normal, Lognormal, Double Lognormal, and randomized resort of Historical Returns. (forum reference)
- TIP$TER actually incorporates 3 retirement budgets: an Absolute Minimum, a Maximum during a Bear Market, and a Minimum during a Bull Market. The documentation explains how to manipulate these entries to simulate a number of spending models. It compares your portfolio against a TIPS baseline.
- The Stages of Retirement is limited to the ability to set a single, fixed percentage reduction in retirement spending that is applied periodically every X years throughout retirement.
- The Vanguard Nest Egg Calculator is designed for retired individuals.
- This Vanguard calculator assumes a fixed Replacement Rate of 85%.
- The Historical Stress Test calculates performance assuming returns and inflation from 1948 onwards (best case) and from 1965 onwards (worst case).
- The Pre and Post Retirement Planner allows one special expense for each year in the future. By adding up overlapping special expenses and entering the total for each year, you can implement an arbitrary Flexible Spending model.
- eFinPLAN calculates a financial plan over your complete lifetime, not just during retirement, and generates an extensive PDF report. Besides showing yearly assets and spending, it also includes recommendations for life and disability insurance amounts. The report includes action checklists for key aspects of an overall financial plan (e.g. estate planning).
- Accepts data for both limited-duration spending as well as income. Also includes dedicated data entry sheets for education and insurance expenses.
- For an optional annual fee the ESPlannerBASIC calculator allows access to Monte Carlo and Upside Investing modeling options.
- ESPlanner software has an Upside Investing mode that creates a spending floor assuming all equity investments are lost. It also shows a higher spending level assuming that equity investments yield good returns.
- Use the Conventional Planning mode in ESPlanner to set a discretionary spending in retirement. In the default Economic Planning mode, the program doesn't allow you to independently set your retirement spending.
- ESPlanner has the capability to allow multiple special expenditures with arbitrary duration and starting year.
- There is also a J&L Retirement Planner, but this software lacks Monte Carlo and Historical Returns analysis capabilities. You can download a trial version of J&L Financial Planner Professional good for 21 days.
- Rather than supplying the budget worksheet, J&L Financial Planner Pro provides a program window to which you can add any number of budget items and associated costs.
- An unlimited number of Stages can be created and these can have variable spending.
- Set up the Dual Budget spending model using the Special Expense Planner worksheet. Silver Financial Planner will actually run Monte Carlo analysis on up to 4 budget levels: Essential, Primary, Secondary and Optional.
- Set up a Stages model using the Special Expense Planner worksheet.
- Silver can run either a Percentage of Assets or a Floor & Ceiling form of Returns Dependent spending.
- Money Tree's TOTAL Planning Suite is designed for professional Financial Advisors. It generates customizeable client reports that are impressively detailed. The user interface is neat and intuitive.
- A free Trial Version of the Otar calculator can be downloaded. You need to have Excel 2007 or later to run it properly. The trial version has full functionality except that the starting age is fixed at 55.
- RWR's base mode is STot, but an optional Cashflow Projector module helps you generate a detailed annual spending budget.
- RWR has both 8 expense entry modules that could be used for variable spending Stages as well as a Manual Annual Input area that can be used to accommodate yearly spending changes.
- The Best Retirement Calculators, by Darrow Kirkpatrick, November 22, 2014
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