The ‘moving parts’ in planning for retirement


Q. I’m a young federal employee, about 30 years old, trying to plan for retirement. Some of the literature on saving out there sets goals, either in dollar amounts such as $130,000-$200,000 by 30 years old, or in terms of salary such as one year’s salary by 30 years old. I presume these are geared toward private sector employees who do not have a FERS component to their retirement planning. I understand FERS changes the numbers, but I’m not entirely clear on how to factor it into my retirement planning goals. Are there any similar guideposts for our TSP you can provide that we should try to hit assuming we’re planning to spend our career in the federal government?

A. Those kinds of guidelines are unreliable at best, and dangerous at worst. It’s like saying: “If you want to travel, you’d better cover at least $275 miles per day.” That statement must be based on a lot of assumptions, that may or may not apply to you.

The only way to figure out how much you’ll need to save between now and retirement is to develop and maintain a reliable, comprehensive plan. How much you’ll need to save will depend upon when you want to retire, whether you are married or not during retirement, where you live, your income in retirement, how much you’ll spend in retirement, and how you manage your savings and investments before and during retirement, among other things. This is a very complex exercise with many moving parts; it can’t be responsibly distilled to a rule of thumb.

Without the necessary understanding, planning and management, the safest thing to do is to save the maximum allowed to your TSP account for as long as you work.


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Mike Miles is a Certified Financial Planner licensee and principal adviser for Variplan LLC, an independent fiduciary in Vienna, Virginia. Email your financial questions to and view his blog at

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