Want to know when you can retire?

It's about what you'll spend, not what you've saved

Insights Report

In an important and informative new article, TIAA Trustee and TIAA Institute Fellow, Jeff Brown writes that we should stop obsessing over "the number" and whether we have "saved enough" to retire. Instead he reframes the needed approach as, "Income is the Outcome."


Why do we save for retirement? It's not to have $1 million at age 65—even though much of Wall Street promotes this very concept. That's because the amount of wealth we're supposed to accumulate is not the real goal—wealth is an intermediate step. What really matters is having adequate income to spend on the goods and services we need to live comfortably after we stop working.

Key Insights

  • Our well-being comes from having the money we need when we need it, not how much money is in our account on a given day.
  • We have a retirement system built around wealth accumulation, creating a disconnect between what we want from retirement and how we've been told to get there.
  • Converting savings to income is psychologically difficult when you've spent your life defining success by how much money you have.
  • If we build lifetime income into retirement plans and products—making lifetime annuities a default option in 401(k)s, for instance—people could have happier, more secure retirements.

Six decades of academic research shows that income, not wealth, is the outcome that matters most for financial security and peace of mind.

Group of people hiking


Jeffrey Brown

University of Illinois

Sign up for the TIAA Institute newsletter

Get the latest research and insights straight in your inbox

We are sorry.

The service that receives your request is unavailable at the moment. Please try again.