Price, though, offers another way for workers to look at retirement savings. It calculates how much you should be saving at different ages based on how much you have already put away.
Ideally, all of us would begin our careers saving 15 percent of gross pay annually, Ritter says. If your employer provides a 401(k) match — say, 3 percent of pay — then you can save 12 percent.
At this savings rate and with the money invested in a diversified, age-appropriate portfolio, you should be able to maintain your lifestyle in retirement, Ritter says.
But many of us don't start out putting away 15 percent of pay. And some workers begin contributing only the minimum to a 401(k) to get the employer match and then stop there.
It's sort of like the doctor advising you to exercise 30 minutes a day, Ritter says, but you work out only six minutes. "If six minutes at the gym sounds ludicrous, you should have the same reaction to saving only 3 percent for retirement," he says.
Sometimes workers wait until they've been in the labor force for a decade or more before they start saving. And the longer they delay, the more they must put aside.
Start saving at age 35, for example, and you will need to put away 20 percent of pay each year, Price calculates. But begin at 45, and you must salt away 29 percent of income annually to get on track. Start at 55, and a whopping 43 percent of pay must be set aside for retirement each year.
For some, any of these savings targets will be overwhelming, given the amount of debt they shoulder. But there's a guideline on debt, too.
Farrell, the Denver adviser, says debt — including a mortgage — should never exceed twice your annual income. "If debt is higher than two times your pay, it's very hard to have extra income to save," he says.
And by age 65, he adds, you should be debt-free. That way, if the financial markets plunge, you aren't forced to sell investments at a loss to pay the mortgage.
Of course, people living in areas of the country where housing is expensive might balk at Farrell's guidelines. But Farrell says that if high house payments prevent you from saving enough for retirement, you need to plan how you will make up the shortfall later — including selling the house.