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Whether you’re living for the weekend, paying off a mortgage or thinking about a wedding, topping up your pension probably isn’t at the top of your to-do list in your 20s, 30s, or 40s. Indeed, in our recent research, we found that many people don't think about retirement until they hit 50. 

This, however, means they have less time to try to build up their pension savings if they need to. And that might mean they have less to get by on when they finally leave the working world. 

Even if you intend to work forever, you can’t predict how your circumstances or desires may change as you age. So, if you're currently in your 20s, 30s or 40s, now is a great time to start preparing for your retirement - since you’ll have more time to save. 

Benefits of saving early

Retirement may seem like a long way away, but the benefits of planning for it as soon as possible are significant. Fundamentally, the longer you spend saving, the larger your pension pot is likely to be – and the more comfortable your retirement. 

When you’re younger, you’ll usually be earning less and be saving for other things, such as a house deposit. But it pays to start saving early. Here’s why:

  • You benefit from tax relief: Each time you pay into a private pension, you receive pension tax relief which increases the value of your pension. The longer you save, and the more you put in, the more money you get. 
  • You may benefit from compound growth: Private defined contribution pensions are investments designed to generate income on the money you invest in them. If the pension fund performs well, the income is added to the amounts you deposited, meaning more money is available to generate future income. 

The cycle of reinvestment of income can significantly increase the value of the original pot over time – known as compound growth. The earlier you start saving money in your pension pot, the more time your pot has to grow. If you start saving later, you may need to put in significantly more money to end up with the same income in retirement. 

What do you need to live on to retire?

Everyone's circumstances are different, and the amount you need to retire on depends on many factors. If you live alone and don’t have expensive tastes, you might be able to get by on a relatively small pension. On the other hand, you might have dependants, or wish to spend your golden years travelling the world, so would need a lot more. By estimating how much you'd want to live on per year, you can figure out how much pension you'd need for that lifestyle. The Retirement Living Standards website has a useful guide to what life in retirement looks like at different income levels.

If you are one of our members, you can use our online Benefit Modeller to see an estimate of your PPF retirement income. You can then use this information to figure out what your pension might look like. 

How much pension will you get?

If you’ve just started thinking about your retirement, you might be a little unclear on exactly how much pension you're going to get. Figuring out the precise amount will depend on a number of factors, but to get a rough idea, think about:

Your state pension

Most people receive a state pension when they retire, if you’re under 50, the state pension age is usually between 67 and 68. In 2022-23, a full state pension will be £9,630 per year – and it increases annually. This might be enough to cover your most essential needs, but on its own may not be able to support your plans for retirement. 

You won’t automatically get the full state pension; you need to have accrued 35 “qualifying years” to receive the full sum. If you’ve worked fewer years, you’ll receive less. 

Workplace pension

Since 2018, all employees aged 22 and above –- and earning over £10,000 – are automatically enrolled on a pension scheme by their employer. Even before 2018, many employers offered a pension scheme to their staff. Essentially, a percentage of what you earn gets paid into a private pension fund and your employer tops that up. The minimum is usually 5 per cent from you, then 3 per cent from your employer.

You aren’t obliged to stay in the pension scheme, but it makes a lot of sense for most people. Since your employer needs to pay at least 3 per cent of the value of your salary into the pension, you’re essentially getting extra money from your employer and the government. Few people would turn down a pay rise, so think carefully before opting out of your company pension too.

Private pension funds are a form of investment – which means the value of your money can go up, but it may also go down. 

Depending on how long you've been working and the number of employers you've had, you might have several pensions with different funds. It's worthwhile keeping track of your pensions and storing information about them digitally. That means you can find them more easily. If you lose track of them, you can use the government’s Pensions Tracing Service to find them.

Other (non-workplace) personal pensions

In addition to your workplace pension, you might also decide to put money in an additional personal pension too. 

Some people might choose to pay into a private pension fund separate from the one they’re enrolled with through work. They might, for instance, choose to put any ‘windfalls’ they receive into this pension and leave it to grow. 

People who understand financial markets and are prepared to research their investments might also consider investing in a Self-Invested Private Pension (SIPP). Self-employed people often choose to use SIPPS. 

Get advice for your situation

Everybody’s circumstances are unique, so it's not always easy to work out exactly how much you should be saving for retirement. And this is why many people choose to work with an independent financial advisor. They can advise on how much you should be saving and the best way to increase your pension pot. 

The government’s MoneyHelper service has a handy guide to finding an independent financial advisor.

Learn about your benefits if you're a PPF member

If you’re a PPF member, you can find out more about your pension and your personal retirement options, by using our convenient online Benefit Modeller. 

Getting to grips with your pension in your 20s, 30s and 40s means you’ll be better prepared for your retirement – however you hope to spend it.