Should your retirement countdown begin at age 36?

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Kirsty Kerr

October 13, 2023

3 mins read

Recent research tells us that age 36 is the turning point when people start taking their retirement savings more seriously; 13 years earlier than current retirees. But is it early enough? And what should you do if you’ve already passed the age 36 milestone? Let’s find out.

Before age 36, just 23% of people pay more than the minimum auto-enrolment amounts (that’s 5% of your salary from you and 3% from your employer) into their pension plan. However, our research found that this figure jumps by more than 50% after age 36.

Why is 36 the magic number?

Often by their mid-thirties, people have passed some major milestones like owning their own home, being more settled in their career, getting married or even having children. With some (or all) of these expensive life events potentially behind them, people may be able to turn their attention to a new financial goal: retirement. 

On the other hand, people in their thirties will likely have another three decades of work ahead of them. When asked how they feel about this, 20% said ‘depressed’, 14% said ‘tired’ and 11% said ‘stressed’. So the sudden focus on retirement could also be a combination of motivation to save more now and get off the hamster wheel earlier, plus the financial freedom to actually do it.

36 is earlier than current retirees – but is it early enough?

Current retirees started planning at age 49, so a 13-year head start is good going – especially with many retirees looking back and wishing they’d done things differently. In our research, 54% of retirees said they wish they’d saved more and 53% said they wish they’d started saving earlier. But is it enough? 

Well, ramping up your retirement saving at age 36 could potentially give your pension pot a healthy boost when you come to retire.

For example, someone who began working full-time with a salary of £25,000 per year and paid the minimum payments (remember, that’s 5% from you and 3% from your employer) from the age of 22 could be looking at a retirement pot of £488,000 when they reach age 68*. But if they were to top up their payments by just 3% to 8% from age 36, they could be looking at more than £120,000 extra in retirement.

Sound good? Just think what could be possible if you started earlier than 36. We know that the earlier you start paying attention to your pension savings, the better off you’re likely to be in retirement. So why not start as early as you can?

What if you’re older than 36?

If you didn’t start thinking about retirement at 36 – don’t panic. It’s never too late to start taking your retirement more seriously. Whether you’re 36, 46 or 56, there’s still time to take some steps towards a more comfortable retirement. 

Remember, your pension plan comes with lots of benefits to help you save for a better future. Read Why it’s not too late to save for retirement in your 50s to find out how these benefits can help you save, no matter your age.

Ready to get started?

If reading this has made you start to think about your own retirement planning but you’re not sure where to begin, we’re here to help. Try our five-step guide to retirement planning for an easy breakdown of what you should think about.


*if beginning working with a salary of £25,000 per year and paying 3% employer, 5% employee monthly contributions into a workplace pension and assuming 5.0% investment growth and 3.5% salary growth per year. Figures are not reduced to take effect of inflation. Annual Management Charge of 1% assumed. The figures are an illustration and are not guaranteed. Earning limits not applied.

The information here is based on our understanding October 2023 and shouldn’t be taken as financial advice.

A pension is an investment and its value can go down as well as up and may be worth less than was paid in.

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