The Original Safe Withdrawal Rate CalculatorTM

Simulate retirement outcomes using over nine decades of historical data

“Will my money last me in retirement?”

It’s the question that haunts every retiree… and that financial advisors like you are trusted to answer.

Introducing The Big Picture: A Safe Withdrawal Rate Calculator that will take you a big step closer to answering that question confidently.

Remember William Bengen’s groundbreaking “4% Rule”?

The Big Picture is the evolution of Bengen’s insights, revealing safe withdrawal rates across an array of portfolios. Tapping into data from the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago, it traces the trajectory of nearly a thousand retirements since 1926.

Visualize the real-life ramifications of different asset allocations, withdrawal rates, and retirement durations. Test the resilience of portfolios against turbulent times, like 1970s “stagflation”, or see if they would falter even in prosperous eras like the stock market booms of the 80s and 90s.

It’s easy to navigate. Simply craft a portfolio from any of a dozen asset classes, input a few details, and the software shows how much spending that portfolio would have sustained through every market scenario we've encountered to date.

While other tools pivot on predictions, The Big Picture takes us back through time. It’s not about speculating on the future; it's about understanding the past to chart a clear course forward. And that’s what your clients truly value.

So, the next time you're asked, “Will my money last me in retirement?”, look to The Big Picture for perspective. Sign up for free at and show your clients The Big Picture today!

Big Picture Pricing:

  • Free Version: Access to basic functionality at no cost.
  • Premium Version: Enhanced features, additional charts, and other exclusive benefits available for $20/month. Includes a 14-day free trial.

Sign up now and you can cancel anytime.

The Big Picture is rooted in William Bengen's pioneering research that gave rise to the "4% Rule." Specifically, it hinges on the concept of consistent inflation-adjusted portfolio distributions throughout retirement. (However, by periodically updating inputs, The Big Picture effectively allows for an adaptive, “ratcheting” approach to safe spending).

While some advisors might be inclined to anticipate changes in spending based on projected needs in the distant future, or to adopt a "rules-based" approach, caution is advised.

Why? Sequence-of-returns research underscores a pivotal truth: a portfolio's performance in the initial years of retirement largely determines the long-term outcome. In contrast, performances in later years have less bearing. It’s of little value to model changes in spending based on future speculations when the early years carry such weight.

The "variable" spending strategy is not without these additional drawbacks:

  • Certain spending rules call for unrealistic reductions in spending.
  • Research on retirement spending patterns is inconclusive. Some studies indicate a decline as retirees embrace a laid-back lifestyle, while others point to increased medical expenses as age advances. A few even depict a U-shaped trend, blending both perspectives.

Predicting broad trends is challenging enough; pinpointing future changes to an individual retiree's spending is even more so. Unforeseeable market dynamics, life events, and random chance will shape a retiree's journey.

Given these constraints, Bengen's original fixed spending model stands validated. It's more pragmatic to occasionally recalibrate The Big Picture with current data than to adhere to a strategy based on outdated spending projections.

As experts like Michael Kitces have outlined, the “ratcheting” method allows retirees to adjust their spending—either granting themselves a “raise” when their portfolio appreciates or cutting spending if it declines. The Big Picture facilitates this methodology if revisited periodically with updated inputs.

So, here's our advice:

Kick off with a simulation for foundational insights on withdrawal sustainability. Return to The Big Picture semi-annually, annually, or post significant shifts in your client's portfolio or spending. Input your client’s latest parameters, recalibrate the retirement horizon based on the elapsed time since your previous analysis, and rerun the simulation. This iterative approach ensures alignment with ever-evolving reality.

The Big Picture adopts a historical approach, which stands in contrast to the "Monte Carlo" forecasts prevalent in conventional tools.

  • Monte Carlo Forecasting:
    • Relies on assumptions about future returns, volatilities, and correlations of the asset classes in a portfolio.
    • Uses these assumptions to randomly generate hypothetical portfolio trajectories.
    • Though valuable, it remains at its core a theoretical exercise.
  • The Big Picture's Historical Approach:
    • Presents the actual historical performance of asset classes.
    • Offers a tangible glimpse into how portfolios have fared in the past.
    The future is unknown, and neither the historical approach nor the Monte Carlo method offers definitive predictions. Instead, they serve as guides, hinting at strategies that might be sensible for the road ahead.

    The answers aren't straightforward.

    As the esteemed Warren Buffett once remarked, "The only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good." This sentiment underscores the unpredictability of markets and the futility of forecasting.

    Consider this: In 1979, Business Week proclaimed the "Death of Equities" in a memorable edition. Ironically, this prediction was made right on the cusp of one of the most remarkable bull runs in market history.

    The truth remains that the financial future is a realm of uncertainty. However, when we reflect on the nearly 100 years of data encapsulated by The Big Picture, we find a myriad of market challenges — from global wars and numerous recessions to periods of soaring inflation and double-digit interest rates. The global economy has also navigated through multiple crises.

    If a portfolio demonstrated resilience through these tumultuous times, it may be structured to withstand a broad range of future market scenarios. It's less about predicting the unpredictable and more about being prepared for it.

    The Big Picture is unique in the breadth of investment data it offers. The variety of asset classes featured allows you to build as simple or elaborate a portfolio as you like.

    The following eleven total-return indices are included. Each index begins in 1926 and is monthly in frequency. Data are updated quarterly.

    • U.S. Total Market Stocks
    • 5-Year Government Bonds
    • U.S. Large Cap Stocks
    • 10-Year Government Bonds
    • U.S. Mid Cap Stocks
    • U.S. Micro Cap Stocks
    • U.S. Small Cap Stocks
    • International (ex. USA) Stocks
    • U.S. T-Bills
    • Global Bonds
    • Gold

    Two same-length investment periods have, in some cases, experienced wildly different outcomes—even when they have started just months apart. By capturing many hundreds of rolling historical periods, the program yields deep insights into the historical sustainability of a given strategy.

    We hold long-term agreements with authoritative index compilers, including the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) at the University of Chicago. For technical details, please contact us.

    No. In the interest of security, we do not support the direct import of sensitive client data. This information should be confined to software that offers bank-level security. While integrating such information may offer convenience, incidents like the Redtail data breach show that the potential risks can outweigh the benefits.

    Yes. Withdrawals (“In Retirement” modality) and contributions (“Saving for Retirement” modality) are grown at the rate of inflation that prevailed in each historical month over which the chosen strategy is back-tested.

    In this way, the purchasing power of withdrawals remains constant through retirement.

    Reliable market data do not exist prior to 1926. Retirement plans built on figures that pre-date this point in history are, in our view, unsound.

    As the University of Chicago’s Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP), a leading authority on U.S. market returns, affirms:

    “A major consideration for the choice of the initial date (of 1926) was the availability of complete and reliable data sources. Primary source material prior to 1930 is often incomplete or inaccurate.”

    With over nine decades of reliable market data, The Big Picture covers a vast range of historical scenarios. For any given investment horizon, whether one year in duration, or forty, this breadth of data gives The Big Picture hundreds of historical rolling periods from which to draw statistically meaningful results.

    A rolling period is like a "sliding window" of time. For every shift forward in time, this window remains the same size but starts a bit later, resulting in overlapping periods of data.

    Imagine a ruler moving across a timeline. If the ruler is 20 years long and you start measuring from 1926, the first measurement goes up to 1945. Slide the ruler one month forward, and now you're measuring from February 1926 to January 1946. This concept ensures that every possible 20-year period within our dataset is analyzed.

    In essence, with data in The Big Picture from 1926 to the present, and using monthly increments, we have nearly 900 such 20-year "windows" or rolling periods.

    Per standard practice, the software considers withdrawal rates as percentages of starting capital. The annual dollar equivalent is calculated, and then divided by twelve. The resulting amount is then adjusted by the actual rate of inflation that prevailed in each historical month over which the portfolio is back-tested and is withdrawn monthly from the portfolio balance. Withdrawals are not adjusted based on portfolio performance.

    Social Security: Portfolio withdrawals are assumed to be net of social security and other supplemental sources of income. They are constant throughout retirement.

    For example, if you anticipate needing a total of $3,000 per month in retirement income, and you collect $1,000 from other sources (e.g. rental income), you should enter $2,000 as your required portfolio income.

    Also: see above FAQ re: variable spending.

    Taxes. Tax rates have varied through time, by jurisdiction, and by the legal and financial circumstances of individuals. They also vary according to the interest and dividends generated by a given portfolio, as well as its cost basis. Because of these complexities, taxes are excluded from the app's calculations.

    You can adjust "Fees" to gauge the impact of expenses on investment results.