- More than two-thirds (68.1 percent) of the elderly poor are women.
- An October 2012 study by the American Association of University Women found that over the course of a 35-year career, an American woman with a college degree will make about $1.2 million less than a man with the same education.
- More than 70 percent of nursing home residents are women, whose average age at admission was 80. In 2006, the average annual cost of a private room in a nursing home was $75, 000 and a shared room almost $67, 000.
- It is a well known fact that women live longer than men.
- A 2010 survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies shows that just 8 percent of women feel they are already educated enough to successfully reach their retirement savings goals.
Where am I going with listing all these statistics? Women need to take their retirement planning seriously. Women will be much better off if they acknowledge this problem and take action now instead of waiting for their retirement years to address it. So what can women do to better prepare for a long retirement?
Start planning now
Whether you are a working woman, a stay-at-home mom, a mom with a son or daughter in college or just starting out in college, you have to think about your retirement now. As mentioned earlier, statistically, women live longer than men; they also tend to retire earlier than men. Put together, women have a much longer retirement than men. If you are going to be retiring early, you won’t have the entire 35 to 40 years to save. So you will probably need to put away more money than an average man to have the same income in your retirement. If you have not done so already, take stock of what you have already saved; calculate exactly how much you will need for your retirement and how much money you have to set aside every month to reach that goal.
Put your money to work even if you take a break from your career
Women tend to take the role of a caregiver more than men, which means they are more likely to take a break from their career for a few years or work part time. Just because you are taking a break doesn’t mean your retirement savings has to take a break as well. If you are stay-at-home mom, open a spousal IRA and set aside the maximum amount allowed. If you work part time, take retirement benefits into consideration when you are choosing a job. If you are interested, create a small business in an area that you like and that won’t interfere with your care-giving duties. Then set aside as much as possible in a solo 401k plan.
Don’t quit your career
You can take a break from your job; but if you had a career before you decided to quit, don’t completely quit your career. Keep in touch with your colleagues, keep your knowledge fresh by reading journals in your field; if you have any time to spare, pick up volunteering or an open-source project that can be done from home. Take a certification course to update your skills. When you do rejoin the workforce, double up your effort to save and catch up on savings. If you are over 50, don’t forget to take advantage of the higher catch-up contribution limits.
Be involved with the family finances
If you are one of those women who doesn’t take much interest in finances other than the basic home budget, please set aside some time and study your entire finances — your tax returns, bank accounts, assets, debts, insurance and your investments. (What investments do you and your spouse own? How are they doing? Do they match your goals? Do they match your risk tolerance as well as your spouse’s?) I am not saying you should not trust your spouse, but make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to goals and planning. If you are not confident about investments, take time to learn more about them or meet with a financial adviser who can guide you.
Put your retirement savings first – before your kids’ braces and college savings
It is natural to put your kids first in everything you do; but in this case, you will be doing your kids a favor by putting your retirement at the front of the queue. Otherwise, you might end up in a situation where your kids will have to support you. They can take a student loan for college education, but you can’t borrow for your retirement.
Understand how divorce and remarriage affect Social Security benefits
Divorce and remarriage is not uncommon. There are plenty of horror stories on stay-at-home moms sacrificing their career to raise the kids only to find themselves single, without any retirement savings or job prospects once the children are grown up. In a divorce, you will most likely be entitled to half of your spouse’s retirement assets. You are also entitled to Social Security payments equal to 50 percent of your ex-husband’s benefits, if you were married for at least 10 years. If you remarry, you will lose those benefits but you will be entitled to collect payments based on your new husband’s benefits. If you are a widow, you can receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
The path to retirement is a little more challenging for women than for men. But by planning early, saving diligently and investing wisely, women can overcome any obstacle and take charge of their retirement.