When it comes to saving for retirement, no one is feeling that secure—but that’s particularly true for women.
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“Retirement planning is hard for everyone, but it’s especially tough for women,” says David Littell, retirement income program director at The American College. “They live longer, need more resources, are in and out of the workforce and are less likely to have a pension. The strategies they should be using aren’t different than men’s, they just need to be prepared to work harder for their retirement.”
Only 38% of women report they feel “on track” for retirement compared with 46% of men, according to Ameriprise Financial’s New Retirement Mindscape 2013 City Pulse index survey.
Women also feel less capable of being able to save for retirement on their own, says Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement. “About 48% of men feel like they can handle planning for retirement on their own while 65% of women said they can’t save enough on their own.”
According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, the average woman can expect to live to 86 years old, two years older than men. Because of this, women are more likely to be single and depend on one income as they get older.
Here’s another savings obstacle: Despite making up half of the workforce, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, which makes saving more difficult. Lower wages bring smaller Social Security benefits later in life. In 2012, AARP reports the average annual retirement benefit for women was $13,233, more than 20% lower than men’s $17,005.
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Women also tend to leave the workforce throughout their career -- whether it’s to have children and raise her family or to take care of ailing relatives -- which brings long-term financial repercussions. “They are generally going to have smaller retirement benefits, they won’t be contributing to a savings plan, a defined-benefit plan can be frozen, and their Social Security payments become impacted," says Littell.
Despite facing unique obstacles, women can still create financially-secure golden years. Here’s how:
Find an advisor you trust. According to Melody Juge, founder of Life Income Management, 4 out 5 widows change their financial advisor within the first year of the spouse’s death. “Find an advisor that you and your partner trust and has your best interests in mind and work with them to create and execute a long-term savings plan.”
Recognize your battle is unique. Even with all other workplace variables the same, women still live longer, which means they should plan to have an additional one to two percentage points in retirement savings, says Oakley.
Approach savings like a job. To make savings a priority, Wendy Weaver, portfolio manager at FBB Capital Partners, advises approaching it like a job. “It’s like cleaning your house, some people want to clean it every day, others once a week and some do a big cleanup once a month. How you go about saving and reviewing your portfolio differs from person to person, but if you approach it like a task, you are more likely to get it done.”
Studies show that women are more likely to spend money on their children to help cover expenses than save for their retirement, and that can make for a thin nest egg. “You have to pay yourself first; it was the mentality of the Greatest Generation and women shouldn’t be afraid to take that mentality,” says Juge.
Take an active role. Men are often responsible for the household’s investments, according to Weaver, leaving many women unfamiliar with their retirement savings game plan. “Make sure to be part of the conversation; know the strategy and all your sources of income. The reality for most women is they will be left to handle the finances at some point in time and you need to understand your financial situation.”
Don’t be scared of risk. According to Jamie Hopkins, assistant professor of taxation at The American College, women tend to invest more conservatively than men. “That should be other way around, [women] need more money and they are going to have a longer retirement period so they can take on more risk.”
Consider re-entering the workforce. Anyone who stayed in the labor force for 10 years is entitled to Social Security benefits, but going back to work -- even if for a smaller paycheck -- can bring more benefits in retirement.
“They calculate the benefit amount based on 30 years of income,” explains Littell. “If they don’t have 30 years of income to calculate an average, they fill in the gaps with zeroes. So if you have the chance to work a little bit more, it will be helpful. Anything is better than a zero.”
Create the right Social Security plan. When it comes to drawing on Social Security benefits, men usually have the bigger benefit and when each person decides to start receiving payments can make a big financial impact.
“When a spouse dies, the survivor is now only entitled to the higher benefit,” explains Littell. “If he takes his benefit at 62 and gets $1,800 that is what she will be left with if hers is smaller when he passes. If he had waited until 70, the benefit would have be 176% more. That’s a lot more money to live off.”