From one woman to another, my philosophy in financial preparation is to take care of yourself. Don’t depend on a man solely for your retirement security.

Some of you may recognize me from the reality television series “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” That is only a very small portion of my life, as the majority of days I spend focused on and mentoring women and their retirement plans.

What you don’t see when the cameras are off is a hard working, Midwestern, 50-year-old lady who owns an insurance and retirement planning company focused on educating women. I can help with the “what to do” and “what not to do” facts because I’ve learned from experience. My passion is to treat clients like family, and I believe that peace of mind equals quality of life.

Statistics show that women outlive their husbands by 3 to 5 years if the two are the same age! If you’re younger, your chance of out-living your husband is even greater. This means you’re probably going to spend some of your retirement years alone. Now is the time to begin a retirement savings plan for you and your family.

Women who have not worked the 40 hours a week daily grind are often at a disadvantage in retirement. Many will collect on their husband’s social security benefit, and if he passes away before you, his reduced death benefit. There is a way to protect yourself from that reduction in social security income—life insurance.

Many of my female clients often overlook their husband’s pension. Most pension payouts require a husband to receive a 100% payout with nothing left for the wife upon his death, 75% payout with a reduction in payments to the wife upon the husband’s death, or a 50% payout and further reduction in payments upon the husband’s death.

An outsider may see the payments to the wife with a reduced payout and think that’s their best option. However, I recommend clients take the 100% pension payout through an outside insurance company in a Fixed Indexed Annuity and purchase a life insurance premium on the husband for the difference (assuming he’s insurable). The life insurance benefit will be tax-free to the wife, and she will then have an income stream for the rest of her life.

This method is a win-win, and most clients and advisors are missing the benefits of this type of plan.

I also focus on tax-free retirement with my clients. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a 50-year-old, self-employed woman. In order for me to save for retirement, I either have to invest in a ROTH IRA (with income limits), a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA with a cap on the limit, a permanent life insurance policy, or traditional IRA.

The traditional IRA and SEP IRA are vehicles that will be taxable upon withdrawal; who knows how high the tax rates will be by then? The permanent life insurance policy can be illustrated and designed to be funded with after-tax dollars for a period of years (ideally 10+). Upon retirement, you borrow the cash value out tax-free for the remainder of your life. Voila! Tax-free income. This is what I’m doing for myself, and I’ll be guaranteed an income for my entire life, through retirement, tax-free.

I’m a firm believer that taxes will continually rise. This means we need to invest now in as many tax-free income-generating vehicles as possible. Life insurance is one of the only vehicles through which clients can receive a tax-free income through life insurance if done properly, so it's important to seek out the advice of a knowledgeable and qualified advisor. This method also provides your beneficiaries with a death benefit—so you can leave something behind for your family. It’s a brilliant strategy, and Patrick Kelly’s books The Retirement Miracle and Tax-Free Retirement explain it beautifully.

Woman to woman, I want you to stop sitting back and thinking someone else is going to be there to take care of you in retirement. Death and divorce are occurrences we have all unfortunately experienced, or we know someone who has. Don’t wait to be financially devastated from unforeseen situations.

For more information on how to set up your retirement based on guarantees and not hypotheticals, visit Vicki Gunvalson’s website: www.cotoretirementplanning.com.