It's not a secret that women, on average, tend to have less money than men in retirement. After all, there's still a pretty significant wage gap plaguing the country, and while there are always exceptions, data tells us that women earn somewhere in the ballpark of $0.77 to $0.83 for dollar their male counterparts make. And since women don't command the same salaries as men, they typically have a harder time saving for the future.
But a new study from MassMutual confirms many women's worst fears -- that female workers are, in fact, three times as likely as men to say they can't afford to save for retirement. Case in point: While just 14% of middle-income men claim they don't have enough money to fund an IRA or 401(k), a whopping 44% of middle-income women are forced to neglect their long-term savings. And those that do might face untold struggles when they choose, or are forced, to leave their careers behind and navigate retirement without a financial safety net.
Social Security won't be enough
Though all working Americans are encouraged to set aside money for the future, it's even more important for women to get moving on their savings. The average retiree simply cannot live off of Social Security alone, but since benefits are based on recipients' lifetime earnings, it stands to reason that since women typically earn less, they'll also get less out of the program.
Furthermore, statistically speaking, women live longer than men, which means they'll need more money in retirement, not less. In fact, a staggering 90% of women will eventually wind up responsible for their family's wealth or their own finances during their senior years -- yet many enter retirement woefully unprepared.
Take charge of your future
If you're a working woman who wants a shot at a financially stable retirement, you really need to do two things: get schooled on long-term financial planning, and start setting money aside for the future as early on in your career as possible. The former is really a matter of reading up on retirement costs and learning how to successfully manage your money. If you need to enlist the help of a financial advisor, there's absolutely no shame in that. You can also consult this guide to investing, which is loaded with information to bring even the most self-proclaimed newbie up to speed.
But while getting educated is a big part of the equation, you can't invest for the future without money, and so you'll need to start setting aside a portion of each paycheck for retirement, effective immediately. If your employer offers a 401(k), participating in that plan is probably your simplest best for long-term savings, and if you kick in enough, you might even snag some free money in the form of a company match. If a 401(k) isn't available to you, head to your local financial institution and open an IRA (or have your financial advisor do it for you).
Both accounts are similar in nature, though 401(k)s offer a much higher annual contribution limit -- $18,000 for workers under 50, and $24,000 for those 50 and older. IRAs, by contrast, max out at $5,500 a year for workers under 50, and $6,500 for the 50-and-older set.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, because let's face it: Most of us aren't going to go from saving nothing to suddenly maxing out a 401(k). On the other hand, if you start slowly and work on ramping up your savings rate over time, you have a good shot at a secure retirement. Just check out the following table, which shows how much of a nest egg you might accumulate based on saving various amounts over a 25-year period:
If you give yourself enough time to save (in this case, 25 years, which means funding a retirement account starting in your early 40s), you can turn a series of relatively small contributions into an impressive sum over time. Investing $500 a month, for example, over 25 years, means funding an account with $150,000 of your own money. But thanks to the power of compounding, with the right investments, you can grow your contributions into a rather respectable $379,000.
Now in our example, we applied a 7% average yearly return to achieve that growth, which is a few points below the stock market's average. And when you're looking at a 25-year window, investing in stocks is a more-than-reasonable option.
While women may have a disadvantage when it comes to saving, what many of today's working women do have is time. So if you've yet to begin socking away money for retirement, let this be your wakeup call. Otherwise, you may be in for a tough road ahead.
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