The other day, my husband was watching an old episode of The Golden Girls while eating breakfast, and I caught a bit of it. I was shocked to learn that the characters were in their early 50’s, making me a golden girl – ugh! In this particular episode, Rose, played by Betty White, had been laid off from her job, and Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) were commiserating. None of them could go more than one or two missed paychecks without facing a crisis. A number of Golden Girls episodes deal with the characters’ precarious financial situations, which unfortunately, is a common story in America.
Women face particular challenges when preparing for retirement. They are more likely to have taken time off work to be a caregiver to children or older parents than men, which reduces both current income for saving and future social security benefits. The TransAmerica Retirement Survey of Workers reported that 45% of working women are working part-time vs 24% of men. Part time positions often don’t have access to company retirement plans, and even full time working women still make about 18% less than men, making it harder to save.
Women on average, will live five years longer than men, so their need to save for a secure retirement is even more acute than it is for men. Yet across the board women are saving less. In its Global Investor Pulse Survey, BlackRock found that of those who had begun to save for retirement, women had accumulated $41,900 less than men. The EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey, found that 44% of unmarried women had savings of less than $1,000. Single women on the verge of retirement have a savings shortfall amounting to $5,250 of income per month, vs Men whose average shortfall is $2,833. Not surprisingly, women are less likely to feel confident about their financial security in retirement than men. While women are saving less, they’re investing their savings more conservatively, with about 63% of their holdings in cash or similar investments according to the BlackRock survey. More conservative investments means lower returns, and a further shortfall in savings.
What can women do? Here are five important things women can do to improve their chances for financial security.
1) Take charge of your own financial future. Surveys indicate that less than half of couples create a plan for their financial security together. Be an active part of planning for your future.
2) Have a budget. If you are spending all that you take home, you are failing to pay one very important bill – the bill for your future financial security. Consider your savings target as one more bill that you need to pay, and include it in your family budget.
3) Understand what you have. Make sure that both you and your spouse are aware of all of the accounts you have, their balances and how they are invested. Review your estimated Social Security benefits to understand how gaps in employment will impact your benefit.
4) Don’t be afraid of the stock market. To maximize your savings, you are going to have to invest in the stock market. Yes, it does go down sometimes – about one in every four 12 month periods, in fact. But it has never failed to recover. Stocks are perfectly appropriate for long term investments, such as retirement savings.
5) Seek help. There is no reason you have to plan for your retirement on your own. You wouldn’t rewire your house by yourself. You would hire an electrician. There is no shame in hiring a professional to help where you don’t feel comfortable. Many financial planners work on an hourly or project fee basis. There are also many great free resources on-line.
The things women need to do to become financially independent are really not different from what men have to do, but women face special challenges due to lower lifetime earnings and longer expected lives. That means women must get educated about what it takes to be financially secure, and they must take an active part in planning and saving for their future.