Financially speaking, we women are screwed. Everything from pay and time in the work force to the cost of our cosmetics is stacked against us. That is why it is particularly important for women to take it upon themselves to understand their financial situation and their options, and have a plan for their future.
On average, women make just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. As of the end of 2014, women in nearly every occupation and age group still made less than men according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course there are a variety of reasons for this, and there are volumes to be written about it. But the simple fact of the matter is the pay gap means women are less able to prepare for their financial futures than men. Less pay means there is less available to save. Less pay also means a lower Social Security benefit, which is based on average pay over your entire career. Women are more likely than men to live on only Social Security after they stop working.
Women are more likely to take time away from work to raise children or care for a relative than are men, and they are nearly twice as likely to work part time. Every year missed reduces your Social Security benefit, and as with lower pay, if you have less income, there is simply less to save.
Apparently we’re also suckers for a good marketing pitch. A recent article on Vox.com highlighted a study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. The study found that everyday products that are marketed to women cost more than the same products marketed to men 42% of the time. Men’s products cost more only 8% of the time. Many of the products, like shampoo, have the same ingredients. Of course spending more than men on products we use every day cuts into our ability to save too.
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that Americans in general are fairly illiterate when it comes to finances, but women’s knowledge of financial matters and financial fitness is lower than that of men. The 2012 study found that 55% of women and 51% of men have no rainy day fund, and 39% of women versus 31% of men would have a hard time raising $2,000. Women are less likely to have a retirement account than men and less likely to own investment securities like mutual funds, stocks or bonds. In a five question financial literacy quiz that was part of the survey, women answered fewer than three questions correctly (men answered just more than 3 correctly). The questions covered concepts like compound interest, inflation and risk. To test your knowledge you can take the same quiz.
This is not OK Ladies! We’re going to live five more years than our male counterparts. We have to get smarter in order to make sure those years are financially secure. Despite the lower lifetime earnings, we actually need to save more. Here are five important things you can do to improve your 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. Make sure your savings target takes into account you living longer than your spouse, and consider it as one more bill that you need to pay. Pay that bill first!
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 secure are really not different from what men have to do, but women face special challenges due to lower lifetime earnings and longer expected lives, not to mention more expensive shampoo. The decks may be stacked against us, but that hasn’t kept us from other great endeavors, and it shouldn’t keep us from financial security either. Take care of yourself by getting involved in your own financial life. Understand the issues, what you have and what you need, and take the steps to secure your own financial future.
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