There have been multiple articles recently discussing the fact that women are at an ascendency in the workplace. Women now make up more that 50% of the general workforce. They are also rising higher up the ladder. A significant number of women however, continue to take time off from their careers to looks after young children and in general sacrifice their careers for family. This post is not about whether this is the right thing to do or not. What I am trying to address in this post is how women who do decide to take time away from their careers to attend to their families need not get the short end of the stick as far as retirement savings goes.
Save more from the beginning
Women in general live longer than men. That alone requires them to put aside more money even if they never take time off from their jobs. As a quick example, assume that a person thinks they can live off $5000 per month. Since US women live approximately 5 years longer than US men, this means that women would need $100,000 more than a man at the beginning of their retirement. This boils down to the need for women to start saving early and steadily so that they don’t run into monetary trouble during their golden years. Do calculation of how much you need early and start saving towards that.
If you take a break from your career you cannot contribute to an employer sponsored 401k plan. If you are married however, your spouse can contribute up to $5000 per year into a spousal IRA. This increases to $6000 for those over 50. Use that to keep funding your own retirement account and thus improve your financial security even in the event of a divorce (something to definitely consider, given the high rate of divorce).
Be involved in financial decisions
This is one of the biggest mistakes women make. They always assume that their partner will do everything possible to make sure they have a secure future. Even if your partner takes the lead in financial decisions, stay involved. Keep track of investments and savings. Ensure that you are the beneficiary on all retirement accounts, Social security, pension and insurance policies. You don’t want to be blindsided when your partner passes away or if you decide to go separate ways. Dealing with the grief will be hard enough.
Remember that depending on the way the account is setup, pension amounts can be reduced by a third or even half while both spouses are alive. Additionally, the surviving spouse only receives the greater of either their own Social Security benefit or the surviving spouse’s benefit, not both.
There is possibly no worse feeling that feeling powerless to control what happens to you. Don’t let that happen to your financial situation. Even if finances and numbers make you go all glassy eyed try to take small steps. Get involved in financial investment clubs with like-minded individuals, read a few laid back introductory finance books, etc. You don’t have to be an expert to protect yourself during retirement. Follow the Pareto principle. Doing a few things can get you a long way.
At the end of the day, quite a few women end up in a bad financial situation not because they were spendthrifts or something, but more because of the decisions they make or they trusted someone blindly to be better with finances.
Always be informed on what the consequences of your choices are and always be involved in every financial decision for your family.
This post is a part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about saving, see womensmoneyweek.com.