The Truth About Women, Aging & Retirement

Do you ever worry about ending up “a bag lady”?

If so, you are not alone. And if current trends don’t change, that fear is not entirely irrational.
Last week Merrill Lynch hosted an online presentation about the state of women & retirement. In our CrazyBusy 24/7 world it’s so easy to tune out when listening to any presentation – especially online. This webinar however, kept me glued to the screen for an hour… and I didn’t even multi-task. Alas, since then I’ve been struggling to find the right words to describe why I found it so gripping. (You can watch it too by clicking here).
Fast forward to today. As I write this, a friend’s husband has just been rushed to the hospital. He’s struggling with stage 4 cancer. They have a 5 year-old daughter. In the context of literal life and death, the point of this webinar suddenly became very clear to me. In a word: choice. What I took away from this talk was that in order to have flexibility and choices – especially during life’s inevitable speed bumps – it sure helps to have your finances squared away. Money can’t solve your problems, but it can be a very useful tool when navigating through them.
Yet in order to have money during the rough patches, you’ve got to make some trade-offs ahead of time when things are good. And that goes against natural human nature. So to get your wheels spinning about what trade-offs you might want to make, here were my top three take-aways from the Merrill Lynch “Women & Retirement” webinar:

  • Women need to save more money than men. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth saying again and again. Women live longer than men. Just look at the male/female ratio in nursing care facilities. Therefore to support ourselves in old age we need to save more than men. Panel moderator and former ABC World News Tonight anchor Charlie Gibson highlighted healthcare estimates for retirees of $170,000 for men versus $240,000 for women. Alas, women today are retiring with 2/3rd the assets of men according to the President of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth & Investment Management, Sallie Krawcheck.
  • Women have unique challenges to finding that money to save. Women are still doing two times the housework and three times the childcare of men – so simply finding the time to focus on finances is a challenge. As an added headwind, we’re not asking for raises at nearly the same rate as men (Krawcheck guesstimated that men ask her for raises at a rate of 50-to-1 more frequently than women. Fellow panelist and USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz concurred). “Asking For It,” financially speaking, is a topic I’ve discussed in the past and if reader emails are any measure – many, many of us women struggle with this (yep, me too). And when we step out of the workforce to care for kids or aging parents we see a nearly 15% drop in earnings after just 1 year. And that drop in earnings grows to nearly 50% if we stay out for 3 or more years. Ouch.
  • Women respond differently to the marketing messages and tactics of the financial services industry. Research shows that when people hear financial jargon, both men and women get confused. Men, however, tend not to let that confusion bother them whereas for women it really turns them off the subject. Additionally both Koplovitz and former Morgan Stanley financial advisor and best selling personal finance author David Bach commented on how the dynamic of money discussions shifts dramatically when the group is all women versus the introduction of even a few men (as a graduate of a women’s college – I so get that). Alas, guess who is still doing most of the talking in financial services? Yep, men.

So what does this all mean for you?
This money stuff is stressful for both genders. As our nation’s economic foundation continues to shake, rattle, and roll – we all have to learn new skills. But listening to this webinar reminded me yet afresh how vital it is for women to master their money. If there is one piece of financial advice I’d highlight it would be Krawcheck’s observation that women need to save: “first, harder, and faster.” Or as I like to say, the three most powerful words in all of personal finance are “start saving now.”
What concerns or questions do you have about aging and retirement?

9 Replies to “The Truth About Women, Aging & Retirement”

  1. Retirement is in my “Top 10” financial worries.  Given this crappy economy, making the mortgage each month is #1, but retirement is right up there.
    I am lucky to have saved aggressively for many years, but about 10 years ago, I started my own business.  After three years of hard work getting to a decent income, I was blindsided by a divorce and the need to completely reestablish myself in a new home (right at the peak before the housing drop, so I have no equity and can’t refinance or sell), care for my two boys, etc.  That was two years of uncertainty and lots and lots of bills. I had some medical bills in 2009 and then came the coup de grace, the crappy economy, which has severely crippled my business.  The end result is that I haven’t contributed for almost 10 years to my retirement.  And I’m 51, so I’ve got at most 20 years to go until retirement. 
    Last year I had to withdraw $7k – the first time I’ve ever taken money out of the IRA (not a Roth).
    So yes, I worry about retirement.  While I’m glad to have what I have (about $350k and a small pension), I don’t think it’s anywhere near enough, and 20 years is not a lot of time to see substantial growth.  The additional money I’ll need for healthcare in retirement scares me.  Frankly, my plan is to move to Canada in about 10 years if the US doesn’t get our act together in healthcare.
    With all this, I can’t see my way clear yet to making contributions of any size – I’m trying to keep the wolf from the door.  That missing 10 years of contributions is going to haunt me in retirement, I’m sure.

  2. My husband passed away 1 month ago. I am so scared that I will only have enough money to live on for 10 years and I probably have 30 yrs. left to live (judging by my family history). Right now I’m waiting on about $500,000 from a 401k. I will need to roll it over into something, but I also need money monthly to live on. This is such a long story & I really need to talk to someone. This is a story of lies and deception. I am almost paralyzed with stress, anger and fear. Can anyone help me.

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