Women Face Special Challenges in Saving for Retirement

Plate with stuffIn many ways, women in America today face more significant challenges in saving for their retirement than do men. That was the underlying theme of a keynote address at a 2011 conference of the Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange in Charlotte, NC, (WIE) by Teresa Hassara, executive vice president of Institutional Business for TIAA-CREF.

Women typically cope with too many things to do and not enough time — everything from full-time work to childrearing to eldercare support. Many also keep their households running, which includes managing expenses, Hassara said. “In fact, the number one reason they cite for not being on top of their personal retirement plan or investment strategy is simply not having the time to devote to these activities.”

But for some women, Hassara suggested, there’s another issue at play relating to identity and roles. “Investing and retirement planning have traditionally been seen as a man’s responsibility,” she said. That should no longer be the case.

“Just as with your health, no one will ever care about your financial fitness as much as you do. After all, you don’t want to run out of money before you run out of life,” Hassara cautioned.

“It’s a gap. Hassara said. “But we can close it, just as we’re steadily closing others — from pay to education levels. There’s no reason we can’t be every bit as effective at understanding our financial options as men — for the sake of ourselves and the families we love.”

Hassara recommended that women consider the following:

If you are in your 20s and 30s:

  • Make sure you’ve signed up for your retirement plan if your employer offers one. Contribute at least enough to get any match available. It’s essentially free money.
  • Save a set percentage of your income, rather than a fixed dollar amount. As your income rises, so too will your contributions.

Remember that saving early — when retirement seems so far away — potentially pays off the most over the long term because of the power of compounding.

If you are in your 40s:

Keep increasing your savings rate, even as you juggle family and eldercare responsibilities.

“One woman asked me whether she should stop saving for retirement in order to plow money in a college savings fund for her son,” Hassara said. “I told her that she could always borrow money for college, but she couldn’t borrow for her retirement.”

If you are in your 50s and 60s:

You are heading into the all-critical years leading up to retirement; this should be your peak earning period and you should increase your savings to the maximum.

“At all three stages, make sure you are actively engaged with your finances. Talk to your financial advisor, accountant, and lawyer about all the options available to you,” Hassara recommended. “It is your money, after all. Seek the advice of a professional you trust at least once a year. Understand how an advisor makes his or her money. If the advisor charges a fee, understand how much it is. Fees can add up quickly — and that’s money that isn’t going into your retirement account. Great advice is certainly worth the cost. Just know the cost.”

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