So, how can women make up ground in what is widely referred to as the “retirement savings gap” before it’s too late?
Here are 4 things to do.
1. Analyze where your money is going
As an advisor for three decades, from social gatherings to retirement planning workshops to conversing with a neighbor on a flight, over the years I have noticed a big difference in the types of questions people tend to ask me when they find out what I do for a living.
In general, my experience has been that men are more likely to ask me about a certain investment or stock. “What’s your opinion of this investment?” Or “What’s the risk?”
Many of the financial questions that women ask me tend to be in the vein of things like, “How do I get started saving for retirement?” Or “How can I save more?”
The difference between the two groups is often stark.
Be it men or be it women, it’s disconcerting how many people aren’t saving as much as they should or could. This is often because they haven’t sat down and created a budget and looked for opportunities to cut costs.
Once you analyze your income and spending, you’ll be able to see where your money is going, where you can cut, and how much more you could be putting away for retirement.
2. Prioritize yourself and your future
Not only are roughly half of all parents single, but the majority who have full custody of their children are women.
Many of the women I speak with acknowledge that their ex-partners were diligent about investing for retirement, but that they themselves don’t feel there is enough margin to save.
Yet a vast majority of people I speak with have access to an employer sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), and almost as often, their employer’s plan contains a “match.” (That is, your employer will contribute a certain “matching” amount to your retirement savings based on your annual contribution.)
To decline to invest in an employer-sponsored defined contribution plan is almost always a poor choice, but that bad choice is compounded when “free” money is left on the table.
To close the retirement savings gap, as difficult as it is to change long-ingrained habits, women who aren’t saving (or aren’t saving enough) need to prioritize themselves and their futures. And often the easiest way to do this is to divert a portion of your pre-tax income into your 401(k).
One way to build up your savings even faster is to increase your contributions with every bonus or raise.
3. Become a student of finance
Find an “education-based” advisory firm. Well, there’s a reason for that, and it’s because we are an education-based advisory firm. That means our analysts and creative departments spend a great deal of time developing educational materials because we know that the more our clients understand about the process of saving and investing, and what it takes to retire well, the more enthusiastic about the process they become.
And that leads to better outcomes.
If you don’t know the mechanics of how a 401(k) works, what your Social Security payout is likely to be, or the miracle of compound interest, you should absolutely familiarize yourself with these mechanisms.
4. Make a vow to partner with your partner about your saving and investing
Couples tend to divide certain responsibilities. It unfortunately still holds true that far too many couples don’t share the responsibility of managing their savings and investments.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this type of division work against women more times than I can count. It puts them at risk if the relationship ends, and it hurts them later as women tend to live years longer than men.
As a message to both men and women, make a vow to become equally informed about where the money is being saved, how it’s being invested, and what happens in the event of divorce or death. (And make certain those retirement account beneficiaries are up to date, because those typically supersede whatever is listed in the will.)
Not knowing everything there is to know about your savings and investments puts you at a decided (and unnecessary) disadvantage.