Retirement Planning for Women

retirement planning for women

It’s well documented that women often earn less than men in the workforce. While progress toward pay equality is a hot topic, less discussed are the factors women face when trying to plan for their ideal retirement.

Among the hurdles that are unique to women:

  • lower lifetime earnings
  • wages lost when leaving the workforce for child rearing or caregiving
  • part-time work without access to benefits, including retirement benefits
  • longer lifespans leading to longer retirements
  • longer exposure to retirement risks

These factors can definitely affect the quality of life women enjoy during their retirement. Which makes having a strong retirement plan more critical than ever.

Feeling Ready… Or Not?

If you are a working professional and you are concerned over whether you will be ready for retirement, you aren't alone.

According to a recent study from the non-profit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS), only 12% of women in the workforce are “very confident” that they will enjoy their definition of a comfortable retirement lifestyle. Contrastingly, 24% of men provide the same response.

The graph below captures women's overall levels of confidence in being able to enjoy a comfortable retirement life.

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Also highlighted in the TCRS report, called "Here and Now: How Women Can Take Control of Their Retirement," are women’s greatest fears about retirement.

More women than men fear outliving their savings and investments. Not only that, more believe Social Security will be reduced or disappear in the future. And approximately half of the women surveyed said they feared not being able to meet their family’s basic needs.

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Worries about declining health that requires long-term care, and lack of access to affordable healthcare, round out working women’s top concerns for being retirement-ready.

Start Planning for Retirement by Taking Action

There are several steps women can take to feel better prepared to create a retirement lifestyle that lives up to their dreams and expectations.

Know Your Retirement Numbers

The survey encourages women to stop guessing what they will need in retirement. It's time to start consulting a retirement calculator or create a worksheet to chronicle their current expenses and estimate what their needs might be in the future. Only 7% of women have done this, compared with 16% of men.

If you haven't yet, begin with a snapshot of your anticipated retirement expenses -- which will give you a snapshot of what you will need for income, short-term and long-term. Your current spending patterns will clue you in as to what future spending may look like.

Don't forget the less frequent expenses -- such as insurance that you may pay on a 6-month rolling basis or the often-unpredictable appliance upkeep costs -- as well as the price tags of your unique goals in retirement.

Generally, a good breakdown of expenses to come up with numbers for are:

  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Housing (Mortgage, rent)
  • Transportation
  • Clothing
  • Household services (Internet, cable, etc.)
  • Phone
  • Insurance (Health, life, car, auto, home, etc.)
  • Medical
  • Entertainment
  • Hobbies
  • Travel
  • Charitable giving
  • Pet caretaking (if applicable to you)
  • Helping loved ones (grandchildren's college tuition for example)
  • Home upkeep (mowing, yardwork, etc.)
  • Income taxes
  • Property taxes
  • Portfolio, investment taxes

When it comes to financial planning for retirement, many companies use a lump-sum figure for estimating healthcare costs. Should this prove to be more of an obstacle than a help for you, consider including health costs as an annual expense. And don't forget to include the possibility of long-term care expenses, either!

Know Your Personal Retirement and Investment Strategies

Sometimes women take a more “hands-off” approach with their retirement and financial strategies. One-third of those surveyed said they were "not sure" how their retirement savings are invested. This compares to only 13% of men being unclear about this important aspect.

The greatest disparity between how women and men invest, according to the TCRS report, is that men are more likely to invest in stocks (26%) than are women (16%). Meanwhile, men (18%) and women (16%) are similarly likely to put money mostly into bonds, money market funds, cash, and "other stable investments."

It's of particular concern for women, who are half as likely than men to say they have $250,000 or more saved in retirement accounts, reports Transamerica. A good familiarity with your personal strategies for retirement and overall financial life is critical. They serve as the benchmark for evaluating your savings progress, not to mention your overall financial progress.  

Learn About Your Partner or Spouse’s Retirement Plan

Of women in relationships, only one-third of survey respondents were “very familiar” with the retirement or savings of their partner.

Without sharing information readily with each other, spouses and partners might miscalculate their retirement options. It’s likely that your joint retirement years will depend on your spouse’s benefits.

If a pension or an annuity forms part of you and your partner's income plan, future payouts may be affected when one of you passes away. Knowing the details of your significant other's retirement picture can help you plan for any such outcomes. That includes:

  • Balances of personal savings,
  • Personal cash-flow,
  • Beneficiary designations on accounts,
  • The game-plan for taking Social Security benefits,
  • Individual Medicare plans, 
  • Payout options from annuity or pension income sources, 
  • And so on.

Speaking of Social Security....

Become an Expert in Your Social Security Benefits

It pays to know all your options for gaining the maximum benefits from Social Security.

With Baby Boomer women now approaching retirement, just 47% report knowing “a great deal” about their benefits. Start investigating your unique benefits before you will need them in order to calculate a relevant retirement plan.

And if you have a partner or spouse, understand their benefits too. Any survivor benefits will be a key part of a survivorship plan for the loved one who lives longer.

Develop a Written Retirement Strategy

While it’s great to have a retirement plan (44% of women report having one they haven’t written down), it’s even better to have a written retirement strategy that is a concrete roadmap to your retirement future.

Yet, just 11% of women report having a written strategy, compared with 21% of men. Knowing your retirement income needs, your anticipated costs and expenses, and the risk factors you face will give you all the pieces you need to complete your retirement strategy puzzle.

Some people will face the prospect of retirement while divorced. Here are some pointers to consider if that describes your situation.

An experienced financial professional can help you develop your game-plan, from identifying these elements and creating strategies for them to putting them in writing. 

Don’t Stop There

Life has a way of handing out surprises like candy. After all, things don't always go according to plan.

What if you are forced to retire earlier than planned? What if you face health issues earlier than expected? What if you have to leave the workforce to care for a loved one? What if you can't work as long as you planned on doing?

This is when a backup retirement income plan can fill in the unexpected gaps that destabilize even the best laid retirement plan. But only 21% of women reported having such a plan.

Get Good Personal Retirement Advice

Only 17% of women in the TCRS report turned over their retirement and investment-related decisions to someone else. A healthy 45% said they seek advice but make their own financial decisions. 

It can help a great deal to consult with a financial professional on your retirement goals, as an expert can show you different strategies to help you achieve them. But it’s your nest egg.

So, be sure to maintain control and keep tabs on how your retirement assets are performing and when you need to make the switch from the accumulation phase to the wealth preservation phase of retirement preparedness. Depending on your progress, you may also need to adjust your saving, spending, or other financial patterns for your future. 

Planning and Working Toward a Confident Future

Working women are well equipped to recognize barriers to a better retirement. They have many resources to seek out the information and expertise that can help them plan for the retirement they deserve. 

A confident lifestyle starts with preparing today. If you have your retirement ducks in a row but haven't evaluated your progress in some time, consider a financial plan checkup. A financial or retirement professional can give you an honest second take on where you stand. 

And if you haven't begun planning for your future, there is no better time than the present. Start by looking at where you stand and where you could be. Again, professional guidance with your money matters is a worthwhile decision to consider. Many retirement savers of all ages have reported higher savings, more financial security, and better overall wellness from working with someone.

If you are looking for a financial professional, many stand ready to help you at Use our "Find a Financial Professional" section to connect with someone directly. Should you need a personal referral, call us at 877.476.9723.

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