Women, Retirement and Poverty – Don’t be a Statistic

The guiding principal of getting ahead financially is to spend less than you earn and save or invest the rest. The theory is, if you do that over the length of your working life you’ll have a nest egg to provide for a comfortable retirement. If you’re really focused and dedicated, you might even retire early.

Sounds great doesn’t it? It also sounds easy. Unfortunately, it’s not always so do-able. For some people, retirement, let alone a comfortable one, is itself, a pipe dream.

Picture this: you’re on the shady side of 50, single and, for one reason or another, looking at a woefully inadequate retirement fund. What then? Sadly this is the position many people face. And, of the people who fit that description:

  • Most of them will be women.
  • Most of those women will have spent the better part of their earning years raising children, probably on their own.
  • Most of them will have little to no hope of retiring without Social Security, let alone comfortably by 65.

The simple truth is that too many single women will spend their retirement living in poverty. This can be true even if they’ve worked most of their adult lives.

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There are lots of reasons women find themselves in an insecure financial situation in retirement. And, most often, it’s not self inflicted. It’s a combination of the system and circumstance. Here are the three top reasons why women tend to have smaller and sometimes non-existent retirement funds.

Wage inequality. Despite a lot of discussion in the media of late, women still earn on average 18% less than men. Earning less money is the first hurdle a woman must overcome when saving for retirement. Earning less is then compounded by the next two issues: time out of the workforce and the high chance of becoming a single parent.

Time out of the workforce. Most often women are the primary carers for children, as well as aging parents. Taking time out of the workforce is a one-two punch to your retirement fund. Obviously, there are the lost earnings, but there’s also lost opportunity for advancement. Not to mention the challenge of re-entering the workforce after an extended absence.

The single parent family. Amassing sufficient funds to ensure a comfortable post working life is challenging enough for a single woman earning the average wage. Add raising a family to that mix and the chances of a woman being able to contribute a suitable amount to her retirement fund to feel confident of a comfortable retirement become very slim.

Additionally, women are more likely to work part-time or casual, work in lower paid industries and are less likely to feel confident about investing their money. All of which create a perfect storm for poverty in retirement.

What can you do?

So, if you’re like me and fit most of the above criteria, what can you do to ensure your retirement is not one of poverty and constant struggle?

Take action. Don’t let another day go by without making some sort of progress toward securing your future.

The one action everyone needs to take, old or young, is to educate yourself. When you are knowledgeable, you can discern the difference between opinion and fact; statistics and sales pitch. There are lots of books available for learning about investing and personal finance. Ask your local librarian to help you choose a few. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Once you’re comfortable with the basics of investing, and retirement planning specifically, make time to talk to a financial planner. In fact, talk to a few. Many financial planners will give you an introductory visit for free. Take advantage of that and shop around. Start with your bank and work your way out from there.

One of the most important questions you can ask a financial planner is: How do you get paid? Are they a fee for service planner or do they receive commissions based on the products they sell? If it’s the latter, you might find you’re only being told about the products they sell. If you can, find a fee for service planner. It’ll cost you up front but like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

The younger you are, the more options you have to maximise your retirement savings. Put as much into your retirement savings as you can to fully leverage the miracle of compounding interest. Get your retirement savings off to a strong start while you’re young and you give yourself more choices as your life changes. If you’re keen to retire early, you’ll need to build some investments outside formal tax advantaged retirement savings accounts. Many retirement accounts have strict age related withdrawal rules.

If you’re not so young, you’ll have a bit more work to do. You can actively reduce your cost of living so you need less. Cut out the fluff in your budget, clear all your debts and start saving every single dollar you can. Or, you can look into additional ways to make a living that can either create a passive (or semi-passive) income or side hustles you can cheerfully engage in well into your retirement years. Of course, you can action all of those options and put that synergy to work for you.

No matter your age, it’s never too late to do something constructive to secure your future and enjoy a comfortable retirement. And, young or old, you need a Plan B.

Why do you need a Plan B? Simple. You can always guarantee your plans will come unstuck at some point in your life. You never know what might happen to you: divorce, illness, job loss. Your Plan B can be your emergency fund or it can be separate to your emergency fund. What you need is readily available funds to give you choices. Just make sure it’s easily accessible. Given my own experience, I highly recommend everyone has a stash of money that is their’s to do with as they choose. That is, a sum of money that’s not part of the family finances and you don’t have to justify its use to anyone.

My story…

Despite being knowledgeable about personal finance and confident my plans for the future were robust, I had the proverbial rugged pulled out from under me. My financial stability was seriously undermined by the debt and financial commitments that were left for me to shoulder alone between the time my marriage ended and financial settlement was completed. A year that almost sent me into bankruptcy.

Working full-time and being a single parent also meant that my spare time was spent parenting rather than earning extra money. Besides, there never seemed to be either the time or the energy for more work. So, I know how challenging it can be to balance making a living, making ends meet and raising a child on your own. Saving for the future was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

Now, though, I’m working on creating a better future for myself, and if all goes well, a comfortable retirement through frugal living, paying off debt and building additional income streams.

It’s a work in progress but, if I can do it… You can do it, too.

How much thought have you given to your retirement?

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