Today we’ll continue taking a look at the gender gap in retirement strategy. Women tend to need more money than men in retirement because on average they live longer, have more healthcare expenses, and often make less money in their working lives than men do.

In addition to financial options—such as saving more, delaying retirement, and taking advantage of company matches in 401(k) funds—there are several non-financial steps that women can take to plan for their retirement.

Reframing retirement living

“We are bombarded with images of the happy retirement—the vacations, the palm trees, the golf courses—but we need to rethink our retirement and not buy into that,” says Jane Nowak, an Atlanta-based certified financial planner specializing in women’s retirement. “Retirement doesn’t have to be what someone tells us it looks like.”

Living together with other women—whether siblings, single women, or women who have lost their spouses—brings big benefits in shared housing expenses and increased companionship, says Jan Cullinane, author of “The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life” and the upcoming “The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement” (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

Cullinane recommends that women look at creative housing arrangements to help lower costs. For instance, in co-housing communities, residents have their own attached or single-family homes, but they can take advantage of a communal dining room, recreational facilities, and other resources.

Women also can comfortably live with a friend or sibling in an apartment with two master bedrooms and share cooking and housing expenses.

“Where you live certainly affects how you live,” Cullinane says. Living among an appropriate peer group can help encourage you to live frugally and not outspend your means. If you are living in a community where everyone is pinching pennies and having potluck dinner parties, then you might feel at ease doing the same.

Another trend that Cullinane notices is Americans living abroad, where living costs and healthcare costs often are lower. American communities are springing up in Mexico and Panama to attract retirees, she says.

Improve your health

Retirees are often faced with huge healthcare expenses in their later years. About 75 percent of healthcare spending in the United Sates is due to chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. These lifestyle-related diseases are largely under our control. To help combat them, get in good health now, Cullinane says, by exercising more and eating better.

Additionally, take the time to fit your house with universal design concepts, like wider doorways, rocker light switches, a first-floor master bedroom and a curb-less shower, to make rooms easily accessible. “Universal design allows you to stay where you are. You’re less likely to move to an assisted living facility if you can stay in your home longer,” Cullinane says.

People are working later in life because they need continued income, health benefits, and mental and social stimulation. “80 is the new 60,” Cullinane says. While seniors might not be able to land the traditional full-time jobs that they’ve had in the past, they might find alternative jobs with companies like Comfort Keepers, where they can act as aides to the elderly. Or, they might find a job where they can work part-time yet still receive health benefits, such as by working as an aide in a school system.

Making smart decisions now can make the road to retirement smoother. Being aware of financial and non-financial options to bridge the retirement gender gap can make your money last as long as you do.

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Retirement Strategy: Bridging the Gender Gap

A Chicago-based writer and editor, Eve Becker writes about personal finance, health and other topics. She is a former managing editor of Tribune Media Services.