Whether married or single, women face more unique obstacles when it comes to investing for retirement than men. In fact, on average, women spend fewer years in the workforce than men, as women often take time out to care for family members. Women also take home smaller paychecks and have a greater likelihood of working part-time or being a single parent. Marital status and occupation aside, women also have a longer life expectancy than men, putting them at greater risk of outliving their assets.
There are a few things every woman needs to keep in mind when planning for retirement:
Consider enrolling in your company’s retirement plan
Studies have shown that fewer women than men enroll in their employer’s retirement plan, and, when enrolled, women contribute less than men. However, it’s important to join an employer retirement plan as soon as you are eligible and to contribute as much as you can afford. Remember, the earlier you begin to save toward retirement, the more money you will have to compound over time.
Many employers will match a fixed percentage of an employee’s contribution up to a maximum percentage of salary (usually 6 percent). Take advantage of any matching contribution—it’s free money. If your employer offers a matching percentage, it makes financial sense to contribute no less than what is matched.
If you decide to leave your job, you’ll have options short of cashing out your current retirement plan. You can transfer one retirement plan to another—from an employer plan to a traditional IRA, for example—or you can simply leave the account with your original employer.
If you are not employed, you can transfer your retirement plan into a traditional IRA. This option will allow you to continue to manage your pre-tax funds in the market based on your investment tolerance. Another retirement account to consider, if you qualify, is a spousal IRA, which can give a non-working spouse access to the benefits of tax-favored retirement accounts.
Help yourself before helping others
Women trying to save for retirement are more likely than men to care for others in addition to themselves, whether it’s children or aging parents. As you build your retirement savings, remember that it needs to be a priority—no matter what else is on your plate.
One way to think about managing money for your retirement is to compare it to being a responsible passenger on an airline flight. In the event of a possible crash, you should put on your own oxygen mask before helping the passenger next to you. You can’t help other people unless you take care of yourself first.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Often, women are not confident about making financial decisions. A study by Prudential revealed that fewer than two in 10 women feel “very prepared” to make wise financial decisions, and half feel they need some help in making decisions. One-third feel they need “a lot” of help.
If you are a woman planning for retirement, it may be a good idea to meet with a financial planning professional. He or she can help you assess your current financial situation, set financial goals, and protect your assets. Even if you’re happily married, there’s no harm in having a solid understanding of your financial status as an individual.
Bahiyah Shabazz is the founder and CEO of both Shabazz Management Group and Fabulous & Money Savvy. She has appeared and given financial advice on various media outlets, and is the author of Women Building Wealth.