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Wake Up Ladies! What You Need to Know about Building Your Retirement Nest Egg

Photo of author, Kathy White, FPQP™, CRPC®.
Kathy White, FPQP™, CRPC®
Retirement Plan Specialist

What do Campbell Soup, Pepsico, General Motors, and Lockheed Martin all have in common? They are all corporations led by a female CEO. In fact, the 2016 Fortune 500 list includes 21 companies with women at the helm.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47 percent of today’s U.S. workers are women. Moreover, women own close to 10 million businesses that account for $1.4 trillion in receipts.

So it begs the question: With women achieving considerable career success these days, why are their retirement nest eggs not faring as well as their male counterparts?

According to an October 2016 article that references Diane Garnick, a managing director and chief income strategist at TIAA, women have to save almost TWICE as much of their salary throughout their career as their male colleagues (18% versus 10% for a man) to make up for what is referred to as a “wealth gap.” In fact, studies show that since 2012, retirement savings among women has dropped while for men it has remained constant or been higher.

And as we all know, the keys to building a strong nest egg for retirement are: (1) Create a budget you can stick to, (2) Pay off credit card debt, and (3) Contribute as much as you can on a regular basis to a qualified savings plan that offers the benefit of tax-deferred savings (e.g. 401(k), 403(b), and SEP IRA). For women, contributing to their retirement accounts is not as easy as it is for a man. There are a few reasons why.

Historically, women spend much less time in the workforce (about 75% of the time as men). This could be due to maternity leave, taking a few years off to raise a family, or taking early retirement. Additionally, we see an increasing trend of women leaving the workforce (either temporarily or permanently) to take care of their aging parents. For the most part, it is women who raise their hand first to serve as care-givers in their families and that selflessness often equates to less savings and reduced Social Security. And when it comes to emergency savings, women don't fare well either -- just $2,000 saved compared to men's $10,000.

The gender pay gap is alive and well. As Garnick notes in her report, women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn throughout their careers.

When it comes to investments, women tend to be more risk-averse than men. You may have heard that women are better investors than men because they are more "hands-off" during market sell-offs, and they don’t get too greedy in strong bull markets. Also, women hold 5% more in cash and about 4.5% less in equities than men. When you combine all of these factors — and stretch that out over a long time period — it adds up to a drastic difference!

It's critical for women to recognize these issues and take action before it's too late. As this Forbes article points out, there are things women can, and should do, to take control of their finances and put them on the right path for their future retirement. Here's just a few...

  • If your employer offers a retirement plan, take advantage of it and contribute today! Even if you start out with just small contributions, try to increase your salary deferral as often as you can. Some plans have employer matching, which is "free money". Make sure you don't miss out on this opportunity!
  • If you are age 50 or older, there are "catch up" provisions where by you can contribute at a higher rate to your retirement plan. Try to take advantage, if you can.
  • Get your spending under control by (1) tracking your spending (you'll be surprised when you write it down and see where your money is going!) and (2) Pay down debt to reduce your monthly bill. Check out this great blog about beating the budget burden 60 seconds at a time!
  • Don't guess how much you need for retirement, but rather seek the help of a professional investment advisor. Working together, he/she will be able to construct a retirement savings plan that works for you. Your plan should never be, "Oh I'll just use my husband's retirement."

It's never too late to make changes and get on a successful path to retirement. Consider your life goals in advance (like staying home with children for 5 years, working part-time, or retiring early at age 55 to take care of mom) and then discuss those goals with your financial advisor. With professional guidance and help, your savings plan can meet your long-term retirement goals.

If you need help analyzing your current financial situation and goals, contact one of our advisors today.

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