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Solo Retirement: What Women Need to Know

By Stacy Morrison

  • PUBLISHED January 07
  • |
  • 6 MINUTE READ

When many people imagine retirement, they think of a mythical front porch, with two people sitting side-by-side on rocking chairs, whiling away the hours. But a different reality might disrupt that vision—and it’s not just that you plan to be globe-trotting instead of aging quietly. 


Today, women are much more likely than men to live solo in their golden years, a situation that requires women to take retirement savings seriously. 


The biggest factor at play is women’s life expectancy, which is several years longer than men’s. Forty percent of women over age 65 are widowed, compared with 13% of men. And the divorce rate for couples aged 50 and older has doubled since 1990.


Longer Life Comes with Extra Costs
Greater longevity means that, on average, women fact higher healthcare costs in their retirement years. A healthy 65-year-old woman retiring this year can expect to spend an average total of $306,000 on health care during her remaining life (including supplemental insurance, dental, vision and hearing care, and out-of-pocket expenses), compared with a 65-year-old man’s $260,000, according to a recent survey from a software company that specializes in healthcare cost prediction.


Other Factors Negatively Impact Women’s Retirement
We earn less throughout our lifetime—and often retire sooner than we’d planned. Because women still make just 80 cents to a man’s dollar, we deal with a compounded income loss—which also means we earn less Social Security over a lifetime, because that benefit is tied to income. Women are also much more likely than men to have their earnings interrupted because they stop working to have babies, raise children or care for sick family members. 


Meanwhile, although women save at higher rates than men, they invest less and therefore earn lower returns. It is wonderful that women are generally level-headed planners who set aside money, but compounding works against you here, too. Financier Sallie Krawcheck, a self-described “financial feminist,” calls this “the gender investing gap.” 


What Are You Supposed to Do about All That? 
Take your wonderful, long-term-plan-driven orientation, focused on achieving concrete goals for yourself, and do the following: 

1

Jump on retirement planning no matter your age. 
Compound, compound, compound. As your money earns interest, over time that interest earns interest, making even more. You want your money to have as many years as possible to grow.

2

Invest early and often, and invest more than you save.
Saving feels good—and yes, in some ways it feels safe—but not having enough money to support yourself through old age is the opposite of safe. Women’s No. 1 goal in managing their money is financial security. Forty-six percent of us fear ending up a “bag lady.” Face it: Putting money under your mattress will not create financial security, and the returns on a savings account alone won’t cut it.

3

Find a financial consultant who speaks your language. 
Confused by financial lingo? You’re not alone. The good news is that the financial industry has undergone a major wake-up call (thanks to survey after survey), realizing that women don’t trust these companies and don’t believe financial advisors serve their needs. They’ve also figured out that women control a lot of money—39% of investable assets, in fact. And that percentage grows every year. So it’s easier than ever to find a financial advisor who understands you, knows the goals you want to achieve and knows that you expect to be listened to. 

4

Think about yourself as a solo flyer, regardless of your relationship status. 
Because women’s lives have significantly different financial profiles from men’s (for the reasons named above) and life can bring surprises in any relationship, it’s critical that you make a plan for YOU—and whatever your partner brings into the picture is gravy. 

Don’t Overthink—Make a Solid Plan and Lock It into Place
Research from giants like UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and other sources consistently finds that women are actually better investors than men. So let that allay any lingering concerns you might have about not knowing how to “play the market.” 


The primary reason we are better investors than men is because we don’t try to play the market. Women tend to commit to “the long view,” which is how the stock market pays dividends: over the long run. We also make financial plans that are based on specific financial goals—financial security for retirement, education for ourselves and our children to secure our economic futures, and the ability to reinvest in our communities and causes we care about.


The best thing about a good retirement plan? Once it’s done, it’s on autopilot. Life’s surprises will keep piling up—maybe you’ll discover a new career at 64, or you’ll meet the love of your life at 72—but what will also be piling up are your financial returns and retirement nest egg. 


So go ahead and find that gorgeous rocking chair to put on your front porch—or, hey, maybe a Jet Ski! And enjoy. 


Stacy Morrison is a journalist, editor and consultant, advising early-stage businesses on brand, content and business strategy. She is an award-winning editor, and the author of the bestselling memoir “Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey through the Hell of Divorce.”

Illustration by Jack Hudson.

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