Our mothers and grandmothers fought for equal rights over 50 years ago and many things have changed since then for our own daughters and grandchildren. Yet all these years later, most women are still the primary caretakers of their family. Even in dual income households, they still tend to put themselves last and abdicate major financial decisions to their spouses. So it isn’t a surprise a recent UBS Group1 study showed that 74% of women don’t consider themselves very knowledgeable about investing, and, on average saved 43% less for retirement than men, according to a Prudential survey2. So why can’t we close this gap? Well, here are just a few reasons that you may have already heard: women today, on average, earn 81 cents to every dollar a man earns; women are more likely than men to leave their paying careers to take care of children or aging parents; and half of all marriages continue to end in divorce, with the rate for couples over age 50 doubling in the past 30 years. We may not be where we want to be yet in society, but we can keep changing things for the better for women. Here are 4 things we can each start doing today to help close the savings and retirement gap:
Understand Where Your Money Goes
An important first step to financial independence is to understand all your sources of income and your expenses. Your total income is more than just what you earn; it includes all possible sources of income, that may include capital gains and dividends from investments, pension income, disability income, and social security. There are even more for some of you. To understand your lifestyle expenses, try tracking all your expenses for 3-4 months. This will help you identify your required expenses such as your mortgage, utilities, health insurance, child care and groceries. Next look at those expenses you have more control over such as clothing, entertainment, eating out, babysitters and gifts. Both these kinds of expenses make up your total lifestyle expenses. A full understanding of where your money comes from and where it goes will help you think about how best to allocate your money. Are you spending it on things that bring you joy or can your money be put to better use? And are you saving enough for your future?
Invest for Your Future
When women choose to leave their careers to raise a family, they immediately fall behind in preparing for retirement because they stop contributing to a company-sponsored retirement plan. According to the “Gender Pay Gap” Congressional report regarding gender pay inequality, women over the age of 75 are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as men 3. Don’t let yourself be one of these statistics. While you are working, make it a priority to contribute the maximum to your employer’s retirement savings plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b). If you can’t put aside the maximum allowed, be sure to be increasing your contribution every year as you work toward that maximum. Even as you work, you can also contribute after-tax funds to an IRA. If you’re within qualifying income limits, you might even qualify to contribute to a Roth IRA. If you are no longer working and your spouse has earned income, you can make an annual contribution to an IRA/Roth IRA in your own name as long as you file a joint tax return. Be disciplined about systematically saving and investing your money for the future whether you are working or not today. The more and earlier you save, the more time your money has to grow to protect your own future.
Own Your Assets
Studies have shown that women often handle the bill paying and day-to-day expenses in a household but leave the investments and long-term savings to their spouse. You should take ownership of your assets, both literally and figuratively! If you and your spouse acquire assets during your marriage, like a house, an investment account, or savings account, etc., you should discuss titling them so that you are each owners, either jointly, as owners in common or in living trusts if it makes the most sense for your circumstances. Having ownership is not only empowering, but it also makes you more accountable for those assets. If you don’t know how your major holdings are titled, now is the time to have a discussion with your spouse and review where the important paperwork is that establishes ownership and title. If you have a spouse or financial advisor managing your investments, start taking ongoing control by looking at monthly or quarterly statements so you are familiar with what you own. It’s important to be informed not just because you are a capable woman who should know her holdings, but because you shouldn’t put yourself in a position to be surprised if an unforeseen event happens, like the death of a spouse, health crisis, or divorce.
Continue to Get Educated
The unknown is always scarier than the reality. What did you do when you had to figure out for the first time how to get a plumbing problem fixed? What did you do when you were pregnant for the first time and didn’t know what to expect? You probably called a friend or family member for advice, found a recommended book to read, or went online to learn as much as you could. Educating yourself about finances is no different. There are plenty of educational resources available to learn about budgeting, saving, and investing. There are many that are specifically targeted to women, emphasizing financial literacy and financial independence. Get online regularly and start exploring; many sites have the same information and you need to decide which ones you simply enjoy more. The more you learn about your finances, the more confident you will feel. Use your increasing knowledge to get more involved each day; ask questions of whoever is managing your finances and start to take more control of your financial future.
My maternal grandmother passed away at the age of 104. My aunt on my father’s side is 102 years old and has a better memory than most people half her age. So perhaps longevity may be in the cards for me if I don’t get run over by a bus tomorrow. One thing is clear, I probably need to fund a good long life. I am already practicing these steps to close the gender gap and assure my own financial future. You can too!
- “Own Your Worth”, UBS.com/us/en/investor-watch/
- “Women Lag Men In Retirement”, Prudential’s “2018 Financial Wellness Census”, news.prudential.com
- United States. Congress. Joint Economic Committee, Gender Gap Pay