For women, achieving financial freedom can be more elusive and require different planning than for men.
Certainly, wage inequality makes the pursuit of financial security more difficult. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, full-time employed women earn roughly 80 percent as much as men. This translates to a career earnings difference over $500,000. It also means that men have retirement account balances 50 percent larger than women on average.
Women’s ability to earn and save is also limited by fewer years in the workforce. Usually due to raising children, women don’t establish the same career track as many men, which can limit advancement and salary increases.
It’s not always child care that limits income. For many, caring for parents also confines their career and earnings potential. Some — known as the “Sandwich Generation” — might need to care for children and parents at the same time. About 15 percent of people in this position also provide financial support for parents.
With lesser earnings and savings, women must prepare for longer life expectancy.
According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration, a man reaching age 65 today has average life expectancy of age 84.3. A 65-year-old woman can expect to live 86.6 years. Those averages don’t tell the full story of longevity. About one out of every four 65-year-olds will live past 90, and one out of 10 will live past 95.
Unless they have a job that provides a lifetime pension income, this means women need to save more to cover more years in retirement and likely higher medical costs. Women are less likely to die swiftly. Just look at the population of nursing homes and assisted living facilities for evidence of the extended decline that has elderly women dramatically outnumbering men. In fact, 80 percent of women die alone while 80 percent of men die with a companion.
When it comes to managing money, women generally are more conservative, holding more in cash which can limit investment growth over time. There is also evidence of women being required to pay more interest on debt (mortgages, car loans, etc.) and carrying higher student-loan balances.
Other forms of inequality make it difficult for women to build financial literacy. I’ve personally been told by women that their previous financial advisers wouldn’t acknowledge them as a decision maker in a meeting with a husband.
Surely, this is not an exhaustive list of disadvantages women face. Fortunately, there are strategies to address these challenges.
Mind the wage gap: To evaluate your salary relative to your peers and create a custom raise-request letter with evidence of the difference, visit getraised.com. The average raise earned by users of this free site is $6,726. Once you earn a raise, don’t stop building your skill set. Find ways to educate yourself and improve your experience. This way, you can continue to justify future requests for raises or simply make yourself more valuable to the next employer.
Delay starting Social Security: Because of longer life expectancy, it is especially important for women to maximize the income received from Social Security. An extra year of work, toward or beyond your Social Security-defined full retirement age, will increase your benefits meaningfully. Unless you are unable to work and don’t have other means, it might be best to plan on not starting Social Security before age 66. Women should also understand available spousal benefits — even possibly based on a previous spouse’s record.
Focus on you: Your happiness and financial security are both influenced by your personal well-being. Taking care of you, especially when you are pulled in multiple directions — by parents, kids and work —is critical. So, be sure to invest some time in yourself.
Be prepared: A divorce attorney I know likes to say, “A man is not a financial plan.” You can do a lot to eliminate unknowns and build confidence in your future by taking the time to build a thorough financial plan. Understand the probability that you can fund goals now and in the future based on key assumptions and opportunities available to you. Get to know how investment risk and potential returns work together so that you can identify an investment strategy that is a good fit.
There are certainly other topics for women to get comfortable with financially. Make a list of your personal pain points or unknowns, and you will have completed the first step toward more peace of mind with your money.
Gary Brooks is a certified financial planner and the President of BHJ Wealth Advisors, a registered investment adviser in Gig Harbor. Reach him at email@example.com.