Financial professionals will tell you that every retirement plan is distinct because every retiree is unique, but that isn't exactly true. Married couples almost always get just one retirement plan.
Though that makes sense in many ways -- after all, those two people are hoping to live a long and happy life together -- their retirement plan must also represent their very different needs.
Unfortunately, even now in 2019, women tend to take a back seat when it comes to working out the details of their financial future. This is troublesome, given that, on average, women still live longer than men and therefore have a real stake in how long their retirement income will last.
Nearly every woman will have sole responsibility for her finances at some stage in her life. Some will choose not to marry. Many will divorce. And even married women need to consider their income prospects, weighing the facts that if they're widowed, they'll lose one Social Security check and possibly at least part of a pension check and will probably have to pay more in taxes when they file as an individual.
Of course, that isn't the only challenge that makes a women's participation in financial planning a must. Others include:
1. Women still tend to be the primary family caregiver.
When their children are small, women generally take the caregiving lead, which can take a toll on their bottom line in retirement. Stay-at-home moms especially struggle to catch up. When they're young, they can miss out on years of contributions, possibly with an employer match, and the benefits of compounding in a 401(k). Later, they'll likely see less in Social Security and pension benefits. If they get divorced, they may lack the experience or support system that allows them to thrive at work and earn a higher salary.
It doesn't end there. Women are also likely to be the caregivers for their elderly parents , further affecting their careers and finances. Many report taking time off from work to help out, cutting their hours or passing up promotions.
2. Women continue to face a wage gap.
Although they now make up approximately half of the workforce, women on average earn less than men in nearly every occupation for which there is enough data to calculate an earnings ratio for both genders. In 2017, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men, a wage gap of 20% . That gap can be explained in part by women's time out of the workforce, but it's also because of occupational segregation; female-dominated jobs generally don't pay as much as traditionally male-centric jobs. Again, the gap can affect women's Social Security and pension benefits, as well as their retirement savings.
3. Women can expect to pay more in health care costs in retirement.
According to Fidelity Investments' 16th annual retiree health care cost estimate , a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2018 will need $280,000 to cover health care and medical expenses throughout retirement. But it isn't an even split. Because women usually have a longer life expectancy, they can expect to pay $147,000. For men, the estimated cost is $133,000.
That figure also doesn't include long-term care. Couples generally care for each other as long as they can as they age -- but if her spouse predeceases her, which is likely, a surviving wife may need to pay for outside care for herself. This cost also continues to rise. Genworth's most recent survey found that the annual median cost of care now ranges from $18,720 for adult day care services to $100,375 for a private room in a nursing home.
4. Women are typically more conservative investors.
When they do get involved in financial planning, women are likely to be more risk-averse . Playing it safe is more comfortable -- and probably a good approach when near or in retirement. Unfortunately, it also can mean less growth when women are in the accumulation stage of their investing years. Single and divorced women may need to pull more income from their investment savings in retirement if their Social Security and pension benefits are lacking.
5. Women have a hard time discussing their finances - even with a professional whose job is to help them.
When polled for the 2015 Fidelity Investments Money FIT Women Study , 56% of women said they refrained from discussing finances because the subject is too personal; 27% said they were raised to not talk about finances; and 10% said they don't understand or know how to talk about it intelligently.
Asked about working with an adviser, 47% said they're hesitant to talk about money and investing with a financial professional, and 50% of those who had a primary investment firm said they had never spoken with a representative there.
The bottom line: My advice to all women
Clearly, there are issues here that must be overcome. But the women I talk with tell me they really do want a personalized financial strategy that gives them a better sense of security. They want to know if they've saved enough, if their money will last and if they have all their bases covered.
You don't have to know a lot about investing to ask those questions of an adviser, and you should be able to get answers that satisfy you with a plan that puts you on the right track.
If you're a woman who's been avoiding financial planning, or if you handed the job over to your spouse years ago, it's never too late to get involved. Don't be intimidated -- by the jargon, your spouse or anything else. And don't say you're too busy. (Even if you are.)
Make this the year you take control of your own financial future.
Kim Franke-Folstad contributed to this article.
Comments are suppressed in compliance with industry guidelines. Click here to learn more and read more articles from the author.
- Financial Tips You Can Learn from Millennials (Yes, Really)
- When Widows Are Forgotten: A Guide for Widows and the People Near to Them
- How Losing a Spouse Could Raise a Survivor\'s Taxes 416%
Copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors