Retirement Realities for Women

Changing the mindset of millions of women isn't something that can happen overnight but it can be done.
05/08/2012 10:04am ET | Updated July 8, 2012
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During the day I work for a collections agency and I come in contact with a number of people who have been negatively affected by our countries unemployment rate, foreclosure of homes and healthcare system. I try not to pry too much so the circumstances that led to their financial strife isn't the focus of our conversation. My job is to see how I can get them to successfully manage their finances and pay their bills.

Upon speaking to senior citizens many of them share their finances with me. Since the life expectancy of women exceeds that of men, I often speak with women. My questions are met with answers like $550, $700 and $325. This isn't a weekly figure nor is it a bi-weekly figure, this is their monthly income.

Imagine going from making $2000-plus per month to receiving a check on the second Wednesday of the month that resembles the cost of your mortgage? If they're lucky, they have a husband who is still living and receiving a check as well but what about the women trying to make it on their own?

That's a reality that many senior citizens face during retirement so when I read the following study I would be lying if I said that I was surprised.

On May 3rd, ING U.S. released findings from a study commissioned by the ING Retirement Research Institute that sheds light on the distinct realities women encounter when saving and preparing for retirement.

According to the study, among those who have savings in or outside of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, men have substantially more saved than women, a striking $149,000, on average, compared to women, who averaged $108,000 in total savings.

Could it be that women are not encouraged to save as frequently as men?

In many households, boys are told at a young age that they have to provide for their families. They're encouraged to get out and work and make enough money to take care of their families. It really doesn't matter what environment they're a product of, the message of 'survival of the fittest' is loud and clear.

But what about girls?

While times are changing and the age of women getting married increases every year, girls are encouraged to be passive in certain areas of their life. This rings true for the workforce and in relationships. We're encouraged to let men be the provider and the head of our households in an effort to make him feel like a "real man" but we're screwing ourselves in the process.

In a perfect world, there is room for two leaders but you and I both know that the world is not perfect so if a man is taught to lead, then we are taught to follow.

Although followers play an important role in every situation, they aren't the leader. By definition a follower subscribes to the teachings or methods of another. Followers don't think ahead, they seldom take initiative and they definitely don't plan for the future, i.e. retirement plans. In the study, men far outnumber women in terms of planning for retirement.

Let's look at some more statistics.

  • The majority (60 percent) of mothers do not feel prepared for retirement and almost half (46 percent) don't know how to achieve their retirement goals.
  • Less than three-in-ten (28 percent) have calculated how much they'll need to retire, compared to half (50 percent) of men.
  • Gen Y (age 25-34) women are most likely to have barriers to saving (86 percent) compared to women 35 or older (74 percent) and more than half of Gen Y women (56 percent) have outstanding student loans.

So what now? How do we reverse the damage that has been done?

Changing the mindset of millions of women isn't something that can happen overnight but it can be done.

Take responsibility for our circumstances. If I tried to count how many times women told me that they couldn't pay their bills because they are a single mother with mouths to feed, I would run out of fingers. I'm not trying to down play anyone's situation but being a single mom with children is no excuse for neglecting yourself. If you aren't enough motivation to do better than maybe your children are all the motivation you need.

Educate ourselves. No one knows everything and that's okay but that's what google is for. If you google the term "Retirement," the first thing that comes up is a link for Retirement Planner: How Should I Prepare For Retirement?

Pace yourself. Getting to a place of financial empowerment doesn't just happen, it takes time. Take baby steps before you run. We want immediate results and are prone to give up if we don't see the light fast enough. Good things come to those who wait and that includes a lucrative retirement savings account.

We are all grown so we know what we should and should not be doing. Sometimes we just need a friendly reminder, so I hope my article was helpful and gives you that extra push you need to get your finances in order. Now please excuse me as I go and increase my 401k contribution.