Making your money last as long as you do is a goal for every retiree, but it’s a particular concern for women. College-educated women (those with bachelor's degrees) earn an average $1.1 million less than men over the course of our careers,1 amass less in our retirement accounts2 and then—wait for it—live a half decade longer on average.3 The picture for single, divorced and widowed women can be even worse. Are we scared? You bet we are. Survey after survey—including a 2018 report published by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave—points to running out of money as one of the biggest fears for people headed into retirement.4
The good news is many women already employ a solid long-game strategy. According to Fidelity Investments, women actively investing outperformed men by 0.4%.5 Of course, investing confidence isn’t something you’re born with—you have to learn to fashion a mix of stocks and bonds yourself, hire someone to do it for you, shut out the noise, and focus on the things you can control. Because even though you can’t control the markets, you can control your plans and expectations.
Here’s a look at some of the best ways to pursue your long-term goals.
Have a savings mentality.
Although some of us joke that we might work “forever,” few of us really will. With that in mind, it’s important to think and operate like a saver in daily life. In other words, hang onto your nest egg if you’ve already got one, and supercharge the amount you’re putting into it if you don’t feel like you’ve got enough. According to a 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute (which used data from the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances), the average household between age 44 and 49 has about $81,000 in a combination of 401(k)s, IRAs and Keogh accounts,6 people age 50 to 55 have an average $125,000,7 and those 56 to 61 an average $164,000.8 Those balances have likely gone up thanks to the bull market of the last few years. But whether or not you have enough depends, of course, on how you live. But even if you can afford to spend, it’s wise to be frugal with your money since there are so many unknowns in retirement. That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the stash you’ve worked so hard to create. Absolutely take pleasure in what you’ve been working for—just keep a watchful eye on your accounts.
Pay off your debt.
Debt is just as much a reality for seniors as it is for the rest of us—32% of Americans 50 and older carry non-mortgage debt,9 according to the Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center. And the average credit card debt for those folks is $4,786.10 No one wants their hard-earned retirement funds going towards financing charges, especially when you’re trying to make your money last longer. Although carrying credit card debt while you’re still working may not seem like a big deal, remember that the habits you’re forming today will likely stick with you into retirement. If you find yourself spending more than you like on your credit cards each month, consider going on a “cash diet” and avoiding the use of plastic altogether. Some people find that the tactile action of handing over bills curbs their desire to spend. As for that mortgage, consider paying it off completely before you stop working. That can help ease your monthly bill-paying stress significantly.
"Even though you can’t control the markets, you can control your plans and expectations."
Look critically at your investments.
If you haven’t revisited your portfolio in a while, now’s the time. For example, if you made your 401(k) allocations five years ago, the funds you chose may no longer be performing, or they may be too aggressive for your age and risk tolerance today. The worst thing you can do as you head towards retirement is be overexposed to market vicissitudes, so don’t be afraid to look—just rip the Band Aid off, assess where things stand, and figure out if changes are necessary. If you know you don’t have the temperament for that, hire a financial advisor to do it for you.
Consider working longer (even a little bit).
Possibly the single best thing you can do from a financial planning standpoint is to work longer. When you push back your retirement, not only do you have additional years of earning power, you’re reducing the number of years you have to draw down on your savings. According to a 2014 report from the Social Security Administration, there are also major gains to be made with regard to social security—if you postpone collecting benefits until age 70, your yearly checks can be 8% larger than if you start collecting as early as possible, at age 62.11 But working longer is certainly easier said than done—according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute study, nearly half of retirees—48%—left the workplace sooner than planned, due to health problems, job loss, or other circumstances beyond their control.12 That’s why saving as much as you can now may be the best possible move you can make.
Supplement Social Security with another retirement paycheck.
Making your money last as long as you do can be done in a few ways. You can save as much as you’ll need over the years (we’ve covered that). You can invest the money in an effort to seek growth (we’ve covered that, too). But you can also hedge your bets by covering what you know will be your fixed costs in retirement with a retirement check. Social Security can take care of part of that. But if there’s a gap, you may want to consider filling it by converting some of your retirement nest egg into an annuity. An annuity is set up to provide you with a steady stream of income* which can help cover essentials.
Think of your financial planner like your doctor.
In other words, plan to go for regular check-ups (or check-ins) so you’ll always know where you stand with your money. People who have comprehensive financial plans in place have additional insight to help make better decisions, and an advisor can help you figure out how you’re progressing on the way towards reaching your goals. Talk to your financial planner about your IRA, annuity, 401(k), social security, and any other retirement savings vehicles you have, to ensure you’re making the most and spending the least when playing the long game.
Kathryn Tuggle contributed to this article.
*What is an annuity?
Annuities are long-term, tax-deferred investments designed for retirement. Variable annuities involve risks and may lose value. Earnings are taxable as ordinary income when distributed and may be subject to a 10% additional tax if withdrawn before age 59½. Optional benefits are available for an extra charge in addition to the ongoing fees and expenses of the variable annuity. Guarantees are backed by the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.
The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and individuals quoted and should not be construed as a recommendation or as complete.