Editor's note: This story has been updated since it originally was published.
Women and men have the same financial opportunities (and risks), the same vehicles for saving, investing and borrowing, and are subject to the same rules. Yet their circumstances -- and their choices -- can be very different. This divide is particularly striking when it comes to preparing for retirement.
Because they have longer life expectancies, women will probably have to provide for themselves financially for more years of retirement than men will. Yet women tend to earn less than men and participate in the work force less steadily. As a result, they fall behind in income and job seniority, and they're less likely than men to participate fully in a retirement or profit-sharing plan sponsored by their employer.
In the 2009 Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, women were more likely to say they didn't know how much they need to save for retirement. They were less likely to say they were very confident that they would have enough money in retirement to cover basic expenses.
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But as women there's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. Women aren't victims. We're independent individuals who make decisions about our work, our lives and our family's lives that have financial consequences. Now that we know where we stand and what we're up against, there's plenty we can do to pump up our retirement kitty. Use the checklist below to identify the strategies you can take now.
Small amounts put aside when you're young grow into great gobs of cash when you're older. Take the case of two individuals -- one who saved $3,000 a year in an individual retirement account between the ages of 20 and 30 and then stopped, versus another who began saving at age 30 and faithfully contributed $3,000 each year until retirement at age 65. Assuming a 10% annual return, the worker who started saving earlier would accumulate more than $1.5 million compared with just over $900,000 for the worker who started later.
Sign up for your employer's retirement plan, and aim to contribute at least enough to qualify for any employer match. You can't afford to turn down free money. And never cash out your company plan if you switch jobs. Not covered by an employer plan? Open your own IRA or Roth IRA.
Allowing for calculated risk is important. Worried about preserving their assets, women often invest too timidly. No matter what your age, keep a portion of your investments in stocks. One rule of thumb is that the stock portion of your portfolio should equal 100 minus your age -- or 70% in the case of a 30-year-old, for example, or 50% for a 50-year-old.”
In a survey by Country Insurance & Financial Services, 49% of the mothers interviewed picked college as their top savings priority compared with 39% of fathers, who were more likely to choose retirement. Moms, the dads got it right on this one.
This applies to women who may have self-employment income or work part-time as well, even if it's a sideline job making crafts or working as a personal trainer. Depending on your situation, you can choose among a SEP IRA, a SIMPLE IRA or a solo 401(k).