No, your man is not your retirement plan. Tough words, I know. But, regardless how great your relationship is with the man in your life, recognize that there are three undeniable realities that make it critical that you be able to stand on your own two feet.
Three Undeniable Realities
First, the high unemployment and under-employment rate in the United States has hit men somewhat worse than it has hit women. That’s because the hardest hit sectors are manufacturing and construction, which are predominantly male. So having a man in your life is no longer the financial security it used to be. Besides, as we’ve pushed for gender equality, taking personal responsibility is part of being equal.
Next, roughly half of marriages in the United States result in divorce. (In 2009, 6.8 per thousand total population married, while 3.4 per thousand divorced, according to the CDC.) More precisely, the divorce rate for first marriages is 45-50%. Second marriages, 60-67%. Third marriages, 70-73%.
So figure out what your risk is. Frankly, anything above 0% is too high, because the devastation of divorce is bad enough. You don’t want to be financially unprepared as well. Look at it this way: the best thing you could be in this thought process … is wrong. Hopefully, you’ll never divorce. Hopefully yours will be one of the relationships that last until you’re both cruising in your Scooter Store Hoverounds® and there’s still plenty of money left behind for your kids to fight over.
The third undeniable reality is that the odds of you outliving your husband are pretty high, although on average only by 2 years (your age 85 compared to his 83). But one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past 90, and one out of every ten will live past age 95! So you don’t want to land on the wrong side of being prepared.
Do I wish any of this upon you? Absolutely not! But whatever her age, every woman needs to take financial responsibility for herself … regardless what she was taught, what her marital status is, or what she’s done with her finances to date.
The Girl Scout Solution
The solution to these three concerns is simple: to use the old Scout motto, this is one area where it’s best to “Be prepared.” It’s truly better to be safe than sorry.
My advice to you, single or married, is to always take care of your own finances as though you had to. Combine them where needed, but guarantee your part.
This holds true for you whatever your actual financial situation is. And it’s true regardless what Prince Charming myths you’re still carrying in your head if you’re single, divorced or widowed. If you do take financial responsibility for yourself and if Prince Charming does show up to “save you,” fine, but your dialog will be a very different one: you won’t be needy. And if he doesn’t show up, you won’t have to add elderly poverty to a disappointed heart.
The second piece of advice is to start saving as early as you can, and save as much as you can. The sooner you start, the better off you’ll be because you’ll reap the benefit of compound interest, or earning interest on interest.
However, it’s never too late to start saving. Keep in mind that you’ll be thrilled to have whatever you do save and invest, to supplement the Social Security you’ll collect. Every little bit takes you that much further from a survival existence.
Retirement Plan 9-1-1
If you are only waking up to this reality today, here are the steps I recommend. Become a student of your own financial health … as much as you are of your physical health. (Either one, without the other, will not portend aging happily and gracefully.)
First, understand what your exact financial situation is today. Figure out precisely how much you need each month to meet all your bills. Then figure out how much is coming in each month, net of taxes. If there is a shortfall, get into balance by either (1) trimming expenses, starting with the “bleeders” which are the little expenses you don’t even feel or see, or by (2) finding a way to increase your income. And once you are in balance, push yourself a little harder to free up at least a small amount to put towards savings.
Stash those savings in a risk-free, interest-bearing account where you cannot access them easily. Although interest rates are artificially low these days, and the threat of inflation is high, anything you accumulate is more than you’d have if you spent the money on chai or dinners with friends.
You’ll be surprised to find that saving money is an empowering habit. It feeds upon itself. As small as your initial contributions might be, you will start looking for more places to save or earn once you feel the power that comes from having control over your money … and your future.
And what if you are in a relationship with shared finances? How do you know how healthy it is? Well, how many of these questions can you answer with a hearty “Yes?” Add them up, and then decide.
• Are you both saving according to a retirement plan?
• Do you have similar attitudes towards savings and towards debt?
• Do you have similar long- and short-term financial goals?
• Are you both communicating the same money message to your children?
• Do you have a spending plan that you’ve both bought into and both follow?
• Do you already have an agreed-upon Plan B in case one of you loses your job?
• Are you able to make monthly payments without drama or arguments?
• Are you both comfortable with the other’s spending habits?
• Do you calmly discuss major purchases and decisions before they’re made?
• Do you share the management of investments and other financial affairs?
My Appeal to You
It’s so easy to keep sweeping the topic of retirement under the rug. But, trust me, the earlier you pull it back out and shine a bright light on it, the better off you’ll be.
It’s never too late to do something. Nor is it ever too early. Just be sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Women tend to be nurturers and caretakers. Recognize that you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
So start taking care of yourself today.
Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.
The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!