As a financial coach, I choose to work specifically with women, because I know that women’s financial situations differ from men’s. I’m passionate about pay inequality, reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the investment gap. I also know that women think about and use their money differently than men do. But how do all of these things affect women’s lives and futures for the long term?
I recently spoke with Lisa Margeson, head of retirement client experience and communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. We talked about the findings in Merrill Lynch’s report, Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line. Based on the report findings and my conversation with Lisa, I’ll tell you why and how women need to plan for their futures differently than men do.
Women live longer
On average, women live at least 5 years longer than men do. This means that women will need more money and more healthcare. This also means that many women will end up single at the end of their lives, supporting themselves. By age 85, women outnumber men two to one and 81 percent of centenarians are women. Two-thirds of women hope to live to be 100 years old, but most of these women are also afraid of running out of money during that time. In addition, the average woman will have 39 percent higher health costs than the average man in retirement, paying an additional $194,000. That’s a lot of money.
What can you do about it?
Understand the savings vehicles that you have with respect to health saving. If you enroll in a high-deductible insurance plan, take advantage of the HSA (health savings account) that is offered for you. This account affords you triple tax savings because you put your money in pre-tax, it grows as an investment tax-free, and you can withdraw tax-free for qualifying healthcare expenses. You are eligible for an HSA on your own or through your employer, as long as you participate in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP).
Make sure you and your partner (if you have one) gets permanent life insurance while you’re still young and healthy. You should get at least enough to cover a mortgage (if you have one) and anything that you or your partner is responsible for paying for. This will financially protect either of you in the event of death. I’ll go into this more below, but you should also start saving early and save as much as you can for retirement throughout your life.
Women earn and save less
I’m sure you’ve heard of the wage gap. It means that on average, women earn 20 percent less than men for the same work. That gap gets much worse for women of color, some earning up to 50 percent less than men. And this wage gap doesn’t only affect women while they are working, it follows them throughout their lifetime by contributing to the investment gap.
Due to earning less, women are saving and investing less as well. This means that they accumulate less in their retirement accounts than men do. By earning less, you’re contributing less, your employer is matching less, and you’re earning less interest. By the time a woman reaches retirement age, she will have earned over $400,000 less than a man, even if she never stopped working for any reason.
What can you do about it?
First of all, negotiate your salary! Yes, the wage gap is not just the fault of women not negotiating their salary properly. However, negotiating for more money is one way to help close that gap, and a great way to make sure that you earn more over the course of your career. So, negotiate for more when you’re offered a new job, negotiate for more when you’re getting a raise or promotion, and always increase the amount you’re putting into retirement when your salary goes up.
According to Lisa, women’s number one regret around money is not investing more. Start investing for retirement as early as possible, and save as much as you can. It can be confusing at first, so don’t be afraid to talk about money and ask questions about investing. If your employer offers a retirement plan, they are required to provide a financial expert to answer questions about it. Set up a meeting with that expert once a year and make sure that you’re investing responsibly based on your retirement timeline. Keep that dialogue going and educate yourself as much as possible. The more confident you are about your financial knowledge, the more likely you are to take positive action.
Women’s careers are interrupted more often
The wage gap cannot be explained away by women taking time off to raise children, even though some people try to use that argument. However, women are still the primary caregiver in American households. Shockingly, women spend 44 percent of their lives out of the workforce for various reasons. Compare that to men, who spend only 28 percent of their adult lives out of the workforce.
This can look like taking time off to care for children or taking time off to care for a spouse or parent. This time off means women are losing income and losing time where they would otherwise be contributing money to their retirement. It can absolutely be detrimental to a woman’s future ability to support herself.
What can you do about it?
Plan for career interruptions early. Invest as much as possible from the beginning of your career, especially if you plan on having children. Even if you don’t plan to have children, you never know if your partner or another loved one will need your care later on. So, save earlier and save more, if you can.
Get clear on the financial implications and trade-offs that would come along with taking time off of work to be a caretaker. How will it affect you in the long run? Can you afford to take time off, or should you look into outsourcing that care? Can you decrease the amount of time that you’re working, rather than leaving the workforce entirely? It’s important to ask yourselves these kinds of questions so that you are as prepared as possible.
The moral of this report is that women’s lives play out differently than men’s, and that affects our financial wellness in big ways. We have to be aware of these differences and prepare for them. While we are trying to improve big things like the wage gap and investment gap, we must also take action in our own lives to ensure that we are taken care of.
This post was originally published on my Women@Forbes column.