A young woman executive in a financial meeting

Women, Don’t Retire Without…

A practical financial checklist for the future.

 

When our parents retired, living to 75 amounted to a nice long life and Social Security was often supplemented by a pension. How different things are today!

 

The good news is that life expectancy for women – as measured by the Centers for Disease Control – is now 81.1 years. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 65- year-old woman today will live to age 86. 1,2

 

Given these projections, it appears that a retirement of 20 years or longer might be in your future.

 

Are you prepared for a 20-year retirement? How about a 30- or 40-year retirement? Don’t laugh, it could happen: the SSA projects that about 25% of today’s 65-year- olds will live past 90, with approximately 10% living to be older than 95. 2

 

How do you begin? How do you draw retirement income off of what you’ve saved, and how could you create other possible income streams? How do you try and protect your retirement savings and other financial assets?

 

Talking with a financial professional – a female financial professional – may give you some good ideas. You want an advisor who walks your walk, who understands the particular challenges that many women face in saving for retirement (time out of the workforce due to childcare or eldercare, maintaining financial equilibrium in the wake of divorce or death of a spouse).

 

As you have that conversation, you can focus on some of the must-haves.

 

You should plan your investing. Many women (and men) retire with a random collection of investments, and no real strategy. Some are big on “chasing the return” – assuming risk they really shouldn’t in pursuit of a double-digit yield. Others are very risk-averse, so fearful of what stocks might do that they stay out of the market entirely – and in the current low interest rate environment, that represents an easy way to fall behind and lose purchasing power to inflation.

 

You need a middle ground. When you are in your fifties, for example, you have less time to make back any big investment losses than you once did. So protecting what you have is a priority. At the same time, the possibility of a 15-, 20-, or even 30- or 40-year retirement means you have to keep a foot, if not both feet, in some kind of growth investing. Your initial retirement nest egg has to keep growing.

 

You should look at long term care coverage. It is an extreme generalization to say that men die sudden deaths and women die lingering ones; however, women often have longer average life expectancies than men and can require weeks, months or years of eldercare. Medicare is no substitute for LTC insurance; it only pays for 100 days of nursing home care, and only if you get skilled care and enter a nursing home right after a hospital stay of 3 or more days. Long term care coverage can provide a huge financial relief if and when the need for LTC arises. 3

 

Claim those Social Security benefits carefully. If your career and health permit, delaying Social Security  is a wise move for single women. If you wait until full retirement age to claim your benefits, you could receive 30-40% larger Social Security payments as a result. For every year you wait to claim Social Security, your monthly payments get about 8% larger. 4

 

Married women can look at spousal claiming strategies such as the “file and suspend” approach and claiming spousal benefits first. This may help to maximize the Social Security benefits you and your spouse receive.

 

Above all, retire with a plan. Have a financial professional who sees retirement through your eyes help you define it on your terms, with a wealth management approach designed for the long term.

 

1 – http://cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_06.pdf

2 – http://ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.htm

3 – http://medicare.gov/coverage/skilled-nursing-facility-care.html

4 – http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2012/04/02/what-older-workers-dont-know-about-social-security

THE RETIREMENT REALITY CHECK

Little things to keep in mind for life after work.

Decades ago, there was a popular book entitled What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. Perhaps someday, another book will appear to discuss certain aspects of the retirement experience that go unrecognized – the “fine print”, if you will. Here are some little things that can be frequently overlooked.

How will you save in retirement? More and more baby boomers are retiring with the hope that they can become centenarians. That may prove true thanks to healthcare advances and generally healthier lifestyles.

We all save for retirement; with our increasing longevity, we will also need to save in retirement for the (presumed) decades ahead. That means more than budgeting; it means investing with growth and tax efficiency in mind year after year.

Could your cash flow be more important than your savings? While the #1 retirement fear is someday running out of money, your income stream may actually prove more important than your retirement nest egg. How great will the income stream be from your accumulated wealth?

There’s a longstanding belief that retirees should withdraw about 4% of their savings annually. This “4% rule” became popular back in the 1990s, thanks to an influential article written by a financial advisor named Bill Bengen in the Journal of Financial Planning. While the “4% rule” has its followers, the respected economist William Sharpe (one of the minds behind Modern Portfolio Theory) dismissed it as simplistic and an open door to retirement income shortfalls in a widely cited 2009 essay in the Journal of Investment Management. 1

Volatility is pronounced in today’s financial markets, and the relative calm we knew prior to the last recession may take years to return. Because of this volatility, it is hard to imagine sticking to a hard-and- fast withdrawal rate in retirement – your annual withdrawal percentage may need to vary due to life and market factors.

What will you begin doing in retirement? In the classic retirement dream, every day feels like a Saturday. Your reward for decades of work is 24/7 freedom. But might all that freedom leave you bored?

Impossible, you say? It happens. Some people retire with only a vague idea of “what’s next”. After a few months or years, they find themselves in the doldrums. Shouldn’t they be doing something with all that time on their hands?

A goal-oriented retirement has its virtues. Purpose leads to objectives, objectives lead to plans, and plans can impart some structure and order to your days and weeks – and that can help cure retirement listlessness.

Will your spouse want to live the way that you live? Many couples retire with shared goals, but they find that their ambitions and day-to-day routines differ. Over time, this dissonance can be aggravating. A conversation or two may help you iron out potential conflicts. While your spouse’s “picture” of retirement will not simply be a mental photocopy of your own, the variance in retirement visions may surprise you.

When should you (and your spouse) claim Social Security benefits? “As soon as possible” may not be the wisest answer. An analysis is needed. Talk with the financial professional you trust and run the numbers. If you can wait and apply for Social Security strategically, you might realize as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetimes.

1 – http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0523/investing-retirement-bill-bengen-savings-spending-solution.html

Getting Your Household Cash Flow Back Under Control

Developing a better budgeting process may be the biggest step toward that goal.

Where does your money go? If you find yourself asking that question from time to time, it may relate to cash flow within your household. Having a cash flow management system may be instrumental in restoring some financial control.

It is harder for a middle-class household to maintain financial control these days. If you find yourself too often living on margin (i.e., charging everything) and too infrequently with adequate cash in hand, you aren’t the only household feeling that way. Some major economic trends really have made it more challenging for households with mid-five-figure incomes. By many economic standards, today’s middle class has it harder than the middle class of generations past. Some telling statistics point to this…

*In 81% of U.S. counties, the median income is lower today than it was in 1999. Even though we are in a recovery, much of the job growth in the past few years has occurred within the service and retail sectors. (The average full-time U.S. retail worker earns less than $25,000 annually.)

*Between 1989 and 2014, the American economy grew by 83% (adjusting for inflation) with no real wage growth for middle-class households.

*In the early 1960s, General Motors was America’s largest employer. Its average full-time worker at that time earned the (inflation-adjusted) equivalent of $50 an hour, plus benefits. Wal-Mart now has America’s largest workforce; it pays its average sales associate less than $10 per hour, sometimes without benefits. 1,2

Essentially, the middle class must manage to do more with less – less inflation-adjusted income, that is. The need for budgeting is as essential as ever.

Much has been written about the growing “wealth gap” in the U.S., and that gap is very real. Less covered, but just as real, is an Achilles-heel financial habit injuring middle-class stability: a growing reliance on expensive money. As Money-Zine.com noted not long ago, U.S. consumer debt amounted to 7.3% of average household income in 1980 but 13.4% of average household income in 2013. 3

So how can you make life more affordable? Budgeting is an important step. It promotes reliance on cash instead of plastic. It defines expenses, underlining where your money goes (and where it shouldn’t be going). It clears up what is hazy about your finances. It demonstrates that you can be in command of your money, rather than letting your money command you.

Budget for that vacation. Save up for it by spending much less on the “optionals”: coffee, cable, eating out, memberships, movies, outfits.

Buy the right kind of car & do your cash flow a favor. Many middle-class families yearn to buy a new car (a depreciating asset) or lease a new car (because they want to be seen driving a better car than they can actually afford). The better option is to buy a lightly used car and drive it for several years, maybe even a decade. Unglamorous? Maybe, but it should leave you less indebted. It may be a factor that can help you to…

Plan to set some cash aside for an emergency fund. According to a recent Bankrate survey, about a quarter of U.S. households lack one. Imagine how much better you would feel knowing you have the equivalent of a few months of salary in reserve in case of a crisis. Again, you can budget to build it – a little at a time, if necessary. The key is to recognize that a crisis will come someday; none of us are fully shielded from the whims of fate. 3

Don’t risk living without medical & dental coverage. You probably have both, but some middle-class households don’t. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, 108 million Americans lack dental insurance. Workers for even the largest firms may find premiums, out-of- pocket costs and coinsurance excessive. This isn’t something you can go without. If your employer gives you the option of buying your own insurance, it could be a cheaper solution. At any rate, some serious household financial changes may need to occur so that you are adequately insured. 3

Budgeting for the future is also important. A recent Gallup poll found that about 20% of Americans have no retirement savings. You have to wonder: how many of these people might have accumulated a nest egg over the years by steadily directing just $50 or $100 a month into a retirement plan? Budgeting just a little at a time toward that very important priority could promote profound growth of retirement savings thanks to investment yields and tax deferral. 3

Turning to the financial professional you know and trust for input may help you to develop a better budgeting process – and beyond the present, the saving and investing you do today and tomorrow may help you to one day become the (multi-)millionaire next door.

Citations.

1 – http://washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/12/why-americas-middle-class-is-lost

2 – http://tinyurl.com/knr3e78

3 – http://wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/7-things-the-middle-class-cant-afford-anymore.html/?a=viewall

Why Women Are Prepared for Financial Success?

We have the ability to excel financially; it is a matter of shifting our outlook.

Statistics don’t mean everything. Read enough about women and money online, and you will run across numbers indicating that women finish a distant second to men in saving and investing. Only 42% of women save a specific amount money each month for retirement, the State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at the American College finds. Aon Hewitt says that the average 401(k) balance for a man at the end of 2012 was about $100,000, while it was only about $59,300 for a woman. And so forth. 1,2

Depressing? Well, consider that you can be the exception. (Maybe you are right now.) You may already have the discipline and patience central to smart investing and saving.

Is making a household work all that different from making your money work for you? You may or may not have to broaden your skill set a bit to save and invest well for retirement; chances are, though, you already have some abilities you can draw on effectively.

The latest edition of Prudential’s “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women” study (2010-2011) shows that 54% of women either feel “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about financial products. The previous edition of the study noted that 95% of women are financial decision makers within their households, with 84% of the married women surveyed solely or jointly in charge of household finances. 3

Given that level of participation and control over household finances, is it such a stretch to believe many women could become equally financially literate in their understanding of stocks, bonds, commodities, and insurance? It isn’t a stretch, especially when you think about how much good financial knowledge is out there, some of it free of charge.

Most household financial decisions are short-term decisions. They are geared toward this month or this year, and often relate to cash flow management or debt management. The simplest step toward financial freedom for many women – perhaps the most valuable step – may be moving from a short-term financial outlook to a long-term financial outlook.

Think about becoming the “millionaire next door.” In many cases in this country, wealth is grown slowly and steadily. We all dream of a windfall, but usually individuals amass $1 million or more through a variety of factors: ongoing investment according to a consistent financial strategy, the compounding of assets/savings over time, business or professional success, and perhaps even inherited wealth.

When the focus moves from “how do we make it work this month” to “how do we make moves in pursuit of our financial goals”, the whole outlook on the meaning and purpose of money begins to change. What should money do for you? What purpose should it have in your life? What can you do to make it work harder for you, so that you might not have to work as hard in the future?

Women have the wisdom, prudence and patience to make superb investors. Understanding the financial world is ultimately a matter of learning its “language” and precepts, which will quickly seem less arcane with education. Today, do yourself a money favor and ask to talk with a female financial professional who can help you define long-term and lifetime financial goals and direct some of your money in pursuit of them.

1 – http://www.cnbc.com/id/100732440

2 – http://blogs.marketwatch.com/encore/2013/08/14/401k-gender- gap-is- bigger-than- pay-gap/

3 – http://prudential.com/media/managed/Womens_Study_Final.pdf

financially independent woman

It’s All in Your Hands

A Post-Divorce Action Plan

You have just gone through one of the most challenging and difficult periods that a woman can experience in her life – a divorce. While many things may still be in up in the air, one aspect of your life that you should make sure you’re in control is your finances.

Financial planning for divorced women is not that much different than financial planning for married couples. Several basic elements are the same. However, the differences offer both good news and bad news. The good news: you can make plans and decisions based solely on your needs and goals. There won’t be miscommunication or conflicting ideas. The bad news: it’s all in your hands. Any mistakes will be your own and a poor decision can’t be salvaged by the income or assets of a partner.

The following post-divorce action plan offers a few things worth considering:

One way to counter the bad news is to find a trusted professional to seek advice from.

After a divorce, friends are often split between spouses. Financial representatives can be the same way. If you lost yours in the divorce or never had one to begin with, it’s a good time to consider finding a professional who can help you make sound financial decisions for your new life.

To find one, start simply. Ask friends or acquaintances who it was that helped them when they went through a divorce. The attorney who handled your divorce may also be a good source for a referral. It’s important to have someone help you who has previously assisted or – best of all – who specializes in helping divorced women.

Selecting the right financial professional for you is a critical step. After all, this person will be helping you with the important financial decisions you now have to face.

Long-term care insurance may become even more important post-divorce.

Long-term care policies are designed to cover the costs of care if you are unable to care for yourself because of age or if you become ill or disabled. Long-term care is especially important for women because they typically pay more for it than men do. The reason is simple: women typically live longer than men and usually require longer care during those additional years.1

A woman’s retirement is usually more expensive than a man’s.

The reason that women usually need long-term care insurance more than men is the same reason that retirement income planning for women may be more important. Women live – on average – 5 to 10 years longer than men. Eighty-five percent of people over 100 are women.2 This means a woman’s retirement savings must, on average, be stretched out over a larger number of years.

While, in general, retirement planning for a single person is easier in many ways than for a couple, remember … you can no longer rely on a spouse’s financial resources if a mistake is made. It’s important to review your social security estimates, any pensions you have and your retirement assets. You can then compare that to the kind of lifestyle you would like to have during retirement.

Because retirement may be more expensive, you may want to make an employer-sponsored retirement plan a larger deciding factor in any job search. Also, you may decide that you must retire at a later date than you had originally planned.

Update your beneficiaries and consider using a trust to help manage your assets. People often forget to update the beneficiaries of their life insurance and retirement accounts after a divorce. If not changed, your ex-husband may stand to inherit a large portion of your assets. Also, the estate laws give certain breaks to married couples that are not available to a single person. Establishing the proper type of legal trust may be a way to pass along more of your assets to your heirs, rather than to the IRS.

Finally, after you have moved on from your divorce there may come a time when you consider remarriage. It’s important that you understand the financial effects this may have. If you were married longer than 10 years you may be collecting or entitled to 50% of your ex-husband’s social security benefit. If you remarry you will no longer have that right. While you will become entitled to your new husband’s benefit, you must know if your new husband’s benefit will be lower or higher, and how that will affect your retirement.

Remarriage can also lead to blended families, blended assets and blended income. Your new husband may have his own family from a previous relationship. A financial professional can help the two of you prepare for this blending that satisfies the financial needs of each of you, as well as your new family.

While it’s all in your hands, partnering with a financial professional can help you move on to the next phase of your life with a more solid plan for your financial future.

1. http://www.wife.org/long-term-health-care.htm
2. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1827162,00.html

4 Money Blunders That Could Leave You Poorer

A “not-to- do” list for the new year & years to follow.

How are your money habits? Are you getting ahead financially, or does it feel like you are  running in place?

It may come down to behavior. Some financial behaviors promote wealth creation, while others lead to frustration. Certainly other factors come into play when determining a household’s financial situation, but behavior and attitudes toward money rank pretty high on the list.

How many households are focusing on the fundamentals? Late in 2014, the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) surveyed 2,000 adults from the 10 largest U.S. metro areas and found that 64% wanted to make at least one financial resolution for 2015.

The top three financial goals for the new year: building retirement savings, setting a budget, and creating a plan to pay off debt. 1

All well and good, but the respondents didn’t feel so good about their financial situations.

About one-third of them said the quality of their financial life was “worse than they expected it to be.” In fact, 48% told NEFE they were living paycheck-to- paycheck and 63% reported facing a sudden and major expense last year. 1

Fate and lackluster wage growth aside, good money habits might help to reduce those percentages in 2015. There are certain habits that tend to improve household finances, and other habits that tend to harm them. As a cautionary note for 2016, here is a “not-to- do” list – a list of key money blunders that could make you much poorer if repeated over time.

Money Blunder #1: Spend every dollar that comes through your hands. Maybe we should ban the phrase “disposable income.” Too many households are disposing of money that they could save or invest. Or, they are spending money that they don’t actually have (through credit

You have to have creature comforts, and you can’t live on pocket change. Even so, you can vow to put aside a certain number of dollars per month to spend on something really important: YOU. That 24-hour sale where everything is 50% off? It probably isn’t a “once in a lifetime” event; for all you know, it may happen again next weekend. It is nothing special compared to your future.

Money Blunder #2: Pay others before you pay yourself. Our economy is consumer-driven and service-oriented. Every day brings us chances to take on additional consumer debt. That works against wealth. How many bills do you pay a month, and how much money is left when you are done? Less debt equals more money to pay yourself with – money that you can save or invest on behalf of your future and your dreams and priorities.

Money Blunder #3: Don’t save anything. Paying yourself first also means building an emergency fund and a strong cash position. With the middle class making very little economic progress in this generation (at least based on wages versus inflation), this may seem hard to accomplish. It may very well be, but it will be even harder to face an unexpected financial burden with minimal cash on hand.

The U.S. personal savings rate has averaged about 5% recently. Not great, but better than the low of 2.6% measured in 2007. Saving 5% of your disposable income may seem like a challenge, but the challenge is relative: the personal savings rate in China is 50%. 2

Money Blunder #4: Invest impulsively. Buying what’s hot, chasing the return, investing in what you don’t fully understand – these are all variations of the same bad habit, which is investing emotionally and trying to time the market. The impulse is to “make money,” with too little attention paid to diversification, risk tolerance and other critical factors along the way. Money may be made, but it may not be retained.

Make 2016 the year of good money habits. You may be doing all the right things right now and if so, you may be making financial strides. If you find yourself doing things that are halting your financial progress, remember the old saying: change is good. A change in financial behavior may be rewarding.

Citations.

1 – http://denverpost.com/smart/ci_27275294/financial-resolutions-2015-four-ways-help-yourself-keep

2 – http://tennessean.com/story/money/2014/12/31/tips-getting-financially-fit/21119049/

Many women feel they don’t know enough…

…to make smart financial decisions

They assume they must understand every aspect of their investments and financial plan in order to make a decision. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all delegate to professionals who have an expertise that we don’t have the time or the inclination to perfect, the same holds true with your financial life. While we do not suggest you simply “blindly” trust any professional you work with the reality is you do not have to know how to build the clock you just need to know how the clock works and can impact your life.

Retired Women Enjoying Her Garden

The Secret to Becoming a Smart & Savvy Woman

Here are 5 Important steps in becoming a Smart & Savvy Woman:

  1. Define your purpose — Work with an Advisor who can help you define your purpose and what you truly want your money to do for you.
  2. Trust your intuition — Trust your intuition. It worked for you in the past, so trust it. If the chemistry is not there, keep searching.
  3. Rely on your strengths — Rely on your strengths as a woman when selecting your Advisor and making financial decisions.
  4. Have a process — Work with an Advisor who has a process that works for you as a woman.
  5. Don’t settle for less — Don’t settle for less than you deserve.

Remember, your money is a tool to live by and use to create a purposeful life that gives you tremendous satisfaction and adds value to the world.