Sometimes, saving for retirement seems an awful lot like going to the dentist. You worry about it a lot before you go. Then, you busy yourself with some extra brushing and flossing immediately preceding your visit. But after you finally succumb to a half-hour under the bright lights, your shiny and smooth teeth can make you feel somehow healthier.
A study released yesterday by the Hartford insurance company and MIT AgeLab quantified the retirement anxiety we all face. And no matter what we do to prepare, it never seems to be enough—especially in the years immediately preceding retirement. Women in particular seem to have a nagging little voice in their head telling them to plan more for retirement and scolding them if they haven't saved enough.
Both men's and women's top retirement concerns are health inflation, general inflation, and physical health decline, according to the telephone survey of 1,194 people between the ages of 45 and 74. Women were slightly more concerned than men about all three. In addition, women were significantly more apprehensive about outliving their assets and about money management difficulties. In fact, women were more concerned than men about every retirement risk asked about in the study except for one: something to do in retirement.
Many of women's retirement worries are founded. Women have lower incomes, longer lives, and a higher likelihood of being alone in retirement. But those fears need to be quelled in order to logically plan for retirement. "If you are too worried, you are paralyzed," says Stephanie Chappell, a financial gerontologist for the Hartford. The researchers offered some advice to help women ease their anxieties productively.
Assess what you have. Women need to find out how much Social Security they are getting on their own or from a spouse, what pensions benefits they are getting (also possible to get through a spouse), and how much other money they have invested.
Learn about investments. Women who don't understand investments need to educate themselves or get help from an employer or financial adviser. It helps if you can work out a plan to try to beat or, at the very least, keep up with inflation. You should also have a plan to spend down your assets in the most tax-efficient way.
Take care of you. Chappell advises women to take responsibility for their own retirement savings before helping other relatives financially. "It's like the oxygen mask on the plane," says Chappell. Women shouldn't leave retirement planning up to a spouse. They need to have a plan for the possibility of several years of retirement alone.
If those three steps should fail you, Chappell jokingly has one other piece of retirement advice for women: "Gerontologists always recommend the Demi Moore model of husband-picking, because you want to pick a much younger husband."