Retirement

Five emotional roadblocks that crimp women's retirement

June 17, 2014 at 1:21 PM ET

The modern woman is well educated and more likely to be a key financial contributor, if not the main breadwinner, for her family than in previous decades.

However, despite earning more money and controlling more wealth, many women fail to adequately save for retirement. A recent study by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that only 29 percent of women made saving for retirement a priority in their financial lives.

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Intellectually, women know that it makes good financial sense to invest in their future. So what gets in the way? 

Often, the emotional side of money inhibits women from taking proactive steps to save for retirement. Here are five emotional roadblocks that can put a crimp in these plans:

1. Practicing an "everyone comes first" philosophy: Women are socialized and hardwired to take care of others and often put their family's needs before their own. This results in many women significantly underfunding their retirement accounts, as they are preoccupied with paying for their children's college educations, their elderly parents' day care or their partners' expensive hobbies.

It is not easy to say no to the ones you love, but keep in mind that there are student loans and insurance plans to cover college and health-care costs. There are no retirement loans. It is up to you to prioritize this area of your financial life. It does not have to be all or nothing. Simply put your needs in the mix with those of the kids, your partner and parents.

2. Believing the myth that "A man is the plan": In the 1950s, the best way for a woman to acquire wealth was to marry a rich man. This is no longer true. Four out of 10 women are the primary breadwinners for their families, and women are creating wealth in their own right, author Liza Mundy reports in her book, "The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family."

Despite these advances, some women still rely on meeting Mr. Right as a retirement strategy. 

Keep in mind that you may meet Mr. Right, but he may come with debt or decide to divorce you just as he enters his pre-retirement years. The sad truth is that a woman's income usually drops by 40 percent post-divorce, whereas a man's declines by 25 percent, according to "Family and Retirement: The Elephant in the Room," a study from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

The best strategy is to be financially responsible for your own retirement and proactive in funding that account, married or single. This way, if you find a relationship that is fulfilling and dreamy, you can enjoy it and not have to worry about relying on a man as your plan.

3. Getting sidetracked and sandwiched in: According to Family Caregiver Alliance, women are more likely than men to take time off from work to care for children and elderly parents. In addition, female caregivers spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than their male counterparts.

Whether it is a small child or an ill parent, this time away from work decreases a woman's earnings and derails retirement savings. 

There are no easy answers, as people are living longer and health-care costs are increasing annually. However, the best strategy is to be proactive and consider your options before quitting your job to care for others.

When it comes to children, take time to look for a solution that is best for the family but also for you and your future financial picture. Talk to your elderly parents, preferably before they become ill, and encourage them to sign up for long-term care insurance to help cover some of their anticipated health-care expenses, should they end up needing your support.

4. Lacking financial confidence: Only 7 percent of women are "very confident" in their ability to fully retire and live comfortably, according to the Transamerica Center retirement study. This lack of confidence permeates other areas of women's financial lives, too, and results in 49 percent of women staying awake at night worrying about becoming homeless and destitute in their old age, according to a study from Allianz called "Women, Money and Power Study: Empowered and Underserved."

The dilemma is that this worry does not always motivate women to increase their financial literacy. Without a good understanding of basic saving and investment strategies, it is challenging to adequately save for retirement.

Of course, there are solutions for these women. It's essential to make time to learn more about your finances. Find a financial advisor who is good with women and is willing to teach you the basics of good money management and investing. Finance may never be your passion, but similar to learning about good nutrition, knowing how to confidently invest for retirement is part of being a responsible adult.

5. Not controlling spending habits: The pressure on women to look beautiful and fashionable is strong in our society and costs women millions of dollars. The fashion industry is a multibillion-dollar business, and many women invest more in looking good than in their 401(k) plans.

InStyle magazine reported that the average woman spends $15,000 on makeup during her lifetime. Just imagine if a woman who just turned 21 put that exact amount into a retirement account earning 5 percent annually. If she kept the money in the account until she was 65, she would have saved in excess of $128,000 — without adding a cent. 

Most women want to wear makeup, but the real question is about how much you need to spend to look good. If you are spending big bucks on beauty products and clothing, take a moment to think about how these expenditures might impact your financial security in the long run.

To cut down on overspending and keep long-term savings goals in mind, attach a picture of your ideal retirement location or activity to your credit card. Enlist the support of a financial adviser to support you in reaching your savings goals, and just say no to that new, expensive leather handbag.

Being a woman in today's world is both exciting and complicated. Make sure you understand the emotional roadblocks in your way when it comes to planning for retirement, and work diligently to remove them.

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including "How to Give Financial Advice to Women" and "How to Give Financial Advice to Couples." Follow Kingsbury on Twitter at @KBKSpeaks.

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