May 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM ET
The "gender gap" in retirement savings may be explained, in part, by differing financial goals.
While the top financial priority for men is to "maintain lifestyle in retirement," for women, the number one goal is to "not become a financial burden to loved ones," according to a 2012-2013 study by Prudential. But putting family first can be a setback to accumulating savings.
Like many women looking toward retirement, entrepreneur Lorin Palmer says figuring out how to juggle family and personal finances has been an important lesson for her to learn over the years. Palmer, a 56-year-old funeral home owner in Sumter, South Carolina, finds making final arrangements for other families is instructive, underscoring the importance of ramping up planning for her own financial future.
"I have learned that in this business just as families preplan, they come in and they make funeral arrangements and they pay for them in advance. Likewise that same principle applies with retirement planning," Palmer says.
Palmer - the third generation in her family to own this funeral business - believes careful planning is critical not only for her own nest egg, but her son's financial future as well.
But like many women, she says staying on track hasn't been easy.
"I've been through a divorce. I've raised a son as a single parent. I have educated my son," she says. All of these milestones have taken a toll on her savings. Many more women face similar challenges.
A recent study by the State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at the American College found that about 64 percent of all women say that their family's needs are really impeding their ability to save for retirement and only 42 percent of women say they save a certain amount each month.
Since women generally make less money than men, how much money they'll be able to save is affected by those factors as well. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Labor Department, white women earn about 81 cents for every dollar white men earn. Black women earn 67 percent of what white men earn and Latino women earn only 60 percent.
Women also spend 12 years out of the workforce on average to care for their families, according to the American College study, further impacting their retirement savings. Caregiving for children and parents, possible layoffs, disability are all factors that can derail women's savings.
"We have to take a look at the things that could happen that would prevent the retirement date that you want, health issues, divorce, losing a family member," says financial advisor Deborah Breedlove with Ameriprise Financial. However, considering these issues early and how they could impact finances can encourage some women to start to save more. Breedlove says using 401(k)s, IRAs, Roth accounts and diversifying investments within those portfolios can help many clients reach their intended goals.
Palmer says she wishes she had saved more for retirement, but she realizes it's not too late. She believes she now has an effective plan in place. She is putting herself first, so she can leave a legacy for her son and her family.
Sharon Epperson is CNBC's personal finance correspondent.