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Women: How to Slay Your Money Dragons at Any Age

Mercer Advisors

Sep 8, 2022

Summary

Our female advisors discuss best practices for gaining financial independence through the various phases of a woman’s life.

When it comes to finances, women have a spate of distinct variables to contend with beyond just the pay gap, such as women living longer and women tending to take more breaks from the workforce. The median gender pay gap for women is 82 cents to every white man’s dollar, and the divide is far greater along racial lines—Hispanic women earn 52 cents on that dollar, Indigenous women earn 58 cents, Black women earn 61 cents, white women earn 75 cents, and Asian American women earn 86 cents1. This means that a woman could potentially earn $1,000,000 less than a man over her entire career. But because women tend to live longer than men, the long horizon for living off retirement savings takes on even more importance.

Regardless of the variables that women experience, there are plenty of ways to focus on personal finance solutions to ensure you can have the financial confidence you need throughout your life. We spoke with successful wealth advisors to reveal how to create fiscal fabulousness throughout various life stages. Read on to uncover how to slay your money dragons from your 20s to your 70s and beyond.

 

20s

  • Invest now and regularly, even with a small amount. When it comes to investing, your time horizon (how long you’re in the market) is imperative. A small investment made in your 20s can grow exponentially over decades due to compound interest. For this reason, says Associate Financial Planner Grace Bossert, “The younger you start investing, the more time your investments will have to grow throughout your lifetime. Set some money aside to invest each month, whether it’s $10 or $1,000.” You can also invest directly into a savings or brokerage account from your paycheck. Even $10 per month can add up, especially with compound interest at work.
  • ‘Investing’ means putting money into the stock market—not in your savings account. “Women are more likely to leave their savings in cash,” says Bossert, because they are often less confident investors than men. “It is important to invest in the market to add a buffer against inflation,” she emphasizes. Determine how much you need on hand for emergency cash reserves before investing another portion in a variety of securities based on your investment time horizon and objectives.
  • Make paying off debt a priority. Organize all your debt by APR and pay down the highest percentages first. You might also want to call your credit card companies and request a lower rate—it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

30s

  • Max out your 401(k). Did you know that you can save $20,500 from your paycheck in 2022? That means pre-tax dollars are working for you, and you don’t pay taxes until you cash out. If your company matches your contributions, you’re well on your way to slaying those money dragons. “Maxing is the goal for your 30s,” says Managing Director Laura Combs.
  • Save additional funds in a brokerage account—not a retirement account. While it’s important to save for retirement in your 30s, it’s also important to set money aside for emergencies. Liquidating funds from retirement accounts for an emergency before age 59½ will decimate savings with hefty tax rates, so use your emergency savings in an account not bound by retirement tax regulations.
  • Make a will. “Whether you have kiddos or not, get a will,” says Combs. “This is something people put off because it’s a heavy conversation, but especially if you’ve got a family, make sure a will and other documents like a power of attorney or a trust are a part of your estate plan.” Also review your insurance coverage and ensure your accounts have beneficiary designations. If you invest in cryptocurrency, verify that your beneficiaries have access to your proprietary phrases, login information, and digital wallet addresses.
  • Rethink your budget. You may be making two or three times more than you did in your 20s. Have you increased your savings accordingly, or are you spending that money? Consider a financial plan.
  • Negotiate and increase your salary. “Your boss can’t read your mind,” says Combs. “Advocate for yourself and what you are worth.” While it might be scary to discuss salary, most of the battle is simply asking. You’d be surprised how often you can receive a salary increase by inquiring. Tech industry veteran Haseeb Qureshi has a wealth of great content to consider during salary negotiations, including “Ten Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer” and “How Not to Bomb Your Offer Negotiation.” While these might be written from the vantage of a male who works at a cryptocurrency venture fund about former negotiations at Airbnb, his advice is critical for any gender in any industry. While created for an audience of UX designers, the YouTube video “Salary Negotiation for Designers” with Hang Xu also provides excellent negotiation strategies and context for additional resources, including the Business Insider article, “The first big career choice you make can haunt you for years — and cost you $1 million” and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation blog archives.
  • Get independent. It’s important to have your own money set aside. Whether you’re single or married, it’s wise to establish an account in your name that others can’t access. Focus on strengthening the credit rating solely in your name—independent from your spouse, if you’re married—and check your Experian or Equifax credit reports monthly to review areas for improvement.

 

40s

  • Continue to get financially independent. “Women in their 40s are in a very important decade when it comes to financial planning,” says Senior Wealth Advisor Andra Reason. “Women are earning more, but kids are getting more expensive. Strive for financial independence from your partner.” If you are married, create plan scenarios as both partnered and single (in the case of divorce or death of your partner).
  • Budget—and be selfish. “Ensure you are on the right track for the cash flow you will need in retirement,” says Reason. “The most common goals for the women I talk to are paying off the mortgage, education, and future weddings for kids. We tend to focus on others. This is the time to make sure you are prepared for retirement—generally, if you have three times your current salary saved at 40, you are most likely in a good position to be funding other goals.”

 

50s

  • Plan, plan, and plan more. If you still haven’t created a financial plan, make it a priority. “Women in their 50s typically experience several significant life transitions,” says Senior Wealth Advisor Kalita Blessing. “Often it is not the transition that is daunting, but the layering of several family transitions at once (preparing to send kids to college, dealing with the care of aging parents, and downsizing the home after the kids leave the nest).” Having a financial plan can help navigate these forks in the road—consider 529 plans for college savings and ensure that college costs are reimbursed from the plans in the calendar year expenses were incurred.
  • Consider the future for your aging parents. Evaluate potential health expenses of aging parents. Since women of the family often become the caregivers of their parents, create a plan for contingencies such as dementia and other health issues, and review long-term care policies.

 

60s

  • Make an “A” plan for your retirement age—with “B” and “C” contingencies, just in case. “The pandemic, current market downturn, and inflation have seen millions of women reconsider retirement,” says Senior Wealth Advisor Kathleen Miller. Your 60s are a time when you will likely experience some major life changes, so you will need to plan for the unknown.
  • Revisit the plan you made in your 50s. Are you on track? Miller asks, “Are you employed, divorced, a caregiver of elderly parents, or a babysitter for your grandchildren? Write a summary of life choices, responsibilities, and dreams for this next chapter.” Begin by updating your net worth statement and reassess whether you have enough assets to retire comfortably, travel, or pursue other endeavors. Account for rising inflation rates for each year and evaluate your risk tolerance. You might want to be invested in equities that pay dividends, are fixed income-based, and less growth-oriented.
  • Consider how and when to collect Social Security. It might be sound to consider whether to delay collecting Social Security or taking distributions from your retirement funds.
  • Create an Advanced Health Care Directive. It’s important to plan for the unknown. “Have an updated will, review your beneficiary designations for retirement and insurance, and have fun,” says Miller. She recommends Five Wishes, the nation’s only national advance care planning program.
  • Consider resources for unexpected tragedies. The above sobering statistic holds that three out of four women will find themselves widowed and/or single later in life. If your financial plan did not account for this, many resources are available such as the Hope for Widows Foundation, which provides grants to new widows. Refer to a comprehensive Credit Review article for more information on debt resolution, paying for funeral costs, claiming 50% of your partner’s social security benefit, benefits for military widows, and more.

 

70s and beyond

  • Consider the three pillars: security, estate planning, and assets. “At 70, we see wrinkles, gray hair, and extra pounds,” says Senior Lead Advisor Judith McGee. “We are survivors; we are women aged like classic cars or fine wines. Many of us are grandmothers and proud of our children. Financial planning is multi-dimensional because we not only care for our family, but our own well-being. Some women have enough money to live well, while others worry about their money running out.” McGee expounds:
    • Consider general security issues first. The most important considerations are healthcare, Medicare coverage, housing, and support. While support can come from family, financial planning should provide enough assets and insurance for any contingency.
    • The second pillar is estate planning. Review all beneficiaries and estate documents every three years. A living trust is recommended, especially for single women, as it will provide financial and other legal authority as well as avoid probate.
    • Pillar three is prudent management of financial assets such as personal property, real estate, retirement funds, personal investment accounts, and cash. Ensure that your investments still align with your risk tolerance and your cash flow needs.
  • Consider “general security issues,” specifically Medicare coverage. As Medicare is complex and difficult to navigate, Mercer Advisors now offers clients assistance through a partnership with Chapter. Chapter allows users to compare roughly 24,000 Medicare coverage plans based on their healthcare providers, medications, geography, and other health profile information; or to consult with dedicated advisors for more help. Clients will not incur additional fees for using Chapter’s Medicare offering through Mercer Advisors.

While financial independence is a moving target throughout various cycles of a woman’s life, strong knowledge of tactics from Mercer Advisors wealth advisors can help create financial security at any age. Whether you’re a recent college graduate or nearing retirement, we hope our advice can help you slay your own money dragons.

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Mercer Advisors Inc. is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

Mercer Advisors is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice to clients. All estate planning document preparation and other legal advice are provided through Advanced Services Law Group, Inc.

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