My Sister's Retirement

Women think and operate very differently from men. Some believe that we are from different planets. Financially speaking, men and women travel through life in entirely different stratospheres. Men breathe the rarified air of high earners. Men have titles, promotion, privilege, and perks – kind of like royalty. Men have rich retirement plans. Women have good dancing genes.

When it comes to retirement, men are on a supersonic rocket ship. Women are on a stagecoach (and that’s only after feeding and cleaning up after the horses). Women need to take a very different approach to retirement planning from men, because women have a very different experience in retirement. Women live longer in retirement with far fewer resources. Women have much less in savings and smaller retirement plans.

The four Strong sisters personify the experience of women and retirement. The Strong sisters, Wanda, Debbie, Marilyn and Sara, sometimes remind me of my own sisters.

Wanda is widowed. Her husband died when she was just fifty-six. He left her with a small life insurance policy and a big mortgage. Wanda is putting two kids through college and has been the primary care-taker of her husband’s parents. Wanda has no retirement plan.

Debbie is divorced. She lives alone in her own home. She is a contract artist who does faux finishes on surfaces. The paint has given Debbie asthma, and she has difficulty working. If Debbie doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. Debbie has managed to save a little in an IRA, but she had to let her health insurance go. Debbie’s husband remarried a year after their divorce.

Marilyn is married. She is a stay-at-home mom whose husband is the CEO of a mid-size engineering company. Marilyn has no retirement plan of her own, but her husband has a 401(k) plan, a profit-sharing plan, a deferred compensation plan, an insurance retirement plan paid for by the company and a defined benefit pension plan. Marilyn’s home is nearly paid off.

Sara is still single (after all these years). She works at a large corporation. Sara has good benefits but is not in line for any promotions. She owns a condo and lives alone. Because she pays all her own household expenses, Sara has very little left over for her 401(k). Sara occasionally looks out the window for Prince Charming, especially on days when she pays her bills.

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