A Publication of WTVP

Make contingency plans now so you can be prepared if your fortunes reverse.

Women may now outnumber men in the workforce, but they still find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to long-term financial security. Research by Aon Hewitt finds that women contribute a smaller portion of their income to their retirement plans—just 6.9 percent, compared to men’s 7.6 percent—with fewer taking full advantage of employer matches. The average retirement account balance for women is thus only $59,300, compared to $100,000 for men.

If you are a woman who doesn’t feel as financially secure as you would like, here are three questions to ask yourself:

Question #1: Am I taking an active role in planning my financial future? If you have a partner who handles all the family’s finances, the answer to this question is “no.” No matter how financially savvy your mate may be, you should still take some responsibility for your money.

If you don’t have a financial plan, the time to start making one is now. Planning starts with setting both short-term (e.g., buying a house) and long-term (e.g., funding your retirement) goals, and working with a financial advisor to create a roadmap for achieving them. If you’re married, you and your spouse should make financial planning decisions together.

If you weren’t a finance major in college, a subscription to The New York Times or Kiplinger’s should keep you up-to-date on timely business issues. In addition, your financial advisor is a ready resource for any questions you may have.

Question #2: What is my current financial situation? Do you know your net worth? What about your total monthly income and expenses? How much are you investing each year in college and retirement funds?

If you aren’t sure, you’re not alone. A surprising number of women (and men, too) do not have a clear understanding of their overall financial position. But you should. Without it, you won’t know if you’re making progress toward your goals.

This knowledge will become even more critical should you be in a relationship that dissolves or if you become widowed. Stories of newly single women in financial crisis abound. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average woman’s family income falls by 37 percent after divorce. Widows can see their social security checks and pension income reduced by as much as 50 percent when their spouse dies. Your financial advisor can help you create contingency plans now, so you can be prepared should your fortunes reverse.

Question #3: How long do you plan to live? That’s a tough question for anyone to answer. But it’s an especially important consideration for women.

According to the Social Security Administration’s actuarial estimates, the average 40-year-old woman will live to be 82, compared to 78 for a man. That means a 40-year-old woman can expect to outlive her spouse by four years, which means her retirement income will need to stretch farther. Adding to the challenge, a Department of Labor report finds that women earn 19 percent less a year than men. Women also tend to choose safer, lower-return investments, resulting in smaller retirement funds. To avoid running out of money, you must learn the risks associated with your investments—including the risk of not accumulating sufficient savings for retirement.

After you answer these three questions, ask yourself (and your financial advisor) even more. Conducting financial research and seeking advice are good things; they tend to make disciplined investors who fare better in the long term than those with their heads in the sand. iBi

Lisa Affolter is a financial advisor and senior vice president of Commerce Brokerage Services, Inc.