Women are living longer than ever, and Utah women are especially healthy, it seems. While this is a trend to celebrate, there is also a downside to living to be 90 or 100.
We are going to outlive our money."I've got to get this message out to as many people as I can reach," says Marilyn Oerter. Oerter is a financial planner with First Capital Life Insurance Co. When she gives seminars around the country, she talks about her own family, and she talks about fear.
"When my aunt and uncle were married, they lived high," Oerter says. Her aunt enjoyed travel, nice clothes, new cars. "But when my uncle passed away, all that was impossible.
"The house wasn't even paid for when he died." Her uncle left no pension, she says. Her aunt had never worked outside the home. Now the elderly woman depends entirely on Social Security.
Her daughters come to visit her, Oerter says, but no one else is invited. The aunt doesn't want other relatives to see her reduced circumstances. Oerter says, "She hasn't the money to get her teeth fixed. She still has that pride and she won't accept help even from her own children."
Unlike her aunt, Oerter worked outside the home for most of her life. Like her aunt, however, she had no pension plan of her own, because she changed jobs too frequently and worked for small firms that didn't offer such benefits.
Oerter counted on her husband. She knew that to retire at a comfortable level they would need about 75 percent of his salary to live on.
He worked for a Fortune 500 company and had a great pension plan. Oerter felt safe knowing they'd have 70 percent of his salary in a retirement pension - and their Social Security benefits on top of that.
However, nine years ago, when her husband was 50, his company was sold. He and thousands of others lost their jobs. She lost the dream house they had just built. She also lost her sense of security about retirement.
Oerter says her husband hasn't found a permanent job since the layoff. "We expect to get about 20 percent of what we were counting on from his pension."After each speech she gives, scores of women come forth to confide their financial woes. Oerter has come to realize that even had her husband kept his job, her retirement might not have been as rosy as she'd planned.
One problem is that half of all marriages end in divorce. But even women who are married at the time their husbands retire tend to live comfortably for only a few years.
Eventually, statistics tell us, their husbands die. Then the widow will get none or only a fraction of his pension plan. And the longer she lives the more inflation will ravage her monthly income.
Salt Lake financial planner Mark Van Wagoner reports that the average annual income for women over 65 is $6,300. Men get more than $10,000 a year.
Women obviously need their own pension plans. And they should be taking full advantage of a 401K plan, if their employer offers one, as a pension supplement. But they can't rely totally on a pension.
"A person shouldn't rely just on Social Security, either," says local financial planner Nancy Mitchell.
Mitchell (and Oerter, and many other financial planners, too) like to use the analogy of a three-legged stool. If you've got all three legs underneath you, you've got a solid seat for retirement.
One leg of the stool is Social Security; another is a company pension plan. The third leg is your own savings.For most of us, women and men alike, saving is the most difficult part of getting ready for retirement.
If you are between the ages of 30 and 40, financial planners agree, you should be saving 10 percent of your salary for retirement.
Between the ages of 40 and 50? You should be salting away 15 percent a year. Over the age of 50, 25 percent a year.
During your youth you can afford to invest in riskier, high-yield investments. But as you approach retirement, Oerter cautions, be conservative.
Mary Beverly was in the audience when Oerter spoke in Salt Lake City recently. She has two words of advice for younger women, Beverly says. "Compound interest."
Like many mothers, Beverly spent her youth saving for the things her children needed - not for her own retirement.
Now, she realizes how much easier it would have been to start early. If a 25-year-old saves $25 a month, she'll have $300,000 at age 65. If she waits until age 45 to begin saving, she must save $300 a month to have $300,000 at 65.
One good way for young people to save is to put an extra $50 or $100 a month into their mortgage payment, advises Mitchell. This makes good sense in the early years of a mortgage, when most of the payment goes to interest. "Depending on what your rate is, you could save a lot that way," says Mitchell. When your house is paid off, you could channel the money you had budgeted for the mortgage straight into a retirement savings account.
We have trouble saving. Of all those living in industrialized nations, Americans save the least: 5 percent a year. Japanese save the most: 15 percent.
"The Germans come in second," says Oerter. "They save better than 10 percent a year."
When she visited Germany a few years ago, Oerter says, "I was struck by the lack of pretense. The German people live a simple lifestyle." Inside one of the typical modest homes, she says, you can almost guess when the owners got married, because they still have the furniture they bought that year.
"I can't tell you how many sofas have come in and out of my home in the 32 years I've been married," Oerter says. She redecorated when she got bored, she says. She could have channeled her creative energy the way the Germans do - into beautiful gardens.
When she talks about saving for retirement, Oerter says, she sometimes notices the young women in her audience rolling their eyes. "They look at me like I remind them of their mother," she says.
At the risk of being unhip, she continues to ask, "Whose responsibility is it to take care of you in retirement? Is it your husband's? Your children's? The government's responsibility?
"You have to be prepared."
In 1991, twice as many men as women get a pension. Here are the reasons, according to Frances Leonard, former legal counsel for the Older Women's League in Washington, D.C.:
- In this generation of retirees, fewer women were in the paid labor force.
- Those who were working were often in part-time or low-paying jobs with no benefits.
- Every year, millions of widows are stunned to learn that their husband's pensions don't include survivors' benefits.
- Pensions are based on formulas that reward the long-term, full-time worker with low mobility and high earnings. The person who fits that formula is usually male.
- Today's working women may assume that pension inequities are a thing of the past. They are wrong. Women working in the same fields as men are still earning 66 cents for every dollar a man earns. At best, their pensions will be two-thirds of what a man's pension is.
What do you know about retirement?
How much do you know about retirement?
1. What percentage of women actually receive a pension?
A. 10 percent
B. 20 percent
C. 75 percent
D. 100 percent
2. Men get an average pension of $670 each month. What is the average monthly pension for women?
3. Out of 100 people turning 65 this year, how many will be financially independent?
4. If you start saving $25 a month at age 25, how much will you have in savings at age 65?
5. What are the most serious threats to your retirement income?
C. Reduced Social Security benefits
D. Medical expenses
E. All of the above
1. B; 2. B; 3. A; 4. C; 5. E.
- From First Capital Life Insurance.