Jean Chatzky's Gift to Moms: 3 Tips for a More Secure Retirement

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Mother's Day MoneyLast week, ING released some new research on women and retirement:
On average, women have nearly $41,000 less socked away for their future than men.

I wasn't completely shocked by the finding, nor will you be, I'm sure. The root of the problem is pretty clear: We women are still paid less than our male counterparts. We're more likely to be single parents, and if we're not, we still spend more time out of the workforce caring for children, for which we'll be celebrated come Mother's Day on
Sunday.

All told, we work about 32 years to a man's average 44. And we're more likely to be in part-time positions, working for employers who don't offer retirement plans.

"Women end up with a lower income, and less time spent in the workforce, which means they get lower Social Security benefits -- 26% less in Social Security benefits than men," says Delia deLisser, director of women's programs at ING U.S.

The rub is that women will need more retirement savings than men, not less. We tend to live longer, meaning we face years of living alone and caring for ourselves. And because of that, we have higher medical costs in retirement: A recent report from the Insured Retirement Institute found that a 65-year-old man can expect to spend $350,000 for health care expenses throughout the remainder of his life. The average woman will need $417,000.

Luckily, we're also used to working hard, because getting to your retirement goals takes a little hard work and dedication. I'm giving you Sunday to put your feet up, bask in the glow of your family and eat breakfast in bed. But come Monday, it's time to buckle down about retirement. Here are three things you can do to get on track, no matter what your income is:

1. Find the right way to save. If you have a retirement plan at work, and your employer offers matching contributions, that's the place to start. Begin by contributing as much as it takes to get the maximum amount of that free money, then slowly work your way up from there. The best trick is to increase your contribution each time you get a raise, and ask your HR department to deposit bonuses directly into your 401(k).

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If an employer plan isn't an option, you want an IRA. That includes all of you stay-at-home mothers: You're eligible to open and fund a spousal IRA as long as you and your spouse file a joint tax return and his income is at least as much as your contribution. You can put up to $5,000 a year in that account.

2. Set a budget that includes retirement contributions. This is a common mistake: You budget first, then save later. But your budget should include retirement as a line item, right next to groceries, the mortgage, and your cell phone bill. It's just as nonnegotiable.

"Make sure that you're setting aside money for retirement at the same time as your household expenses," says deLisser. If you don't, you'll always find another use for that cash. This is easy if you have a 401(k): Contributions are pulled out before you receive your paycheck. If you don't, set up your IRA to automatically pull contributions from your checking account each month.

3. Get some guidance. To save effectively, it helps to have a plan -- a roadmap for the future. The best place to start is an online calculator that will help you draw up an estimate of what you'll need in retirement. I like the Ballpark E$timate or T. Rowe Price's Retirement Income Calculator. Once you have that, you should get some outside help to get there. Talk to friends and family members who are good with their money, says deLisser. " That's a great way to get started learning about this - you can find out what they're doing and what works and doesn't work for them. As you need more guidance, you can work with a professional." NAPFA.org is a great resource for finding a financial planner in your area.

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