The Financial Advice That Women Really Want

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By Janet Bodnar

Several members of our staff recently went to an investment conference at which a hot topic was women and money, and they suggested that we do a story on the subject. The office reaction was mixed. "It sounds patronizing," said one female colleague.

For me, it was a case of déjà vu. Ten years ago, I was asked to write a book about women and money, and I had a similar discussion with my editor at the time. Money is gender-neutral, he argued, so any financial story we did should apply equally to men and women. Wouldn't it be unnecessary, even insulting, to suggest otherwise? I replied that it certainly would be insulting if we adopted the attitude that financial information needed to be dumbed-down (or softened up) for women. But we'd be doing a real service if we reflected reality: Women often need specific financial advice tailored to their needs.

In the end, I wrote the book, originally titled "Think Single! The Woman's Guide to Financial Security at Every Stage of Life." The idea of "thinking single" had nothing to do with a woman's matrimonial state. Rather, it referred to a state of mind in which women think independently about money -- even if their lives are bound up with parents, spouses or children -- and are confident of their ability to manage and invest it. A reviewer praised the book for "avoiding the patronizing finger-wagging and sticking to advice that women can use."

That has always been our philosophy here at Kiplinger for both men and women. But women often use financial products in different ways than men and have different priorities, depending on the situations they face.

Retirement is a perfect example. Despite the influx of women into the workforce, women still tend to have more-checkered work careers and amass less in savings than men. As a result, certain retirement products are a boon for women. For instance, a stay-at-home mom can establish a spousal IRA funded by her spouse's earnings. The account lets the couple double down on saving, but it also lets her control money of her own if something should happen to her spouse.

Similarly, both men and women are eligible to make catch-up contributions to IRAs and 401(k) accounts once they reach age 50. But the extra savings can be particularly valuable for a woman if she has been out of the workforce and is making up for lost time.

Upbeat outlook. Statistically, women live longer than men. So it's not surprising that in one Fidelity study, 60 percent of the women interviewed said they worry about outliving their money. Our cover story on making your money last in retirement isn't specifically aimed at women, but it addresses their concerns head-on.

Senior editor Jane Bennett Clark, our retirement specialist, says covering the subject has made her more optimistic about funding a secure retirement. "Many people I talk to make the point that people are flexible and adjust," says Jane. "They find places where they can spend less, or get a part-time job, or take less out of their investments if the market is down."

As a woman who found herself single and planning her own retirement at age 60, Jane is equally upbeat. "It's satisfying to feel you have control over your own destiny," she says. That's what it means to think single.
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