5 essential retirement tips for women investors

book cover - does this make my assets look fat? By susan hirshmanIn today's tough times, it's hard to think about retirement when you're living paycheck to paycheck. But with politicians flirting with privatizing Social Security and pensions as rare as white rhinos, our golden years are becoming, well, less golden.

If you're a woman, the picture is even bleaker. It's well known that women live longer than men. But did you know that about 40% of women who reach the age of 50 this year will live to be 100? Factor in the reality that they generally make less than men and are more likely to use their savings to help their families. In other words, frankly, women are woefully unprepared for a retirement that could stretch 30 years.

Susan Hirshman, author ofDoes This Make My Assets Look Fat? A Woman's Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success, warned WalletPop in a telephone interview, "You can't count on anyone else doing this for you."

Hirshman, who is also a CPA and certified financial planner, offers five tips on how to get started, ensuring you won't run out of money during retirement:

Make retirement a priority
Your plan may be to work until you can't. But as this recession has taught many, losing a job can happen to the best of us. Hirshman likes to tell her clients that "you cannot finance your retirement, but you can finance your kids' education." Make room in your budget to put something – anything – away for retirement, even if it means doing without for now.

"I am very empathetic to the short term versus long term struggle because I struggle with it every day – just as many of struggle with our weight," she added. Hirshman had to move back home with her parents at the age of 30 in order to pay off a credit card debt. "Do I want the cookie or do I want to fit my pants? Do I want to give myself the freedom for the long term? That is what savings is about – giving you options and choices."

Another must-have goal

While saving for retirement is a long-term goal, a short-term one is to have enough to get you through emergencies. Some experts say three months is a good start. However, since this recession has been the longest since World War II, sit down and calculate what you think you'll need should you lose your job, or something happens to your car or house, or if you become disabled for a time.

Said Hirshman, "I tell everyone to consider their jobs as two-year consulting assignments. If you lose your job two years from now and it takes longer to find a new job, how will you survive? It's about protecting your future."

Standing naked before the mirror

Hirshman encourages women to know what they are and where they want to be tomorrow. That means know what your net income is and what your true expenses are. The tricky part then is what to do with whatever income is left. "Today versus tomorrow is the struggle," explained Hirshman. "If I told you that you need to save $X for retirement and you're not committed to it, you won't do it. What are you capable of achieving? If you say you're not able to save $100 a month but are willing to save $90 a month, that's fine as long as you know what that $10 difference will mean in the future. I want you to make conscious decisions."

Separate is better
Sometimes separating your retirement plan from your spouse's is prudent planning. Hirshman says she often times find husbands and wives have differing investment strategies. And to be blunt, nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce.

Manage not avoid risk

Putting all your eggs in a savings account may be risk-free, but it isn't exactly the best way to grow your retirement. Conversely, more lucrative options often translate into higher risk. Your goal, said Hirshman, is to find a middle ground, allocating assets between cash, stocks, bonds and other financial products so that risk is "managed" in a way that builds the nest egg you may need. "To manage risk, it's important to understand the different risk characteristics for each of the distinct asset classes and how they react to similar or different market conditions, as well as your own emotional tolerance for market movements," explained Hirshman. "The bottom line is that there is no free ride. So make sure you are making decisions with all considerations in mind."
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