Jot these down, ladies. 

As a certified planner, I often answer questions about how women should plan for retirement and how women can "keep up" with men. Because women tend to outlive men by an average of two to three years, we face a unique set of challenges. But beyond life expectancy, a woman preparing for retirement shouldn't try to keep up with anyone else-male or female.

Still, there are a few considerations women should take into account. When planning for retirement, women should generally plan to live beyond the average age (88 years old for a woman turning 65 this year, versus 86 years for a man). And because we tend to earn less than our male counterparts, on average, we are likely to have accumulated less in our retirement savings accounts. Combined, these factors put women at greater risk to outlive their retirement savings.

I work with a number of couples who delegate financial duties to one partner-in many cases a male partner. But as we grow older, it becomes increasingly important for both partners-especially women- to be literate in basic personal finance and investing. I strongly encourage my clients to share this responsibility, so that the surviving partner is prepared to manage her own nest egg, should she be called upon to do so.

Man or woman, each of us brings a unique set of resources, goals, and circumstances to our retirement journeys, and the planning around each of those factors should be tailored to meet our individual goals.

Here are five factors to consider discussing with your financial planner.

  1. Your life expectancy. Longevity risk is one of the biggest problems facing retirees today. The median life expectancy for a 65 year old man is 86 years old, while the life expectancy of a woman is 88 years old. However, according to research from Employee Benefit Research Institute, only 22 percent of workers feel very likely to live to age 85. Take the time to talk to with your family and loved ones to understand your family medical history, and work with your planner to set realistic goals and timelines.
  1. The cost of healthcare. Life throws a lot of curveballs. Ultimately, we all bring different dimensions-health conditions, desired outcomes, benefits, and resources-to the table. Understanding your desired goals, resources, and medical benefits will empower you to make better decisions. Be sure to appropriately account for medical insurance premiums, deductibles, and other expenses in your retirement plan. If you qualify to make contributions to a Health Savings Account, work towards building a balance that you can carry into retirement.
  1. The effects of inflation. As we all know, the cost of goods and services increases over time. Your retirement plan needs to acknowledge that fact. For example, if you retire today with an income need of $70k per year, in 10 years you may need $85,000 or more in order to maintain the same standard of living. Analyze your budget, and try to estimate which expenses are discretionary and non-discretionary line items. Apply a realistic inflation rate to your projections, keeping in mind that certain goods and services will carry higher rates of inflation than others. For example, the cost of healthcare may increase at a much faster pace than your Social Security benefit. Very few corporate pensions provide a cost of living adjustment, while federal and state agencies often do.

When developing your retirement plan, be sure to craft an investment portfolio that will grow over time at a rate that is at least equal to or greater than inflation in order to meet your future financial goals.

  1. Your investment management fees. Try to minimize your fees and expenses by avoiding costly insurance products such as annuities and other financial products that layer management fees in addition to the fees for the investments held inside the accounts. Seek out the assistance of a fee-only wealth management firm and confirm your advisor is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. Working with a fee-only firm will ensure your advisor will not earn commission from the sale or purchase of financial products, which will allow him or her to make recommendations in your best interest. Take the time to understand the differences between fee-based and fee-only firms, as it will impact all aspects of your financial plan's fee structure. The National Association for Personal Financial Advisors publishes a list of fee-only firms online.
  1. Online financial tools and retirement calculators. Planning for retirement is not as easy as plugging a few numbers into a calculator. As with most things, the devil is often in the details. Online tools are good at making simple predictions based upon a singular assumption, but an automated computer program will have a hard time weighing the complexities specific to you and your unique circumstances.. For example, an online tool will not be able to estimate whether your budget is realistic, whether you've properly accounted for healthcare costs or when you should file for Social Security benefits.

Consider working with a financial planner who will help you set realistic goals and coach you towards a savings plan to help achieve those goals. A planner will also help you identify the levers to pull in order to match retirement income needs with resources, develop cash flow projections, and make adjustments to your plan as you progress towards your goal.

By: Jane DeLashmutt O'Mara, CFP®

DeLashmutt is a Portfolio Manager at FBB Capital Partners, where she works with individuals and families to achieve their financial goals. FBB Capital Partners is one of the first fee-only wealth management firms in Maryland. Since its founding more than 30 years ago, the firm has grown to be one of the largest independent, fee-only firms in the greater Washington, D.C. region. The firm specializes in providing tailored, independent investment management and wealth advisory services to affluent families, individuals and business owners, as well as foundations and endowments. The firm has locations in Bethesda, MD, McLean, VA and Easton, MD.

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