NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Women lag behind men when it comes to saving for retirement, but there are things they can do to catch up.
A study last year from Fidelity Investments showed only 24% of women take sole household responsibility for financial decisions (although that is up from 15% in 2011), happy to let their spouse take full control of all financial decision -- including retirement, with 21% of women saying they "have some or no say" in household money decisions, compared with only 14% of men. When couples interact with a financial adviser, men are much more likely to be the primary household contact.
Why the persistent gender gap on big money issues?
"Women need to feel understood before they will take advice," says Pamela Yellen, a New York Times best-selling finance writer. "They need to have confidence they are making the right decision, which means they have a greater need for information, but they are intimidated by many of the usual sources of this information."
Yellen, in collaboration with Sandy Franks, publisher of the Women's Financial Edge newsletter, has a few ideas on how women can close the financial management gap and reduce some built-up retirement planning anxiety in the process:
Don't make debt too big of a priority. It's not necessary to pay down debt and exclude retirement savings altogether. There is room for both. Consider a woman in her 50s paying $600 to $800 a month more than the minimum payment due on her credit cards; by rolling back to the minimum payment and putting the difference into a guaranteed savings vehicle, the woman could add $50,000 more than she otherwise would have when she retires at 65, Yellen.
Know that savings and investing are not the same thing. By definition, savings isn't investing. The former is money you can't afford to lose, while the latter allows for periodic financial losses. "Money a person cannot afford to lose should not be invested in stocks, real estate or other traditional investments," Yellen says.
Leverage longevity. Since women live longer than men by about five years, women need to take full accountability for their financial futures. "If your spouse or significant other is handling all of your finances and dies before you do, then what? You'll be left to make critical decisions without being properly prepared," Yellen says.
It's not a luxury, but a necessity for women to take control of their money. The downside risk in not doing so is just too severe.
"The plain and simple truth is women face a unique set of problems going into retirement," Franks says. "We live longer, spend fewer years in the workforce and get consistently smaller paychecks than men. We are simply at greater risk of outliving our money."