NEW YORK (MainStreet)—The best financial decision ever made by Americans 55 and up was to save money, but men do it differently than women, according to a new study.

Northwestern Mutual's 2013 Planning & Progress Study revealed that 35% of men are more likely to invest heavily in their 401(k)s compared to 21% of women with 17% of men investing the majority of their savings in the stock market compared to 8% of women.

Women's top tactics were saving early, paying off their mortgages, buying real estate at a good price and buying products with guarantees like insurance and annuities.

"This is less about men being from Mars and women being from Venus and more about both finding themselves on the same planet, and the only way off is to have a good solid financial security plan and a trusted guide," said Greg Oberland, executive vice president with Northwestern Mutual.

The study also found that a quarter of Americans feel they have catching up to do financially which prevents them from being more cautious with their money.

About 25% of men compared to 9% of women are twice as likely to say they've fallen behind due to market losses on investments and admit they've suffered declines in their retirement savings over the last three years.

"Too many people, regardless of gender, end up in the exact same place of playing catch-up," said Oberland.

With nearly 20% dipping into their retirement savings over the past three years and 22% stopping or reducing savings contributions altogether, it's important to ensure a steady income in the event of a short- or long-term disability.

"Protecting against a disability is often low on the list of priorities when it comes to getting back on track with financial security planning, but it should be a core component in a comprehensive financial plan," said Sandy Botcher, vice president of disability income insurance with Northwestern Mutual.

"Short or long-term disability may not only result in lost income but also high medical costs and increased expenses. Disability insurance provides the protection needed during those challenging times."

An analysis of why Americans feel they've fallen behind differs greatly according to gender with women naming unexpected expenses and debt as top reasons while men cited unexpected expenses and lack of effective planning.

About 60% of women cited unexpected expenses compared to 43% of men with 54% of women citing debt as the second reason for falling behind compared to only 40% of men. More men at 42% attributed a lack of effective planning for the long-term as a second reason than women at 32%.

"While the differences in perspectives between men and women are interesting, ultimately our study found that too many people – regardless of gender – ended up in the exact same place of trying to play catch-up," Oberland said.

Despite all genders playing catch up, men overall feel more financially secure than women. Study results showed that 47% of men feel financially secure right now compared to 40% of women with only 32% of women saying they have the financial resources to live to age 95 compared to 38% of men.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet