NEW YORK (MainStreet) - Sometimes, women can find themselves behind the eight ball after a financial disaster, so much so, that the experience can place their entire financial future in great jeopardy.

Unless, that is, they do something about it.

That's what happened to Monique M. C. Prince, a licensed clinical social worker and parenting coach in Chester, N.H.

"I went through a personal disaster when my former husband filed for divorce and he basically got everything, because his attorney was friends with the judges," she says. Deeply in debt, Prince went back to college in her 40s and earned a Master's Degree. "After six-months at my current job, I qualified for the 401(k)," Prince says. "I began to put $150.00 into the account weekly, with the company contributing a small amount as well. This was an enormous sacrifice for me and there are weeks where I still have to eat less because of the financial burden of it. But, I know that if I keep this up, I'll be heading in a good direction for retirement."

In many cases, women like Prince have an uphill climb compared to men when it comes to saving for retirement.

According to author and personal finance expert Pamela Yellen, women live longer and earn less money than men, and they need to save $126 for every $100 men save in order to have a decent standard of living in old age.

"Specifically, women on average face a retirement savings shortfall of more than $268,000 compared to $212,000 for men," Yellen says. "However, that amount grows to $522,000 for a 45-year-old women when factoring in expenditures of people 65-and-older, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics."

To help women catch up on retirement and take control of their finances, Yellen advises knowing the difference between "saving" and "investing." 


"Money put in savings is money a person doesn't want to or can't afford to lose," Yellen says. "Money invested is subject to loss. Most people today 'invest to save,' but they have no idea what their nest egg will be worth when they plan to tap into it. The bottom line: money a person cannot afford to lose should not be invested in stocks, real estate or other traditional investments."

Yellen is also a big advocate for women not to pay down debt before saving.

"Often people think they must pay down their credit card balances and other debt before they can increase the amount they save," she says. "But that's not necessarily true."

Case in point: Yellen's client, woman in her 50s, was paying $600 to $800 a month more than the minimum payment due on her credit cards. She discovered that by cutting back to the minimum payment and putting the difference into a guaranteed savings vehicle, she could have a nest egg worth about $50,000 more than she otherwise would when she retires at age 65. 

There are plenty of other ways women can make up lost ground on retirement savings. For example, paying yourself first guarantees that money will be steered toward your financial future, no matter what.

"Try to save at least 10% of your income each year," says Gordon Bernhardt, president and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management, in McLean, Va. "Start with your workplace retirement plan, and, if your company offers a matching contribution, contribute enough to qualify."

"If you can, contribute the maximum amount, and, if you are over age 50, make the additional catch-up contribution," he adds.


Bernhardt also advises women to stash more retirement cash by living without credit.

"If you can't pay cash for it, you cannot afford it," he says. "If you need motivation to stay on budget, rely on the power of peer pressure. That is, share your goal of being debt-free with your friends so you'll be less likely to resort to plastic when you are with them."

A tip from Bernhardt -- put your credit cards on ice, literally. If you store your cards in your freezer, you can defrost them in the event of a true emergency.

Laurie Itkin, a financial advisor at Coastwise Capital Group in Southern California, says women saving for retirement should live by the adage "what doesn't hit your checking account you can't spend." 

"The easiest way to do that is through an employer-sponsored retirement plan," she says. "If you live in a high-tax state, are in a relatively high tax bracket and don't have many deductions, you can cut your tax bill a lot if you make tax-deductible contributions to a traditional 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan. Instead of taking home 60 to-70 cents on the dollar, why not save that entire dollar for the future?"

Itkin says that if you are under 50-years-old, you can contribute up to $18,000 in 2015 ($24,000 if you are over 50). "Even if you have maxed out on your employer's retirement plan, you may also be able to contribute to a Roth or traditional IRA," she says.

Where you send your retirement can act as its own catch-up plan.

"I have met so many women, from different backgrounds who do not have the luxury of being able to retire in the United States," says Mariana Lima, vice president of business development for Panama Relocation Tours. "Some of them never saved a penny, for many reasons. Some, just have too many debts and not enough retirement income that they can actually stop working."

Most of the women she has met have found a geographical alternative by broadening their horizons, and retiring in other countries - countries like Panama. "Here, a single woman on a $1,000 retirement budget can live very comfortably and still have money left over to actually enjoy life," Lima adds. "In Panama, there is a program called the 'Jubilado,' which translates to the retired program. It allows any person from any country to take advantage of the many discounts available to people 55-plus, like discounted air fare, discounted movie tickets, discounted meals, discounted clothing sales, even a special line at supermarkets and banks."

On the front and back ends of retirement, there are myriad ways for women struggling with long-term savings to make up ground and really enjoy their golden years. So don't sit back and resign yourself to a tough retirement - turn the tables and make it a great one, Panama or not.

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