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Want to retire well? Consider getting married. Single people, particularly women, face greater average shortfalls in their retirement savings than married people, according to a 2010 report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
Teaming up helps couples retire better. One person can provide a salary while the other's out of work, or cover the other with their pension or benefits. In contrast, single people have no one else to fall back on. And women, who are more likely than men to be out of the workforce for at least a few years to care for children or parents, also tend to live longer. Thus, they'll probably need to stretch smaller nest eggs across even more years.
As a single woman myself, this is not comforting -- but all is not lost. A whole range of strategies can help you strengthen your financial future.
A good start
In a blog post at SmartMoney.com, Catey Hill offered a few suggestions:
- Saving 20% of your pre-tax income.
- Buying a good disability insurance policy from a high-quality insurer.
- Having a "durable power of attorney" document prepared.
The power of attorney is particularly smart, because as a single person, you don't have a spouse to step in and make financial and other decisions if you're ever incapacitated. The disability insurance makes sense, too; without it, an injury or illness could wipe out much of your nest egg. And the 20% savings recommendation is a bold one, but not so farfetched. Most folks simply haven't saved enough, and are not on track to do so.
A big dilemma
Should singles take any particular special approach to retirement investing? With fewer resources to begin with, it might make sense for singles to invest more aggressively, so that their money will grow faster. But that means taking on more risk, and things may not go their way during their investing timeframe.
The opposite view also makes good sense: You might want to be more conservative, since you have no one backing you up… but then you may not accumulate a big enough nest egg, and that shortfall can hurt.
In my view, it's probably best to invest just like anyone else should. Take on a comfortable degree of risk as you try to grow your nest egg, and ratchet that risk downward as you approach retirement.
Whether you invest conservatively or aggressively, you need to make sure you're investing effectively. If you're stockpiling as much cash as you can in a bank account, for example, it probably won't get you far. Even a million dollars may not get you the retirement you want.
JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) recently reported record earnings, but part of its income comes from paying low interest to savers and lending at higher rates. In some areas, a Chase Plus Savings account pays as little as 0.05% annually, for instance.
Instead, consider filling your portfolio with healthy dividend payers that will keep paying you in good times and bad -- and most likely grow those payouts over time. This approach nicely balances caution with effectiveness.
SYSCO (NYSE: SYY ) and Waste Management (NYSE: WM ) are worth considering in the dividend realm, recently offering yields of 3.3% and 3.8%, respectively. Both are huge, enjoying economies of scale as a competitive advantage. The food-service delivery business isn't likely to disappear any time soon, and our need for waste disposal and recycling services provides similarly dependable growth. If you'd rather not choose individual companies, you might look into a dividend-focused exchange-traded fund (ETF), such as the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSE: VIG ) .
Faster-growing companies might also make savvy additions to your holdings. Plenty of well-known tech giants now sell at attractive prices. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) trades at a P/E ratio of roughly 11, well under its five-year average of 20. Fiber-optic giant Corning's (NYSE: GLW ) P/E of 8 lands well below its average of 12. Both sport hefty profit margins and billions in cash, and each even pays a dividend! If you'd rather own a basket of attractive growers in one easy step, consider a fund such as the Vanguard Growth ETF (NYSE: VUG ) .
Saving more and investing more effectively provide a great path to a better retirement -- for singles, and for everyone. For more tips and even some stock and fund recommendations, try our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service free for 30 days. You have little to lose -- and a much bigger nest egg to gain.