Fool.com: Women and Retirement Wake-Up Call![Retiree Portfolios] June 12, 2000

Retiree Portfolio Women and Retirement Wake-Up Call!
Invasion of the Grannybabies

By Anne Letterese (aletterese@knowyourstuff.com)
June 12, 2000

Wanna hear a really scary statistic? According to the data at www.census.gov, by 2025 there will be 34,971,000 women over 65 years old. As that warm and fuzzy commercial says, these will be "our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers, and friends." These, Fools, will be the Granny Baby Boomers (hereafter, Grannybabies). If the statistics bear out, far too many will be alone, dirt poor, and a looming national disaster. Here's why:

  • As of 2000, the average life expectancy of the American woman is seven years longer than the American man. With my luck, I'll see 133 (yes, I want to).

  • Women have continued to work for lower salaries and at smaller companies, far too many without pension plans, or with less generous plans than men.

  • Statistics on the savings patterns of all Americans is dire. For women, let's assume $3,000 per year, or 1/2 of the average American man's $7,800.

  • Long-term care (nursing home care) in America costs about $200 a day. By 2025, projections point to close to $700 per day, conservatively.

  • Even with a cure for cancer and Alzheimer's, God willing, let's assume 1/2 of 35 million women still need some sort of supervised care for 5 to 15 years by 2025. And that's Pollyanna talking!

Based on my life experience as a working woman, these real, cold facts haunt me. I worked through three pregnancies for the good life in my 40s. I'm a past employee of one of the major sellers of long-term care, and now as a single mom of three who dodged foreclosure and bankruptcy during a horrific divorce, I'm starting over in my mid 40s. So this is real to me. And after just returning from my 25th college reunion, let me tell you what a blink of the eye those past 25 years were! 2025 is tomorrow.

All our fight for equality and self-sufficiency flies in the face of a culture that promotes spending and debt, where working women continue to receive somewhere between 70% to 80% of a man's income, yet now get the kids in a divorce settlement with no alimony, because we're perfectly capable of work. In 1999, 2.2 million got married while 1.1 million got divorced. And yep, if you've stuck with the marriage for at least 10 years, you'll be entitled to the same Social Security benefits if you'd stayed with him. However, many people seriously question whether Social Security will be available in the coming decades.

Believe it. Along with all the fabulous information from The Motley Fool regarding Social Security, add this. According to the National Center for Women & Retirement, 80% to 90% of women will be solely responsible for their own finances at some point in their lives. Only 15% of divorced women get ANY type of court-ordered spousal support, and then 5% of that number get nothing. According to the General Accounting Office, 80% of widows now in poverty were not poor before their husband died. Are you sitting down? The average age of widows in America 2000 is 55.

Basically, we all, girls and boys, should have invested in real estate and the stock market when we were in sixth grade. Of course, most of us didn't. And most of us married nice guys. Almost weekly, I hear about the 45-year-old woman who had to move back in with her mom and dad with her kids, when the ex simply stopped paying for everything. And though she might have a college degree, she'd have to go through the packing boxes to find it, brush it off, and get back into the work force. That means somehow getting computer literate, psychologically healed, and with probably no credit history under her own name.

And, as disruptive as divorce can be, those women who dodged the "D" bomb were often called upon to leave the work force for the birth of a child or during a family crisis to care for a sick child or elderly relative, thus not achieving the 20- to 40-year consistent career growth most of their male co-workers attain.

We live in a nation where, in 1999, we spent (ready?) over $9 billion on cosmetic surgery, and in 1998, we spent $4.666 billion on cat food ('99 figures are not in yet, according to the Pet Food Institute in D.C.). Incredible isn't it? Move over, kitty, it's the ol' Soccer Mom transformed into Grannybaby, on her own, saving frugally to go broke slowly with the rate of inflation, combined with living and healthcare costs. Remember the song lyric from about 25 years ago, "I am woman, hear me roar"? Collectively we'd better find our roar or we'll be eating cat food.

Baby boomers, ages 35-50, had the most cosmetic surgery in 1999 with 43% of 4.6 million procedures. Women had 89% of these surgeries (that's 1,760,420 procedures at an average, $2,500 per operation). What is it going to take for us to wake up and spend the same amount of time and money on our futures away from our mirrors and spinning classes? Americans spend $300 million on clothes EVERY DAY! C'mon, ladies! Let's get our act together. Corporate sponsorship, anyone?

Women traditionally are less proactive in their financial planning and revel in denial. ("Divorce... widowhood... that will never happen to me!") If they invest, it is cautiously in savings clubs or CDs. They don't have separate checking, savings, or credit accounts, let alone IRAs, 401(k)s, or pension plans. Even when we were couples, we spent more time planning vacations than we did planning our budgets or, God forbid, our retirement. We're all going to live forever, happily ever after, right?

Hey, I am as guilty as anyone for spending hours preparing for every kid's science project, soccer game, or swim meet, trusting that the MBA I was married to would "take care of us." If this is a wake-up call, I guess I've answered my calling.

So those of us who love ourselves or who love our moms, wives, and sisters; every women who in these past 25 years did the chameleon act like never before; those recently married, those recently divorced, those not married yet, those who will never marry; and all future Grannybabies... stand up, take a deep breath, and...

  • Don't send or drop off another flower or greeting card to any woman over 35 until you hug her, look her in the eyes, and say, "Let me see your retirement plan!" If there is none, do something!

  • Value yourself by setting financial goals for the next 5, 10, and 15 years.

  • Swear you will not encumber your children and their futures with your lack of planning.

  • Spread the word to all Grannybabies you know!

  • This can be fun; with the market tanking, buy low and plan to stay in the stocks for the next 25 years!

  • Swear you will not even think of having cosmetic surgery until you have opened your own checking and savings accounts and established your own credit.

  • Do everything in your power to break the bonds of credit card debt.

  • Read and implement the 13 Steps of Retirement Planning.

  • Consider meeting with a financial counselor, which can often be done at minimal cost; many four- to six-week financial seminars are being offered for as little as $40.

It took the realization that I would never allow my daughter to stay in a marital situation similar to the one I was trapped in to get me out. Lack of retirement planning is selfish and stupid. This could happen to you, your daughter, your neighbor, your best friend, your sister, your lover, your wife... so do something! Love your Grannybaby! Love yourself!