Step 10: Preparing for Old Age
The fact that women live longer than men can create a lot of financial problems. Though aging isn't easy, you can make it easier by knowing you're financially secure. Here's what I want all women, regardless of age, to think about, talk over, and act on today.
Don't fall into the trap of listening to your spouse or partner if he or she tells you everything's taken care of and not to worry. I don't want you to worry, but I want you to be informed. For those of you who are married, the odds are that you'll outlive your spouse, so why wait until you're faced with widowhood to learn about your finances? And for those who are single, please don't think you can put off retirement planning for a later date—now's the time to get involved and informed.
Maximize retirement accounts.
We can't rely on Social Security to meet our retirement needs, so it's crucial to save as much as you can now. This pertains to single, life partner and married retirees: Those who are single won't share living expenses. If you're married and you're both planning on drawing Social Security income, when your spouse dies, you'll go from two checks to one. Maximize your contributions to 401(k) or 403(b) accounts, and if you qualify, take advantage of funding a Roth IRA.
Secure your home.
To ensure that you can live in your home for as long as you want, try to get your mortgage paid off before you retire. Even one extra payment a year could take eight years off a 30-year mortgage—and save you big bucks in interest payments.
There's a theory that people spend less in retirement. That may be true as long as you have a partner, but when you're alone, spending tends to increase. Make allowances for the fact that you may need to have more income so you can remain socially vibrant and happy if you're solo in your later years.
Take your time.
In the event you lose the one you love, please don't make any big changes with your money for six months to a year; that initial grieving period is no time to worry about finances. Plan now so there will be no need to panic later.
From the October 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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