I've been single since I was divorced in my 30s, and I've been planning my retirement on the assumption that I will be single till the end of my days. I'm feeling comfortable financially with where I am in my plan. Yet when I was offered the opportunity to talk to Jacob Gold, a Certified Financial Planner and retirement coach with Voya Financial, about women and retirement, I said yes in a hurry.
On average, women outlive men by five or six years, so even if a woman is married now, chances are she will be living some of her retirement as a single. Gold is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, a popular retirement destination and he works with a lot of retirees. “More and more, a large segment of our practice is individuals who are single or newly widowed,” Gold says. “Often they have not discussed being single in retirement.”
Basic planning is the same
So, what differences are there in retirement planning for a single versus a couple?
“When someone is married, they have a level of comfort and security — you have someone to rely on,” he explains. “When you're single, you have some uncertainty. The need for long term care is definitely elevated when one is single. You don't want to be a burden on family and friends. We see a lot of single individuals purchase long-term-care policies, something that will take the edge off their financial situation and give them more security.”
As for a single needing to save more or less than a couple, Gold says you still need to do a retirement needs analysis. “Everyone needs to determine their desired income in retirement and then back that into an equation. It's all mathematical,” he says. “The withdrawal rate is the same for a couple as it is for a single — usually 5 percent. The question is always ‘How much money do you want to come into the household every year?'”
More than money
I've been focused on saving for retirement and I am a sucker for every retirement calculator out there. How much money do I need? What's my number? But when I asked Gold if there was anything special single women — or women who may be married now but may be widows in the future — needed to do to be ready for retirement, his answer surprised me. It wasn't about money.
“A client once told me, ‘In order for someone to be happy in life, they have to love someone, look forward to something, and they have to be doing something,'” Gold relates. When he is working on a financial plan for clients, he says, he makes sure this aspect is part of the discussion. “Individuals need to have a good support group — neighbors, friends, animals. They also need a support group for economic issues, financial discussions. People get overwhelmed with noise, conflicting information. A support system is quite important in finances.”
For singles, he says, “a support group is necessary to have people to bounce ideas off, to get opinions in a non-intrusive environment. If someone doesn't have that support system, people are reactive” to the fluctuations of the stock market and the economy.
Investing in a support group
This idea of a support group made me think of women's investment clubs, which were the rage in the go-go '90s. “The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide” was a best-seller because the group consisted of 16 investing novices who had success investing in stocks. They claimed an annual return of 20 percent on their portfolio, and were the darlings of the media, especially at a time when people were quitting their jobs to become day traders. Well, after all the hype, reporters actually looked at their books, and their ROI was much lower — less than 10 percent annually, or what anyone could have earned in an S&P 500 Index fund during that time.
So I asked Gold what he thinks of investment clubs for women. “I think they're fantastic. Any environment that helps them learn about finance, talk about economics, the financial world, is a good thing.”
He says that many of his clients want something with “sizzle” so he encourages them to open a low-cost brokerage account, invest a small amount, and play with it. “They learn from experience, they get wounded, but they learn to appreciate the conservative, balanced approach to investing. People fear what they don't understand, so learning about investing makes it less intimidating.” Whether you go it alone or learn about investing with a group, it is important to overcome the fear of investing.
So, readers, are you thinking about retirement as a single? Are you making a plan to be single even if you're half of a couple now? Men, do you ever talk to your partner about the prospect of being single in retirement? Do you have a support group?
For me, developing a stronger support group is my next step in retirement planning.
Author: Ellen Cannon
Ellen Cannon was the editorial director of the financial services sites at QuinStreet from 2010-2015. She has covered personal finance for magazines and websites for more than 20 years, including five years as managing editor of Bankrate.com. She lives in South Florida with her kitty and sunshine.