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For Women, Wage Gap Becomes Retirement Gap

May 3, 2016
Investing, Retirement Planning
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Allison Quantz, a 28-year-old radio producer in Bloomington, Indiana, spends a lot of time thinking about the future. She’d like to have kids. She worries about her job security. She wants to retire at a reasonable age.

Because of those goals and concerns — and, as she describes it, “just a massive fear of not being able to pay for things” — Quantz saves carefully. She puts away a higher percentage of her (lower) income than her soon-to-be husband does.

Still, she says, “Twenty years from now, it’s going to look like I saved less.”

She’s right. The standard retirement rules of thumb — save 15% a year, aim to replace 80% of your pre-retirement income, get 1X your salary invested by age 30 — leave women with a pot of money that is substantially smaller than that of most men.

The cards are stacked against us

Companies — particularly those marketing to women — frequently trot out surveys that suggest women need tailored financial advice. They say we learn differently, or that we think investing is for old white men (so say 60% of millennial women surveyed by investing app Stash; I say 100% of them were picturing Warren Buffett).

I don’t buy into that. Though the world could certainly use more female financial advisors, we don’t need to receive financial advice repackaged with a pink ribbon.

What women need is more money. And not because we’re all Carrie Bradshaws. Many of us are like Quantz: adept at managing money, quick to squirrel it away, thoughtful about investing. Rather, it’s because of the lengthy list of factors that prevent us from saving enough, yet require us to save more.

Women live longer. We earn as much as $500,000 less over the course of our careers, a fact that’s getting much media attention these days, most recently thanks to Donald Trump’s comments about the #womancard. We tend to leave our jobs more, not because we’re underpaid (though that’s one reason) but because we take time off to have and raise children. Or we leave to care for elderly parents, at a cost of over $300,000 in lost wages and Social Security benefits — benefits that are already lower (did I mention the wage gap?).

The not-so-helpful solution is to save more

Consider this: A man who starts saving 15% of a $50,000 salary at age 25 will end up with about $2,800 a month to spend in retirement. A woman who saves at the same rate, but earns 21% less, will end up with only $2,200 a month, according to NerdWallet’s retirement calculator. The difference in total savings is more than $300,000.

To end up with the same amount of money as our brothers, our spouses and our male co-workers, we need to save a higher percentage of our income. How much higher depends on your situation — that’s where that financial advisor could come in handy, but a retirement calculator or robo-advisor is a good place to start, too — but if men need to save 15%, we should probably be saving north of 20%.

And not just saving, but investing: Research shows women may be more conservative investors. If you’re unwilling to take age-appropriate risks — whether you’re a man or a woman — the money you do stash away may not grow as rapidly.

The helpful solution is to think holistically

The really helpful solution would be equal pay and paid time off, but let’s not get crazy. When you can’t save more — and I should say here that I certainly can’t save 20% of my income at this point in my life — focus on what you can do.

You can prioritize job offers throughout your career that come with a 401(k) match (and, it goes without saying, that pay you fairly). You can ask for a raise when you deserve one. You can make use of a Roth IRA, which allows for tax-free investment growth. You can take diversified investment risk while you’re young and have time to recover from losses. You can come to terms with the fact that because you’ll live longer, you may need to work longer.

If you’re married and you leave work for a period of time, you can try to maintain your savings momentum with a spousal IRA, if your finances allow it. A spousal IRA is designed for people who don’t have earned income but have a partner who makes enough to cover their contribution.

Quantz  — who as a kid hoarded holiday candy until it went bad — may be the type of person who has a propensity toward saving in her genes (yes, that’s a thing). But that’s not why she’s been able to save. The reason she’s been so successful is because she lives below, rather than within, her means.

“As I started making more money, I haven’t increased my spending at the same rate my paycheck has increased. I live well, but I could live better — I could take more vacations, or buy nice cheese more often,” she says. “But I’ve always had this mentality that I don’t want to get used to it. I’ll have time to have money, and I think now is the time that I should be cheap.”

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Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @arioshea.

 This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.