6 Ways Divorced Women Sabotage Their Retirement Years
May 30, 2022
So, you’ve recently retired or are about to retire; congratulations on achieving this major life milestone! It is truly something to celebrate as you move beyond your work life into a permanent “out of office” status. For many retirees, this next chapter is filled with extreme happiness; for others it’s met with a mixture of stress and trepidation on a number of levels.
Statistically speaking, women live 3-5 years longer than men. In 2021 the average life expectancy for a female in the U.S was 82.65 years. If there is longevity in your family then you may very well live until 100 or more! That means your hard-earned savings will need to last a long time. As a divorced woman, you have only your assets and Social Security to draw upon unless you have been awarded a portion of your ex’s pension as part of your divorce settlement.
Retirement is referred to as the “spend-down” or “withdrawal” phase in financial planning. With careful thought and planning, I sincerely hope that you will outlive your money because the alternatives aren’t so pleasant. A catastrophic health event can jeopardize even the most sound plan. No one likes to think this could happen to them but it’s a reality that most of us aren’t thinking about because it’s a heavy topic.
During my years of working with women in the financial planning world, I have watched many inadvertently sabotage their retirement in a variety of ways. I’d like to share my observations here along with some fixes and thought processes.
Not Having a Plan
What are your plans for retirement? What does a typical day in retirement look like for you? Is it volunteering, travel, moving closer to family, binge-watching Netflix series you haven’t had the time to watch, starting a business or charitable organization, getting a fun part-time job at a store you love? The list is endless and it’s one you have a blank slate to create. It’s not about deciding what every minute of every day needs to look like; you left that 7a-3p, 9a-5p, 3p-11p world behind you. What is important is to explore. Will you miss the camaraderie of your workmates or being on a schedule?
The Fix? Make a list of everything you want to do with different time frames for them. If this is difficult, think of what’s important to you as you enter this new phase. What are you passionate about? What brings you joy? Get yourself a journal and start putting your thoughts on paper to better visualize your life ahead.
Not Accepting That You're Living on a Fixed Income
Your “paycheck” will now be a monthly pension and/or Social Security check/deposit. No more pay raises unless the government decides to make a cost of living adjustment, no more bonuses, commissions, or other pay incentives. Are you able to adjust to living on a monthly deposit instead of a semi-monthly or bi-weekly pay system? This requires more careful thought so your money lasts throughout the month. Can you comfortably cover your basic necessities (ie, mortgage, utilities, auto insurance, etc) and variable expenses (everything else) without having to tap your savings or retirement accounts to any great extent? Allowing your invested assets to grow will benefit you in the long run. Compound growth is a beautiful thing, don’t you agree?
The Fix? Compare what’s coming in each month with what’s going out. Sure, some of your expenses may go down (transportation, meals, work clothing) but you may spend more on dining out, travel, new experiences. What are you willing to compromise on and what’s not negotiable? After you figure that delta, you may need to supplement with monthly withdrawals from your retirement accounts.
Keeping Adult Children on Your Payroll
As parents, we like to help our kids through life’s ups and downs. At some point, they become adults with separate lives and responsibilities. Are you continuing to subsidize them by covering their cell phone bills, auto insurance, rent, student loans and the like?
The Fix? Have a conversation with your adult kids. Share your evolving situation in retirement. Help them shop around for good deals on whatever costs you’ve been helping them cover. It’s time for them to launch without relying on you for financial support. You can always provide free emotional support, which is priceless!
High Credit Card Balances
Debt and retirement don’t really go together. There’s good debt like a mortgage, and bad debt like credit cards and personal loans. Things can quickly get out of hand if you continue to rack up credit card balances and don’t pay them off in full each month. Easier said than done, I know.
The Fix? Look into the avalanche or snowball methods for paying down debt. This will take time, but it’s completely doable with patience and perseverance. It’s easy for me to say this, but I suggest leaving your credit card at home and switch to paying with cash or debit card. And, plan your shopping trips ahead of time.
Health Insurance Mis-steps
Health insurance takes on a new light in retirement. Health care costs are the single largest expense for retirees. You may be able to stay on your employer’s COBRA plan for 18 months after you retire, but that comes at a higher price. Some generous employers and unions offer health insurance to their retirees; this happens less frequently now than in the past.
The Fix? If you need health insurance prior to 65, the earliest age you can enroll in Medicare, it helps to find a professional insurance broker to help you find the best Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obama care) policy for you. The ACA offers subsidies, also known as tax credits, that work on a sliding scale. They limit the amount you pay in monthly premiums to a percentage of your annual income. Learn more here.
When it comes to Medicare, locate a Medicare broker to help you make the best choice. They are independent agents who represent many insurance companies that offer Medicare supplement policies and Medicare Advantage Plans. They don’t charge you a fee because they are paid by the insurer. You can Google “Medicare brokers near me” to find a broker who is licensed in your state.
Boredom can often lead to financial behaviors that will not serve you well. You may find yourself a regular Home Shopping Network viewer, internet shopping junkie or a frequent visitor to a local casino. These behaviors can become addictive, helping to fill a void in your life that employment used to provide you socially and professionally.
The Fix? Recognize these new habits for what they are - a crutch. It will take time to undo them as you replace them with healthier habits such as getting together with friends and family, volunteering, exercising, broadening your social circle to include others with shared interests, for example. Stay true to the long term goals that you wrote down and check in with them regularly. Meet with a financial coach who can provide guidance and support during this new phase.
Finally, please let me know how your life in retirement is going. I’m not there quite yet, so maybe I can learn a few things from you!