DALLAS — A big part of the American dream is a secure retirement—a husband and wife quitting work, traveling and enjoying the grandkids together.
But that dream feels increasingly out of reach for millions in the middle class. And because of wage gaps and lifespans, it might feel even more difficult for women than men.
“We do have to plan a little bit differently,” said Cathy DeWitt Dunn, president and CEO of DeWitt & Dunn Financial Services.
“If you look at statistics, we are typically going to outlive the men, so you need to have a plan in place," she said. "Because the number one fear that women have about retirement is outliving their savings down the road.”
DeWitt Dunn helped us come up with a list of five numbers that women need to know about retirement.
The first number is 35. Social security benefits are based on the 35 years workers earned the most. Women typically make less than men and often come in and out of the workforce as they stay home with kids.
“Men and women love to retire together, but what happens if you’re two or three years younger?" DeWitt Dunn said. "You’ve actually given up some social security benefits down the road. So, if you have to work another two or three years just to maximize your benefits, it’s really something you have to look at.”
The next number is 15. Saving 15 percent of your salary when you are young can set you up for success.
“So, in your younger years, in between 20s to late 40s, you need to be maximizing your 401(k) plans, putting away at least 15 percent for a rainy day,” DeWitt Dunn said.
According to DeWitt Dunn, 50 is a magic age. At 50, she said, a lot of the child-rearing has occurred, and women can focus a little more on themselves. She encourages women to do the math at age 50, meaning draw up a roadmap for achieving goals, and then follow it.
That brings us to the number two. DeWitt Dunn said it’s important to schedule at least two budget dates per year with your spouse - or with yourself if you’re single - to take an honest look at your saving and your spending.
“Sometimes you do fall off the track, but it’s OK,” she said. “You can just reset and get back on. It’s important if you’re sitting down and having these financial discussions at least you’ve identified that you are off track. Imagine a whole year goes by – that’s when it’s hard to reset.”
The final number is 70. At 70, maximum social security benefits kick in. Because women typically live longer than men, they need more money in retirement. It is worth considering either working until 70, or not claiming social security until then.
DeWitt Dunn acknowledged that achieving financial security can seem difficult for people who are struggling to make ends meet but said saving as much as possible, no matter their income, is critically important.
“Ultimately, you have to take control and responsibility of your own finances,” she said. “You’re going to be the one in the end who is the only person you’re going to be able to count on.”