Our experts answer readers’ investing questions and write unbiased product reviews (here’s how we assess investing products). Paid non-client promotion: In some cases, we receive a commission from our partners. Our opinions are always our own.
- Single women face unique challenges when planning for retirement, so I asked an expert for help.
- Marie Thomasson said I should think about how I earn money and focus on paying off debt.
- She also encouraged me to find my peers and use my voice and my vote to seek change.
As a single woman who has lived on her own in a major city for several decades, I’ve had to to contend with many challenges when it comes to managing finances and planning for retirement. Not only do we live longer, but the gender pay gap is real. For every man’s dollar, women earn 84 cents. Plus, women are often put in a caregiving role, which means time off from work — and not contributing regularly to retirement funds.
So how can single women like me juggle with inflation, a higher cost of living, dwindling income, and the gender wage gap to be on track for retirement?
I asked Marie Thomasson, a certified financial planner and founder of Modern Assets, an LA-based financial advisory firm for independent, progressive women, for tips on how single women can steer the course and make sure they’re on track with their goals for retirement planning. Thomasson gave me seven steps single women can take to make sure they’re on track.
1. Find a job you love that pays well
You can think about this as laying down a solid foundation for maximizing your earning potential. Research by Pew reveals that people in higher-income households also tend to be more satisfied with their jobs.
“A career that is both fulfilling and financially stable is more likely to be sustainable in the long run,” says Thomasson. “Burnout is less common when you enjoy what you do, and financial security provides peace of mind.”
It’s true that finding that sweet spot between a paycheck and a fulfilling career takes time. But it can be faster if you involve others, says Thomasson. To start, hone in on a few compelling options. Do your research, and engage with folks who make a living doing it.
Ask them questions, such as if they’re happy and fulfilled, and how they got to where they are today. “If you find a person who has been helpful and insightful, ask them to be a mentor,” she says. “A good mentor may help you uncover careers you hadn’t considered.”
2. Brush up on your professional skills
“Investing in your skills ensures you’re always in demand,” says Thomasson. You can look into continuing education and take courses to add more value to what you offer in the workplace. Some employers will pay for your continuing education if it’s aligned with your job.
For instance, when I worked at a labor union, my boss approved my requests to cover my courses in copywriting and graphic design, as these were tasks I could help with in my department. In turn, this helped me land my next job, and ultimately my work as a freelance writer.
3. Knock out debt
“Debt is stressful, and can keep growing because of high interest rates,” says Thomasson. “It follows you around by way of a credit rating, and generally speaking, humans are wired to feel worse about things like debt than they are to feel happy about a retirement fund.
“Whether it’s student loans, credit cards, or personal loans, prioritize paying them off,” says Thomasson. “Aim for that liberating zero-debt figure.” Eliminating debt will free up funds that you can put toward your future you.
To start, take a look at the total sum of all your debt. If any have gone to collections, figure out exactly where they are and how much you owe. Next, come up with a debt payoff strategy. There are two popular methods:
Debt snowball method. The debt snowball method is a popular approach to tackle high-interest debt where you pay the smallest debt first. Next, you move onto the debt with the next-highest amount. This provides momentum and a sense of accomplishment.
Debt avalanche method. The debt avalanche method is when you pay off high-interest debt beginning with the debt with the largest interest rate, then move on to the next largest interest rate.
Payoff strategies like loan consolidation or snowball methods only work if you do your part, points out Thomasson. “This might be the one area where paying someone to help you create a budget or provide accountability might be an investment worth making,” she says. “Just like investing for retirement, the procrastination tax will ultimately cost much more.”
Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three fiduciary financial advisors in your area in minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. Start your search now.
4. Visualize your goals
You might have a vision board for your career goals and for those dream vacations. Why not create one for your retirement and future? “Organize a vision board session with friends,” says Thomasson. “It’s fun, frugal, and helps crystallize what financial freedom means to you.”
5. Reassess your retirement accounts
Once you have your financial bases covered, you can venture into investing and retirement planning, says Thomasson. “Women often make better investors thanks to our patience and long-term vision. If you’re feeling lost, ask for help! And remember this one golden rule: Procrastination will cost you.”
While women can be better at investing, they tend to invest less than their male counterparts.
To start, you can review your 401(k) retirement plan. If you have an employer plan and they offer a matching contribution, aim to contribute enough to get any employer match available. “It’s free money and should be considered a raise,” says Thomasson. “Increase your contributions if you can, and just stick with the program.”
Make sure that the money in your retirement account is actually invested. “Do not overthink this! If you don’t know what to do, use the suggested allocation and just get started,” says Thomasson. “The worst possible investment in your retirement account is cash, because it almost never accrues interest. Even a money market fund in your retirement account is better if you’re really indecisive.”
Last, keep the money where it is. “Withdrawing your retirement funds is a huge decision, and not a choice your future self will thank you for,” she says. “If you don’t have a clear path and demonstrated ability to pay it back, then withdrawals are a gamble on your future you don’t want to make.”
6. Boost your knowledge with others
While the gender-specific challenges aren’t going away overnight, you can navigate a path with awareness, planning, a social network, and community support, says Thomasson. “Join a finance-focused group, read books about women’s finances, share your experiences and ask questions,” she says. “All of the above will empower you on your financial journey.”
There are also personal finance books by women, such as Simran Kaur’s “Girls That Invest,” Erin Lowry’s “Broke Millennial Takes on Investing,” Tonya Rapley’s “The Money Manual,” Tiffany Aliche’s “Get Good with Money,” and Berna Anat’s “Money Out Loud.”
7. Use your voice and your vote
Last, Thomasson recommends addressing the systemic issues that women face by using your voice and your vote. Look for ways you can help increase opportunities for women and level the playing field, economically and beyond.
“Rally behind policies and people that champion women’s economic issues, and help shape a future where equitable outcomes are the standard,” says Thomasson.
“It’s tempting to YOLO our days away, but prioritizing our financial future is essential when unmarried women have an average net worth that is a fraction of married folks,” says Thomasson.
“We’re not just crunching numbers here,” says Thomasson. “We’re creating a life that resonates with our values, financial ambitions, and dreams. Celebrate the small victories, have patience with set-backs, and prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical well-being, because it’s closely intertwined with financial health.”