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6 Ways Women Can Prepare for Retirement

Start putting yourself first and set goals for your savings

En español | In the span of one month late last year, three separate groups invited me to talk to female audiences about the special challenges women face while trying to build secure retirements for themselves.

Studies show that 60 percent of boomer-age women say they aren't confident they'll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.

See also: Retiring at 63? Not so fast

The problem isn't unique to boomers — it's a woman thing. Some of our greatest strengths as women also make us more economically vulnerable. For example, our tendency to take care of others first — including taking time out of the workforce to care for children and ailing parents — can compromise our financial futures.

The time away from the workforce not only lowers women's lifetime earnings and savings, it also lowers their ultimate Social Security and pension benefits. Leaving a job to care for an aging parent costs the average woman more than $324,000 in lifetime wages and benefits, substantially increasing her risk of living in poverty in her own old age.

Many divorced women struggle to raise children without any assistance from a partner, and some compromise their financial security by supporting grandchildren.

With all of those gender-specific challenges, my audiences wanted to know how women can still build a secure retirement, especially if they're a little late to the game. It boils down to six major action items:

1. Define what retirement means to you. These days, retirement rarely means a condo in Sunny Isles, Fla. For most of us, it means slowing down and scaling back. Maybe you are spending more time with family or outdoors. For many, it means continuing to work. The important thing is to write your retirement objectives down, listing the most important goals first.

2. Figure out your Social Security benefits and when to claim them. For many of us, Social Security provides the biggest piece of our retirement income. In fact, it's the only source of income for half of unmarried African American and Hispanic women over age 65, and for a quarter of unmarried white women in the same age group. Almost universally, working a little longer and delaying your claim will provide a much more secure retirement for life. Your benefit will automatically increase 8 percent for each year you delay claiming. Plus, by adding more working years to your Social Security earnings record, you could increase your benefit. The longer you work, the more opportunity you will have to save for your retirement instead of dipping into your retirement savings.

Next page: Set budgets and calculate savings income. »

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