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Money: Ignorance is not a Defence

I have heard another set of excuses from women about not taking control of their finances and their futures.  Some I can relate to and others just make me want to hit my head against a wall!

1. Stop the victim mentality crap!  It is not your math teacher's, your father's, your banker's, your exe's, your partner's fault that you do not engage in your financial reality with a sense of knowledge and control. Educate yourself, make some decisions, look at your cash flow, your debt situation, your assets and how best to maximize them.

2.  Know that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, that the average age of women becoming widows is 56 in Canada, and that the chances of being on your own at some point in your life is very high.  Women live longer on less money generally speaking and therefore need the best money management and financial planning available.

3. Those with a financial plan are better off and under less stress that those who have one.  So find someone you trust by asking around and getting references if need be.  Know what questions to ask, know what the letters behind the name mean, know who they are working for and make sure the plan is age and risk appropriate.  Get second, third, and fourth opinions if you wish.  Read Moneysense magazine and find out about the Couch Potato approach.  Check out and  Read Gail Vaz-Oxlade's books.  Get a clear picture of your finances and work longer for more money if you can.

4.  You do not need to have a pot of gold to get good advice although it can seem like that.  Take courses through Continuing Education, get Canadian contemporary books on financial management from the library, and increase your confidence and investing/planning skills.  Find someone who is willing to work with you and educate you at the same time.  I was told at one point that I asked too many questions.  I changed where I had my money fast.

5. Lots of widows and divorcees have had the trial by fire to get control of their financies and futures.  Do it now! No excuses! 

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Facing some realities of modern times

People ask  me why I have separate courses for women when I do the Retirement Readiness workshops and here are the answers.  Women have a different retirement picture than men when it comes to finances, relationships, longevity, caregiving, and planning.


Women over 65 who live alone have a 40% higher rate of low income than men who live alone.

Because of broken careers, lower earnings which average about 83 cents on the dollar for a man, more part time work, women have less to retire on.  Theoretically, they should be saving 20% more than men to sustain themselves in retirement, but the reality of that is just not there.  The rates of economic insecurity are higher than those of men.

Almost 50% of women have no financial plan.  According to a TD Waterhouse study, 33% have no RRSPs and 68% say they have no extra money to allocate to one.


The average age in Canada for a woman to become widowed is 56.  Women need to prepare themselves to be on their own at some point in their lives.  The divorce rate is about 40%  but the 55 plus rate is one age group that is increasing.  Both divorce and widowhood can mean a drop in the standard of living and financial security of the woman who then has to fend for herself.  She needs to navigate the legal and financial systems with some degree of savvy and confidence.

On the other hand, women go into retirement with better social networks and friendship groups than men do.  We have lower adjustment stresses and make the transition better than men do.  That does not mean we all make the transition smoothly.  It just means we often have more supports in place.


Women live on average longer than men.  Not all of that extended time may be with robust health.  We are living longer and we are dying longer.  We then need to make provisions for long term care through friends and family, insurance, local resources and possibly retirement homes or nursing homes.  We need to do whatever we can to maintain our independence and health as well as have a Plan B for care.


Women do most of the care for both children including adult children and seniors. About 75% of support for seniors is done by women.  Our children and seniors are dependent longer than in the past generation given the current economic picture and increased longevity. Many women are in the sandwich generation squeeze and often reduce their work hours to meet these needs.  This in turn reduces their pensions and savings. 

The other part of the caretaking picture involves the personal costs. Looking after adult children and needy seniors is both psychologically and physically demanding.  The toll on the caretaker herself can be a huge burden.  The World Economic Forum ranks Canada 18th on its gender equality index and the lack of support and policies on caretaking is one of the factors that puts us so far down compared to other countries


Women may be very good at balancing the monthly budget but too few look at a long term picture in terms of planning.  The future will take care of itself seems to be the approach of too many.  I have talked to women bankers about this attitude that I have found and they are stumped by it as well.  Are we too overwhelmed by the present?  Do we still think someone will look after us?  Do we think there is no advantage to planning ahead?  Is it a form of denial?  Is it a math phobia gone wild?

It is time there were well attended  financial boot camps for women that deal with what we need to know to go into our futures with confidence.


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All Those Dynamic Dames

What do you want to do when you grow up this time?  What dreams do you want to realize?

When G. retired, she went back to school and now has a new career and works part time at a job she loves.

H. began to volunteer with a group that sponsors orphanages and schools on the other side of the world.  She has visited twice for 3 months each time.  She organizes fundraising dinners, sales of goods, and raises lots of money and consciousness about the issues there.

R. moved to a new community, worked at the homeless shelter, joined a hiking group and a book club, and learned a new craft and sells her wares at the local weekly market.

D. retired to pursue her art and is now Artist in Residence at a ritzy hotel and spa, and has shows at local galleries and teaches art at an Arts Centre.

Through the work that I do, I meet many dynamic, creative women who are reinventing themselves and regenerating in wonderful to see ways.  K. volunteers at a local hospice and says it has deepened her life tremendously.  L. is spending more time with grandchildren and organizes a week in warmer climes in the winter and a cottage in the summer for her whole family which has become a joyful tradition.  M. is now teaching a fitness course and is taking a coaching course as well.  T. is running a bed and breakfast for her friend, P. is working at a winery part time booking events and entertainment and A. is writing a book and doing her own photography for it.

 Go for it while you can is their motto.

Take a look at dreams you may have deferred.  Think about what you have always wanted to try.  Seize the opportunities that come your way!  How do you want to revocate?  How do you want to regenerate?  How do you want to spend your Go-Go time?



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New Relationship Mine Fields Ahead

"Just because you want to retire does not mean that I do!"

"No, I do not want to move to be closer to  (fill in the blank)."

"No, I will not be your househusband when I retire!  Forget that!"

And so it begins. The discussions, the bargaining, the disagreements, and the resentments that can come with the negotiations around the major life shift that retirement brings.  The first issue is often timing.  Many men retire first which can result in role reversals and changes in expectations.  They may then want their partners to retire soon so that they can travel together or share a winter in a warmer climate.  Lots of women have their own career paths that have been broken by child care and now are at their peaks and do not wish to retire.  In fact, in an American study, 62% of couples disagreed on timing.  Men tend to die sooner and want to make the most of the time they have while women may not feel the same way.

Another topic of possible disagreements is relocation.  He wants to winterize the cottage and go south in the winter.  She wants to stay close to grandchildren.  She wants a pied a terre so that they can travel and see the world and he wants to stay and fix up the house.  He wants to buy a condo in Florida or Arizona and she wants to move to British Columbia.  Since they cannot agree, they stay put.  Or they may move, and one of them misses home and so back they go.  Bill Hill of RBC tells the story of the moving company who moves retirees away and then moves them back again.  Check out options and decisions together!

Then there is the money issue.  Twice the spouse on half the money and more time to shop!

Careful planning, clear communication, and workable compromises can lead to that shared vision of a rewarding retirement.  Start now!

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A Word with Women

Women's retirement in terms of research has been relatively invisible.  In 1921, 20% of women were working and many were in the service area, by 1999, it was 55%, and by 2003 it had gone to 61.6% of adult women.  The first group of Baby Boomer women are retiring and are the first cohort to be studied.  This research started in the mid 90's.

Mature Women at a TableWomen tend to have broken career paths and non-standard work arrangements.  This makes for reduced savings, no pension or reduced pension, making women more uncertain about the timing of their retirements.  Teachers, nurses, and public service workers have a better picture than most if they were employed full time over an extended period of time.  They have the defined benefit pensions and can predict what those pensions will be worth and know that they will be protected from the ravages of inflation.  A lag in entry or a broken career path can mean that they will be working longer.

Women base decisions on retirement timing not just on income but also on their own health, the needs of family members who may need care, their spouse's retirement timing or they may be in a downsizing squeeze at work.  Many women are self employed and they tend to retire later while some have had multiple jobs, part time jobs, or worked in temp positions and have little or no pension.  Low income women in retirement tend to be divorced or separated, widowed, married to poor men or always single.  Those who are married tend to retire sooner than their single counterparts.  Childlessness or dependent children can also mean delayed retirement.

The recommendations for those heading to retirement include:

 1)paying off the mortgage but 22% do not

2) max out your RRSP contributions but most do not

3) cut up the credit cards and get out of debt but many are retiring in debt

4) know and track your income and expenses

Basically, live frugally, save diligently, and invest wisely!  Consider the best timing for you!  Some of my friends joke about Freedom 75!

 Good luck!

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Yikes! A Spouse in the House

For better or for worse but for lunch everyday?
Spouses fight about money and power more than any other issues. Retirement can be twice the spouse on half the money. It is also a time of change which can make some of us uncomfortable. This can lead to short fuses and misunderstandings.
Retirement is a time of recalibrating relationships with those closest to us as well as with our friends and social network. Our colleagues at work have made up a portion of our social lives and that will change. New friends are in order; ideally, some may be older, some peers, and some younger.
Sometimes one spouse will retire before another. This will call for a rebalancing of roles and expectations.
“I want her to come and play and she is still enjoying her job and expecting me to do the laundry and stuff. This is not what I had in mind.”
“I retired first and now he will be retiring. I have my routines and play groups and he is going to have to find his own.”
Beware of “turf wars” as each person finds his or her space.
“He left work and offered to help me in the kitchen. The next thing I know he had reorganized the cupboards and I could not find a thing! I sent him back downstairs and got him cooking classes for his birthday.”
Openness, honesty, trust, respect and good communication make the transition easier and more fun.

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