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  • Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

    Grandma’s Wisdom: Lessons about Saving and Retirement

    Sunday, September 13th, 2015

    By Kassie Barroquillo, former WISER Research Associate

    September 13th is Grandparents Day – a day when we can celebrate our grandparents and those people in our lives who fill that role. One reason to celebrate is because grandparents can provide us with wise advice based on their own years of experience. This year, WISER asked grandmothers at all stages in their lives for advice they would give their grandchildren on saving and retirement.

    Saving Early

    Linda, a grandmother of a four- and a five-year-old, said, “Every time you get any money try to save some back, even if its small amounts.” She also added that she hopes her granddaughters start saving early, so they can retire. Penny wanted her two grandchildren, seven and nine, to remember that “no amount is too small to begin saving.”

    Want to help younger children learn about the importance of saving and planning for the future? WISER has a children’s book called “Sonja Meets Her Future Self,” which teaches kids the valuable lesson of Save, Spend, and Give.


    Barb, who has three grandsons between the ages of three years and three months, said they should add retirement savings to their budget. Gayle, who has three grandchildren between the ages of 10 and 19, added that they should discern between “what you need versus what you want.”

    WISER has two budget worksheets, if you want to start building your own budget: Simple Budget Worksheet and Detailed Budget Worksheet.

    When the Grandkids Grow Up

    Retired grandma to a four- and a five-year-old, Barbara, said “My advice is to save money, comparison shop, buy quality items, and to save a portion of all your pay for a ‘rainy day’…and always take advantage of employer savings programs like 401k.” She also added that if you have the means, use a financial advisor. Michelle, who has two grandchildren, ages two and four, echoed Barbara, “Definitely invest in a 401k for retirement!”

    WISER has an entire page dedicated to 401k’s here! Don’t have access to a 401(k) Plan? Learn more about other ways to save for retirement.

    A Little Advice from my Grandmas

    I asked my own grandmas what advice they would give me. My Grandma Greta has 13 grandchildren, three great grandchildren, and one on the way, between the ages of two and 38. She said I should be sure to “have enough money saved to plan for inflation. It is more than you think it’s going to be.” She also said I should consider investing in property.

    Learn more about inflation and ways to invest your savings in The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing.

    I am the oldest of my Grandma Wilma’s four grandchildren at 26, with the youngest being 13. She said, “Save money in a 401k or IRA while you are working. I’ve been saving my money the entire time I’ve been working, so I will be able to live, hopefully, without depending on anybody.” She added that she always had money taken out of her paychecks and always put it in a retirement fund. Most importantly she never borrowed from it.

    To find out more about IRAs and what happens if you borrow early, see this page from WISER.

    Thanks to the grandma’s who contributed their words of wisdom and happy grandparent’s day to all!


    The Financial Impact of Widowhood

    Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

    Key to HomeAt WISER, we frequently hear from women who find themselves struggling financially after their husbands pass away; many of them saying “If only I knew…” when it comes to financial matters. Women’s longer life expectancy puts them at greater risk for running out of money in their older years, but other factors often compound this longevity risk and make the situation even more challenging.

    While more women today are becoming involved in their family’s long-term finances[i], those seniors who are experiencing widowhood now were part of a generation where women were less likely to be involved in their family’s retirement planning and investments. This can make the difficult experience of losing a spouse even harder for a widow who then does not know what assets she has or whether she will have enough money to live out the rest of her life.

    Surveys also show that women are less likely to trust financial advisors, and more likely to rely on family and friends for financial advice.[ii] Even when a couple has a financial advisor, if the husband dies, the wife may not feel comfortable working with the advisor alone. This is especially true if the advisor does not give her the same level of attention or respect, or communicate in a way that resonates with her.

    Finally, women do not understand their Social Security benefits as well as they should. Many women rely heavily on Social Security as a leading source of income in their later years, yet most are not familiar with even the basic rules of spousal and survivor benefits, nor do they understand what the different options are for claiming Social Security that can greatly impact their benefit.

    Recent research by WISER confirms many of the findings in this report. In 2013, WISER released A Survey of Recent Widows. Among some of its findings:

    *    Half of the widows lost at least 50% of their income when their husbands died.

    *    37% had difficulty both determining what they were entitled to receive from Social Security and initiating Social Security benefits after their husbands died.

    *    26% had difficulty locating bank accounts and investments and obtaining access to them after their husbands died.

    *    26% of the widows whose husbands were responsible for financial planning had to move to less expensive housing as a result of their spouse’s death.

    There is much that can be done to better educate and support women on their financial journey. It starts with encouraging women of all ages to get actively involved in their finances; helping them understand the basics and where to go for help; and building their confidence and motivation to take further action. Here are some key tips:

    *    Know what all the different financial accounts are that both you and your spouse have (bank accounts, investments accounts, Social Security benefits, insurances, loans, credit cards, etc.). You can access your Social Security statement online by going to;

    *    Organize all the necessary information about those accounts in one place and review them together (names of the financial institutions where accounts are held, passwords, contact information for any account representatives or agents, etc.);

    *    If you have a financial advisor, be involved with those meetings and conversations and make he or she is working with both of you;

    *    Educate yourself about the basics of finances and investing, including Social Security and how that may be impacted if you become a widow.

    Widowhood is a vulnerable period both emotionally and financially. The more we can help women (including ourselves!) prepare for this likely event, the better their chances for living out their retirement years with a sense of security and dignity.

    EXTRA! Important facts that every woman should know to prepare for the possibility of widowhood:

    *    A widow’s income may only be two-thirds of what it was prior to the spouse’s death. In fact, a recent GAO report found that the income of women near or in retirement dropped 37 percent as a result of widowhood.[iii]

    *    Federal pension law requires company and union pension plans to provide a joint and survivor benefit option. The right to the joint and survivor pension benefit can only be given up if the wife gives her permission in writing.

    *    When selecting the pension benefit at the time of the husband’s retirement, a wife needs to consider the options very carefully. The joint and survivor annuity offers a smaller monthly payment than other pension benefit options; however, for women who expect to depend on their husband’s pension as a source of income throughout their longer lives, this is generally a better option. Without the joint and survivor benefit, all pension payments will stop once the husband dies.

    *    Different rules apply to certain other retirement savings plans, such as 401(k)s. Death benefits from a 401(k) are generally paid out in a lump sum, which can be rolled over—tax-free—into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).


    This article is adapted from an essay written by Lara Hinz, WISER’s Director of Programs, that was featured in the Impact of Retirement Risk on Women, a report published by the Society of Actuaries and WISER.

    The “Campaign for a Secure Retirement:  Helping Millions of Americans Plan and Save for Retirement”  is a joint educational retirement campaign to encourage retirement planning and saving and to promote the online Social Security Statement, available through my Social Security, as an important retirement planning tool. 

    [i] Fidelity Investments, Couples Retirement Study. September 2013.

    [ii] TIAA-CREF, Financial Advice Survey. October 2013.

    [iii] U.S. GAO. Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges. GAP-12-699.  July 19, 2012.





    I Love You Enough to Discuss Finances

    Saturday, February 14th, 2015

    Pink TableWhile it may not sound as romantic as the traditional fancy dinner or a dozen roses, nothing says “I love you” like making smart decisions that can build your financial future together. Have some fun with your sweetheart this weekend, but also make a commitment to each other to improve your financial foundation. These steps can help get you started:


    1. Review your finances, even if you are not married.

    Make time to sit down with your partner and see what your current financial picture looks like. To get you started, here are some questions you should each know the answers to:

    • What is your spouse’s income?
    • Where are you spending your money on a monthly basis? Where is your partner spending his or hers?
    • What debts do you both have (Credit cards? Student loans? A mortgage?) and how are you working toward paying them off?
    • Does your spouse have an employee-sponsored or other retirement plan? How much is he or she contributing each month/year?
    • Do you have money in joint or individual savings accounts? If so, how much? Do you make regular contributions to it?
    • Do you have any investments as individuals or as a couple? What are they? How are they performing?

    It can be hard to talk about money and especially debt, but you will be more confident that you can make good decisions if both of you know all the same information.

    Even if you are not married, you and your significant other should start to share your financial situation. Many couples do not talk about finances until after they are married and then find themselves straddled with their significant other’s debt. It is better to prepare yourself now than be surprised later.


    2. Discuss how to split finances.

    You may want everything to be even and equal, but often one partner makes more money than the other. You should discuss how that affects your spending and saving. Instead of trying to pay for half of everything, suggest splitting it by percentage of income. For example, if you make $45,000 a year and your spouse makes $52,000, try splitting your rent so that your spouse pays 15% more.

    Creating a budget can help with understanding spending habits. Use our budget worksheet to organize your finances

    Also, keep in mind the fact that women often spend their money on everyday expenses, while their partner’s income goes into investments or savings. Make sure that you are contributing to long-term savings and that there are assets that are also in your name.


    3. Plan ahead.

    Many women will end up living on their own at some point in their later years. You may be part of the 50% of couples that divorce. Or you may stay married, but live longer than your husband. Get involved in your family’s finances now so that you know how to handle them if you become solely responsible. Know where your investments are and how much they are worth. Make sure your name appears on all of your family accounts and investments to establish your legal right to them should your marriage end or if your spouse becomes ill or unable to assist in making decisions. And finally, make sure you take those extra years when you may be living on your own into account when you and your spouse are planning for retirement.


    4. Revisit your financial plan.

    Make plans to re-evaluate your finances each year, at minimum. Scheduling a time to sit down annually will allow you to make any necessary adjustments to your budget and check to see if your long-term savings and investments are on track. Also important – make a promise to each other to have a conversation anytime there are major changes to your finances. Did your spouse get a bonus, or are you now out-earning your partner? Discuss how to use those additional funds together. Did one of you make a big purchase that you have not told the other one about? Be honest with each other and talk about how to adjust your spending habits.


    These four steps will help you avoid common mistakes women in couples make about their finances. You’re committed to each other, be committed your financial future as a couple too.

    For more tips on making your love nest financially secure, check out one of WISER’s earlier blogs, WISER Ways to Say “I Love You”.


    About Us

    WISER is a nonprofit organization that works to help women, educators and policymakers understand the important issues surrounding women's retirement income. WISER creates a variety of consumer publications including fact sheets, booklets and a quarterly newsletter that explain in easy-to-understand language the complex issues surrounding Social Security, divorce, pay equity, pensions, savings and investments, banking, home-ownership, long-term care and disability insurance.

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