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how to get financially fit

By Susan Cronenberg as told to Shelby Leith


Aging gracefully isn't just about maintaining our physical well-being—it's also about achieving financial resilience. As the years pass, our wallets, like our waistlines, require constant attention to remain healthy and robust. Particularly for women, the path to retirement is paved with distinct challenges and considerations. From managing the gaps in pay scales to career pauses for family care, women's journey to financial freedom demands a unique roadmap. Join us as we delve into the intricacies of crafting a financially sound future tailored to the dynamic experiences of women.


Understanding Women's Financial Landscape:


Modern women are no stranger to breaking boundaries and setting new norms. One notable trend is the increasing number of women choosing to work past the conventional retirement age of 65. Their reasons vary, but many find joy in their professions, while others work out of necessity.


However, despite these strides, women face some steep financial hills to climb. The age-old wage gap remains unsettling, with women often earning just a fraction of their male counterparts. Add to this the potential career interruptions—be it to raise children or care for elderly parents—and the financial landscape appears even more complex. Moreover, many women find themselves in roles at smaller businesses or charitable organizations, places that may not offer comprehensive retirement benefits.


Complicating the picture further, a significant number of women find themselves navigating these challenges solo, with many being single from the age of 65 and beyond. It's a unique financial terrain that demands awareness and preparation. But with understanding and the right strategies, it's a terrain that can be navigated confidently.


Laying the Foundation: The Basics of Financial Preparedness


Building a secure financial future is similar to constructing a house: it starts with a strong foundation. This groundwork consists of a few key pillars for women gearing up for retirement.


Budgeting: Think of budgeting as your financial blueprint. By keenly observing and cataloging your current spending habits, you're becoming aware of where your money goes and predicting your future needs. A well-structured budget provides a clear view of the present and a telescope into the future, ensuring you're always aware of the situation.


Maximizing Employer Benefits: Like the sturdy bricks in a house, a 401(k) or its equivalent is a building block of retirement planning. If your employer offers matching contributions, seize this opportunity! It's essentially free money that can bolster your retirement nest egg. By contributing enough to unlock the full company match, you’re harnessing a powerful tool to amplify your savings.


Establishing an Emergency Fund: Financial storms can appear without warning. To weather these with grace, consider setting up an emergency fund. An index fund can be an excellent vessel for this purpose, offering growth potential while allowing penalty-free withdrawals during urgent times.


In the architecture of your financial future, these are your foundational pillars. Lay them with care and precision, and watch as your retirement vision takes a tangible, robust form.


Learning Resources to Elevate Your Financial Literacy


In this digital age, financial empowerment is often just a click away. For women seeking tailored advice and strategies, a treasure trove of online resources awaits. The Charles Schwab Guide stands out as a beacon, offering insights and tools specifically designed for women navigating the financial seas of today. Similarly, smartaboutmoney.org serves as a virtual classroom with lessons and strategies to sharpen your fiscal acumen. And for those seeking a community-centric platform, wiserwomen.org provides a sanctuary. Here, women from all walks of life come together, sharing knowledge and experiences to pave the way for a secure financial future.


The Role of Financial Advisors


Navigating the financial maze can sometimes feel daunting, especially when faced with many choices and decisions. It's no wonder that many women approach the idea of consulting a financial advisor with a mix of apprehension and uncertainty.


Yet, think of financial advisors as your personal financial navigators. Their role? To illuminate the path, making your journey smoother and more informed. The value they bring is immeasurable, from personalized strategies to insights tailored to your unique situation.


For those wary about where to begin, fret not. Databases like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the Financial Planning Association serve as trusted compasses, guiding you to certified professionals who can become allies in your financial journey.


In the quest for financial empowerment, remember: seeking expertise isn't an admission of inadequacy but rather a step towards informed and strategic planning.


Prioritizing Yourself in Financial Decisions


At the heart of many women lies an innate giver, often placing the needs of loved ones ahead of their own. While this selflessness is commendable, it's crucial to remember that financial self-care isn't selfish—it's essential. Just as in air travel, where we're advised to secure our own oxygen masks first, financial planning demands a similar approach. Facing choices like funding retirement or a child's education can be taxing. Yet, it's vital to remember that while there are alternative avenues for education funding, retirement has fewer backroads. Balancing generosity with personal needs ensures not only your well-being but also your ability to support loved ones in the long run. Prioritize wisely; your future self will thank you.


Navigating Complex Financial Waters


Financial transparency with partners is paramount. Open conversations not only nurture trust but also ensure that both parties move toward a shared financial vision. Moreover, as the keepers of wisdom, mothers are perfectly poised to pass down essential financial lessons to their daughters, planting seeds for a future of financial empowerment.


In the aftermath of a divorce, the financial landscape can shift dramatically. During these transitions, it's often wiser to prioritize retirement savings over immediate property assets. Additionally, understanding one's eligibility regarding an ex-spouse's Social Security benefits can be crucial, ensuring that one doesn't overlook any rightful entitlements.


While each woman's financial journey is dotted with its unique challenges and triumphs, embracing open dialogues, making informed decisions, and seeking knowledge can illuminate the path. With resilience and the right tools, our golden years can truly shine with security and empowerment.


Susan Cronenberg managed and analyzed financial performance for major companies for 40 years. She is now retired and living in Los Angeles, CA with her partner. She holds a Master of Science in Management – Finance from the University of Southern California, School of Management. She keeps busy by volunteering for an organization that gives back to the community, managing her rental properties, and babysitting her three grandchildren.


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