Retirement Is Financially Challenging for Women

elderly woman with financial advisor
Rolf Sjogren | The Image Bank | Getty Images
elderly woman with financial advisor

Being 60 and single isn't the picture Edith Heyck had painted for herself. After being widowed at an early age, the professional artist remarried, but that marriage ended in divorce eight years ago.

"I always expected to be married," says Heyck, who lives near Boston. "It really never occurred to me that I would be a single Baby Boomer."

Heyck admits that during her married years, she took a back seat when it came to financial planning. She's not alone.

Millions of Baby Boomer women will spend their golden years alone—because of divorce, outliving a spouse or because they never married in the first place. Being single often magnifies the already harsh financial realities women face in retirement.

Even when married, women are much less likely than men to characterize themselves as the "primary" financial decision-maker, according to a survey released last month by Wells Fargo .

While both men and women haven't saved enough for their retirements, the women polled had saved less than men, with a median accumulated retirement savings of $20,000 for women versus $25,000 for men.

More alarming, despite a longer expected life span for women, when asked how much they were aiming for in retirement savings, women aimed lower, with a median goal of $200,000 versus $400,000 for men, the survey found.

About 40 percent of female Baby Boomers are divorced, widowed or never married, according to AARP, and 23 percent have no children.

That's why financial planners say it's more important than ever for women to take control of their money, whether or not they are currently married.

"It's very important that individuals, even if you are part of a couple today, to both get involved in the saving, spending decisions, as well as the investment decisions of the family," says Tina DiVito of BMO Retirement Institute.

Among the most important questions for single women who are near retirement to answer are, says DiVito: Where do you want to live? How do you plan to make your preferences known when you are unable to care for yourself? And how will you pay for that care?

For that reason, DiVito says, single women who don't have beneficiaries, should look at long-term care insurance, which will be there to take care of them during their later retirement years, rather than life insurance.

Heyck admits divorce hit her finances hard. The combination of caring for aging parents and a college-age son, as well as the economic downturn, helped to deplete her small savings.

So, to make ends meet, Heyck had to get creative.

"I moved in with one of my best friends, a woman who had another college-age son, and we combined our living situation for several years to great success," she says.

Now she counts on her work and good health and the support of her five siblings and friends.

"Finding myself in this position," says Heyck, "I really have no option except to be brave, courageous and in trust."