Battling the sex savings gap

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Women appear to be doing a lousy job of saving for retirement, according to an analysis of 401(k) plans by human resource consultancy Aon Hewitt.

Their numbers are startling. Aon Hewitt looked at 140 401(k) plans that together had 3.5 million employee participants. They found that on average women were saving less than men — 6.9 percent of salaries compared to 7.6 percent for men, and one-third of women weren’t even saving enough to get the full employer match. That’s a really dumb move that 25 percent of men do as well. Overall, the study found that on average women have saved $59,300 in their 401(k)s compared to $100,000 on average saved by men.

I get a lot of questions from women about retirement — many of them from single women who only got around to worrying about retirement planning shortly before they wanted to hang up their work boots. They took a look at their savings and their potential Social Security check and realized that the two didn’t add up to enough money to live comfortably. Then they panicked.

Aon Hewitt estimates that a woman who has worked all her life should have saved 11.2 times her final pay to have enough to retire, but the research found that on average women accumulate only 8.6 times final pay — a shortfall of 2.6 times final pay. Men have a projected shortfall of 1.9 times final pay, which is not so great either, but better than women.

How can women fix that? The bottom line is: Save more.

Aon Hewitt estimates that if you don’t have a pension, it takes saving 15 percent of your pay annually from the time you are 25 until retirement at age 65 to have enough. If you wait until you are 35 to start saving, you have to save 25 percent of your salary annually.

These are daunting numbers, and it takes real determination to reach these levels. Here are four tips for making it happen:

  • Save enough to get your full employer match. You can’t afford to leave money on the table.
  • Don’t opt out of automatic escalation. If you don’t see that raise — because it’s going into your savings — you’ll never miss it.
  • Save outside of your 401(k) plan. If you don’t have emergency savings, you’ll be tempted to rob your retirement fund.
  • Get professional help picking the right investments. Making the wrong picks can cost you big time. Aon Hewitt figures that people who use available assistance make an average 3 percent more annually on their retirement investments.