Susan Tompor: Women need to think beyond coupon-clipping, to retirement planning

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

One of my favorite talking points in everyday conversation is just how much I saved on this or that. I paid $55 for my teen son’s Sperry school shoes this fall, getting them at 40 percent off by tapping into a sale and making certain to use the best coupon online. I paid $10 a few years ago for a three-tiered ruffle skirt that I wore to the office the other day.

As women, we more than know that drill.

But when it comes to retirement?

I’m betting a lot of women did not discuss over lunch lately, or ever, how they were going to need to invest X amount of dollars to retire in Y amount of years. Many of us, some men included, know the big (or small) number on that 401(k) statement but we’re not heavily invested in the fees we’re paying, the choices we’re making and the exact returns we’ve been getting.

Yet as we’re coming to learn more and more: This is not your mother’s retirement.

My late, dear mom retired in the 1970s at age 50 after 30 years as a UAW autoworker and lived a humble but comfortable life on her pension, my dad’s pension and Social Security. They had wonderful health coverage, savings and no debt.

But many middle-class families have yet to recover from the recession. I talked to one 45-year-old woman who used to be an autoworker but lost her job a few years ago. Retirement isn’t in the cards, as she continues to look for work. She said her family is living on roughly one-third of what she and her husband had earned during the boom times.

Many women also are working to cover college tuition bills for sons and daughters or providing extra care for aging parents, so they’re not as focused on every retirement dollar as they should be, according to financial experts.

Others want to tap into their retirement savings to start their own businesses.

“A huge number of women are fed up with corporate life, or corporate life has left them behind,” said Donna DeGennaro, financial adviser for DeGennaro Financial in Birmingham, Mich. DeGennaro says she regularly meets with women who have money saved in a 401(k). But unlike maybe their mothers or fathers, many women today are not working somewhere that has a pension. Their security depends on how well they invest, save and how much they spend.

Baby boomer women are moving closer to their retirement years, but many are wondering how they’re going to make their money last. Some wonder whether they could retire but possibly find a part-time job that offers some money, fun and meaning.

Watching the family budget is wise, but cutting corners alone isn’t enough to put a family on a strong financial footing. More conversations are needed about investing options and retirement strategies.

“It starts with what are you trying to accomplish with your money,” said Karin Risi, a principal of Vanguard Advice Services in Malvern, Pa.

Risi recently met with a group of female bloggers at Vanguard’s offices to go beyond the coupon-clipping strategy.

The bloggers met for a half-day workshop that included talks about retirement, paying for college, and teaching kids about money.

Risi led the day’s opening discussion on investing fundamentals, such as setting financial goals that are attainable, maintaining a long-term discipline, creating a balance portfolio and, yes, minimizing cost.

I don’t know whether it means we’re soon going to be hearing from bloggers who brag about how much they saved on their 401(k) investments. But we’ve got to start having more of that kind of retirement-focused conversations, too.



—Catching up on retirement can include aiming to set aside more money in a 401(k), as well as working toward paying down a mortgage and other debt before retiring.

—Women may work hard to juggle careers and family but they also need to take time to work on long-term financial planning, including regularly reviewing returns on their investments and considering less-conservative investment options, according to financial experts.

SOURCE: Detroit Free Press research



Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at


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