I ask women what keeps them awake about retirement. What are their greatest fears? The responses overwhelm me.

Planning for retirement and the thought of retirement are major sources of anxiety. From primary-wage earners to stay-at-home moms, overarching, similar concerns are shared.

It comes down to reducing stress and increasing security. Here are the top four sources of anxiety I encounter. Do you feel them? Can you relate to them?

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I will be left alone.

The majority of women are convinced they will be living their last decade in retirement — at the least — alone as spouses pass on and children, justifiably so, are occupied with their own lives.

I ask women what keeps them awake about retirement. What are their greatest fears? The responses overwhelm me.

The thought of handling financial obstacles alone, especially when it comes to long-term care or nursing home expenses, is a formidable source of angst.

Women fear being a burden to their families, becoming isolated, and facing solo the vulnerabilities concomitant with aging.

The women I encounter rarely voice their concerns to financial counsel, nor are they asked.

Surprising to me, few are reluctant to discuss the issues with spouses or partners. They fear appearing “silly” or “dramatic.”

Since women tend to outlive partners, there’s nothing “silly” about this worry. U.S. census data outlines that roughly 50 percent of women 65 or older are indeed on their own, whether divorced, widowed, or never married.

I invite women to explore the issue, to open the door to sharing the concern with others. I encourage them to get their thoughts down on paper. Shed the pain and fear through ink. Writing is a powerful self-awareness, anxiety-reduction exercise.

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I requested they write in quiet time. Alone. I ask that they visualize. Give their fear dimensions. Traction. Financial. Otherwise, everything goes. No judgment. All that is contributing to their concerns should be spilled.

From that point, women must take a leap, possess the resolve to communicate the concerns. Their writings need to be shared with loved ones, significant others, and finally, a financial planning-based adviser who is willing to listen. A financial partner can create practical goals-based strategies to alleviate the fears.

Financial professionals can be effective at facilitating family discussions. They may help women feel confident to share as long as they remain empathetic and being in the middle as nonjudgmental sounding boards.

Social Security is confusing.

Women believe they need to take Social Security retirement benefits at age 62 or don't understand the impact of maximizing spousal or survivor benefits.

Discussions surrounding Social Security maximization strategies are important. Several women were told by financial advisers that they were correct to consider early Social Security payouts. Yet, they didn't explain why this was the primary option. Big mistake.

Social Security is an important topic for a woman and her partner to discuss together.

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I’m afraid to outlive my savings and investments.

A majority of women share how sensitive they are to longevity risk. Many have parents who are thriving at 80 or older.

Frankly, the financial profession is inundated with studies about the appropriate asset allocations and withdrawal rates required to ensure that investments, adjusted for inflation, last as long as they do.

Perspective is crucial. It’s smart to keep a flexible mindset when designing a saving, investing, and withdrawal strategy. It’s part science, sure. However, markets, spending habits, and retirement cycles twist and turn — you know, like life. And please don’t rule out annuities.

The integration of longevity protection into retirement planning through the use of deferred-income annuities can generate lifetime income. They’re low cost and simple when compared with variable annuities.

Partner with an insurance specialist or planner to estimate dollars you can allocate for an annuity option, especially to cover household expenses like a mortgage and insurance.

I’m not confident about my investment decisions.

Cash appears to be a “Snuggie” to women. A majority of them I counsel, regardless of age, maintain greater than 40 percent of their retirement assets in cash investments like money market funds, which is not efficient long term. However, the logic that leads them to hoard a healthy cash stash appears sound thinking.

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As opposed to investing on their own or creating a collection of stocks and mutual funds without understanding the risks, many women confide in me how they would rather stick it out in cash.

At least “stupid” decisions leading to loss of capital are avoided.

Hey, not my words!

I thought it a candid reason to hold so much in cash. Why invest without a buy/sell strategy and a thorough understanding of how investments work together from a risk/reward perspective?

What surprises me is how educated women lack confidence in their own abilities to embrace the investment process and how difficult it seems to be for them to find advisers who listen and whom they trust.

Several expressed that they were seeking advisers, doing their homework by asking friends and family.

Many felt they were “being talked down to, not listened to, or were being sold something” by prospective financial partners and gave up.


I am shocked by the overwhelming number of women with spouses using financial advisers they never met. Investment accounts were not considered in a holistic manner as a household, either.

Husbands do their financial thing. They do theirs. That’s a broken system.

It’s time for women to be bolder when it comes to money. The largest wealth transfer will occur when baby boomers inherit from their parents. Also, let’s not forget the wealth transfer from spouse to spouse. Since women generally outlive men, assets will ultimately be in their hands to manage.

Women need to be more present in their long-term financial decisions. It goes ways beyond bank statements. It always has.

The wisdom and perspective women provide to the overall planning process are invaluable to the health of family finances.

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It’s time for advisers to ask for their input and take it seriously. Encourage. Lastly, women need to learn how to speak up, become a force. With the right advisers, they grow empowered.

Women need to realize the powerful feedback they bring to the retirement planning and investment process.

And when they finally do, watch out.