5 retirement planning tips for single women

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(MoneyWatch) Single women face significant retirement planning challenges, whether they've always been single or are now divorced or widowed. If you're a single woman, you'll be making most, if not all, of your financial planning decisions by yourself, so you're largely on your own to make sure you're financially secure during your retirement years. To do that, you'll want to learn as much as you can to make the best use of your financial and social resources.

To help with this goal, I'd like to suggest the following five retirement planning tips for single women.

Tip 1: Plan, plan, plan.

Numerous surveys show that about half of all Americans retire without doing any planningto see if their retirement savings will generate a reliable lifetime retirement income or to determine the best strategy for claiming Social Security benefits. Many people actually spend more time planning their next vacation than planning for a period in their lives that could last 20 or 30 years or more.

Taking a realistic look at your financial resources can give you a wake-up call that you need to make important life decisions, such as how long you'll need to work, whether you should change jobs in order to generate more income, work longer, or find work that your enjoy. You'll also need to determine whether you need to pare back your living expenses, either now or during your retirement years.

You may need to hire a retirement advisor to help you with these decisions; make sure this person is compensated to have your best interests at heart by paying a fee rather than a commission or transaction charge. Also make sure your planner has the credentials that demonstrate expertise with retirement planning (which is different from investment advice).

Tip 2: Delay starting Social Security.

For many women, Social Security will be your primary source of reliable retirement income. As a result, it pays to get the most from this valuable benefit.

For most single people, whether they're male or female, the best strategy is to delay starting Social Security as long as you can, since your income will be increased substantially for every year you delay.

Tip 3: Use retirement savings to generate reliable lifetime income.

Learn how to use your IRA and 401(k) accounts to generate a lifetime retirement income. Too many people simply spend the money in their retirement savings as needed, and they withdraw at a rate that's too high to make their money last as long as they live. The inevitable result is that they'll run out of money before they pass away.

There are many ways to generate reliable retirement income, each having its own pros and cons, and each generating a different amount of retirement income. Take the time to determine which method, or methods, of generating retirement income will work the best for your circumstances.

Tip 4: Get serious about taking care of your health.

You can significantly reduce the odds of incurring disabling and expensive diseases by getting fanatic about nutrition and exercise. Although you can't entirely eliminate the odds of incurring these diseases, you can take simple steps to improve your health. A nice side effect is that you'll look and feel better now, and if you do incur a disease or medical condition at some point in the future, you'll be in better shape to recover.

Tip 5: Nurture your network.

Having friends and relatives who care about you will not only increase your enjoyment during your retirement years, but they can help out if you have a medical event or other emergency. One of the biggest retirement challenges is loneliness, which can also be a threat to your health.

You can band together with friends and family to share resources, which will help reduce your living expenses. You might even decide to live together; this helps both reduce your living expenses and address the issue of loneliness.

To learn more about the retirement planning issues facing single women, a good source is The Single Woman's Guide to Retirement by Jan Cullinane. This book offers holistic guidance on a variety of retirement planning issues, ranging from lifestyle and health to money. In addition to Cullinane's book, I've prepared a free, online 12-week retirement course that guides you through each step of the retirement planning process. You won't regret the time you spend planning the most important time of your life -- the rest of your life!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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