Always digging deeper into what women over 50 are really thinking (and not just depending on the academic reports and studies, many of which are frightfully discouraging), I asked women on Facebook and Twitter to reveal that one thing that keeps them awake at night, that single nagging worry that haunts their sleep and has the potential to overshadow their generally positive outlook on life.
Conventional wisdom might say that women over 50 are most concerned about how they look, how many wrinkles they have and how young they appear. In fact, there's big business in convincing us that these should be our focal points. As I've written before, women often feel invisible and unimportant once they are over 50, but that isn't a gut-wrenching fear; it's an observation, and one that most women I know shrug off with a knowing smile.
When I asked them to share their worst fear, none of these issues came up. A few mentioned health as a priority, or maintaining the ability and strength to keep doing everything they are doing. But, based on the many responses, it's clear that these women who are out there working, taking care of their families and contributing to their communities in meaningful ways have something much bigger than crows feet on their minds.
The one common thread that linked their thoughtful comments was this: the fear of not having enough money as they get older.
Here are just a few of the many comments I received:
From personal experience and different circumstances, I wonder how in the world I am going to take care of myself since I have nothing for retirement.
For me, there's so much I want to do and accomplish. I want to continue to work in my business, I want to stay healthy, and I don't want to run out of money.
I worry about being homeless. I've had nightmares about it for several years -- the result of the outpouring of money required to raise kids post-divorce, post-layoffs, and having to pay crazy amounts of money for very basic insurance.
Will I ever be able to afford to retire and will my body hold up until I can.
The disturbing thing is that financial destitution could end up being more than just a fear for far too many women in this country; it could become a fact. In a recent interview, Ken Robbins, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin said, "Men tend to be more financially secure, make more money, and have bigger pensions and Social Security checks. Widows are often left with dramatically less money."
What's the solution? Help women over 50 get and keep jobs, and give them access to affordable health care so that they can continue to have productive lives for as long as they wish.
Last week I was interviewed on CBS' "The Early Show," offering tips for women to get back into the workforce after having taken sabbaticals to raise children or care for an ill parent or spouse. Beyond the advice, the one point I wanted to get across -- and did -- was this: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, of the new jobs that were created during the last 12 months, 90 percent went to men, in large part because employers are still more sympathetic to an unemployed man than an unemployed woman. Given that more and more women are the main breadwinners for their families, and an increasing number head up single-parent homes, this outdated idea must be revisited and revised. Nothing less than a paradigm shift about how we view women and work is called for, if we are to help women have secure financial futures.
A recent article I wrote for The Huffington Post in honor of Mother's Day -- "The Most Powerful Mother's Day Gift in the World" -- clearly laid out the situation many women are confronting. Women over 50 must be given the opportunity to continue working or return to the workforce so that the fear of poverty (for themselves and their families) does not become a reality.
Marie Curie once said, "Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood." That's especially true of our finances. Whether you are working or looking for work, taking care of the money you have, and will have, is essential to your future well-being. You need to understand how to make money but also how to manage it. Many women, especially those over 50, leave the finances up to their husbands, which can really put them in a bind if the husband passes away, or if the couple gets divorced. The best advice? Create a financial plan.
Where to start?
First, understand that even the most savvy, well-respected financial gurus don't know what the future holds. Will real estate values go back up to their prior levels? Some think so, most think not, but really, we don't know. And the stock market? It will continue to go up and down as it always has, according to Jason Zweig, one of the experts I consulted for "The Best of Everything After 50" and a Wall Street Journal columnist.
Both Jason Zweig and Jane Bryant Quinn, bestselling author and one of this country's most respected authorities on personal finance (and a key expert in "The Best of Everything After 50"), strongly suggest finding a trusted financial planner whom we can work with for the long term. A financial planner can help us with our "life plan" and make sure we stick with it. Don't have one, and not sure how to find one? Jason and Jane suggest asking knowledgeable friends or family members for help in creating a plan, if you're comfortable sharing the details of your finances with them.
Whether you work with a planner or take the DYI route, having a plan will bring financial clarity to your life, and peace of mind. To help you get started, here are a few "back to basic" recommendations from Jane Bryant Quinn:
- Tighten your belt: stop spending and don't live above your means.
- Stash it away: put as much money as you can into your 401(k) and other retirement plans.
- Hands off the house: stop yourself from tapping into your home equity for cash.
- Cut the cord: stop helping your adult kids. Put money into your retirement fund first, and then the college fund.
- Stay healthy: this generation of "after 50s" will most likely have to work many more years than we had expected, so we want to get and stay healthy.
- Maintain health insurance until you're 65: having no health insurance is a much greater financial risk than almost anything else. Stay insured (by working, if possible) until you're 65, at which time you'll switch to Medicare (which is in jeopardy as I write this, so this advice may very well change in the future. Stay tuned.)
The best advice of all is this: do not let fear get in the way of making wise and prudent financial decisions that could have a positive impact on your future. Stay in touch with others who are supportive, caring and sensitive to your situation, and above all, don't get overwhelmed. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, smile and remember: you control your own life.
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2011 New York City Marathon Weekly Training Countdown (25 weeks to go)
I'm running in the NYC Marathon in November to celebrate my 55th birthday and raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in memory of a friend who succumbed to the disease last year. Here's an update on my training schedule:
- Saturday: 5 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
- Monday: 5 miles using a run/walk ratio of 3 minutes/30 seconds
- Thursday: 9 miles with using a run/walk ratio of 1 minute/1 minute
Every other week I'll be adding another mile or so to the long run (keeping the two short runs the same distance), and I will be adding "speed work" to my training. Next week, I'll run 10.5 miles! Stay tuned.
For more information on the Jeff Galloway Run/Walk/Run Method, check out his website, www.jeffgalloway.com.
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Staying connected is a powerful tool: "Friend" me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter (BGrufferman). For more information about "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More," please visit my website, www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Be well, and stay in touch.
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman