When we are young, we often “map out” our future. We think about things like going to college, getting married, having kids, and having a career. We learn along the way that life is fluid, and we have to adjust our plans to accommodate a change in circumstances. Maybe it took us 10 years to finish college instead of 4 years, and we have to be flexible about the other future plans that are dependent upon a college degree. Maybe we have 4 kids instead of the 2 we naively planned to have when we were 10 years old and playing silly paper games that predicted the number of kids we would have. And still maybe we thought we would live happily ever after….never giving much thought about how we would get to “ever after.”
One thing that never changes in those scenarios is that we begin to age the minute we are born. Yet, we often neglect to plan for the way our life can change when we age. As women, we spend so much of our time planning for everyone else’s needs we forget about our own, and don’t think about our own needs until a crisis arises. In my role as Care Manager , I counsel women who are in different stages of their lives, but with one common theme- they didn’t plan for “getting old.” Maybe it’s their mom who is aging and they are taking care of her. Sometimes, it’s the woman herself who comes to see me because she doesn’t have a spouse or family to help out and she needs help aging safely. In some situations women have “left the finances to my husband” and when he passes away unexpectedly, or there is a divorce, she doesn’t know where to turn. You’ve heard the phrase “women in transition” and maybe thought it referred to “those other women”, not you. Well, we are all in transition. We are transitioning into married women, single women, empty-nesters, grandmas, retirees, volunteers etc. There may be certain times in our life where things are static, but those times occur infrequently to the times we are undergoing change.
I have seen many situations where women have found themselves alone in their 60’s,70’s and beyond, with little income, and no idea how to navigate their future. Finding your way is a lot harder when you are being reactive rather than proactive. Women can take charge of their future by knowing where they stand financially- with or without a spouse. The Social Security Administration has a website (http://www.ssa.gov/mystatement/) where you can create an account and see what your benefits will be at different retirement ages, and allow you to see what your benefit will be based on your lifetime earnings thus far. Make sure you know what you have in life insurance, for yourself and/or your spouse. Who are the beneficiaries? Meet with a financial planner and make a contingency plan for that asset. Do YOU have a 401k or a pension? If you’re married, ask your spouse what would happen to his pension if he was to die. What about a long-term care or disability insurance? Who will help you pay for your needs as you age if you find yourself unexpectedly alone in your later years? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves and the earlier the better. Women often find it challenging to be everything to all the people in their lives who rely on them. To be good caretakers, we have to take care of ourselves first. If we fail to plan for our needs when we age, we leave our care to those that we spend the majority of our lives nurturing- our loved ones. “Hope” is not a plan.