If you're a woman, you have to be actively involved in your financial preparations for retirement; that's true whether you're single or married.
As a woman, you have at least two special considerations associated with your retirement planning.
You've got a longer life expectancy. Women typically outlive men by about seven years, according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. More years of life means more expenses.
You may have less money in your retirement plan. Women drop out of the work force for an average of 12 years to care for young children or aging parents, according to the Older Women's League, a research and advocacy group. This time away from the workforce results in women accumulating much less money in their employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401ks.
The prospect of a long, under-funded retirement is not a pleasant one. Fortunately, there's much you can do to avoid this fate.
For starters, know what's going on in your financial situation. If you are married, share the responsibility of making investment decisions. What are your retirement goals? Are the two of you investing enough to eventually achieve these goals? And where is the money going? You must know the answers to these questions.
You'll also need to know what you could expect to receive if your husband dies before you. As a surviving spouse, you will likely inherit all of your husband's assets, unless he has specifically named other people - such as grown children from an earlier marriage - as beneficiaries.
Nonetheless, you can't just assume that all sources of income that your husband receives will automatically roll over to you. For example, if your husband were to die before you, you wouldn't get his Social Security payments in addition to your own, although you could choose to collect his payments instead of yours. But if you both earned close to the same income, you might not get much of an increase in Social Security benefits.
In any case, whether you're married or single, here are some moves that can benefit you:
"Max out" on your 401k. If you can afford it, invest the maximum amount into your 401k, and increase your contributions every time your salary goes up. Your 401k provides you with tax-deferred earnings and a variety of investment options.
Contribute to an individual retirement arrangement. Even if you have a 401k or other employer-sponsored retirement plan, you might be eligible to contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA. A traditional IRA offers the potential for tax-deferred earnings, while a Roth IRA potentially grows tax-free, provided you don't take withdrawals until you're 59-1/2 and you've had your account at least five years. You can fund an IRA with virtually any investment you choose.
Do whatever it takes to help ensure a comfortable retirement. The sooner you start planning, the better.
Debbie Alanzo is a financial advisor with Edward Jones.