What Women Over 40 Need to Know Now

Quit waiting for the lottery, a miracle or God forbid, Prince Charming. They aren’t coming.  For all our gender’s accomplishments during the Boomer Era, it puzzles me that smart, educated, accomplished women are still waiting on someone else to make their financial dreams come true. Wake up smell the double espresso and get to work. There is no magic to money. It takes the same elbow grease that goes into planning a great vacation, fabulous party or stunning renovation.  If you’ve done one of those three, then you can lead the money aspect of your own life. Once you take ownership of your financial future and give up on the lottery dream, you can actually build wealth or at least stop the bleeding of your cash for trivial things that don’t give you what you really want.

How do you make that happen?

1) Do a little work on yourself. Understand your emotional attachments to money. What does money represent to you, status, safety, greed?  Who helped shape that belief, parents, an ex, your favorite aunt? Who’s money lifestyle do you most identify with now- who do you think is doing it right? Once you know your emotional ties with money and your financial role models you can more easily spot your triggers. This self-awareness has to be factored in when you build a money plan for your life. Knowing yourself means you can create a realistic plan that honors where you are now and where you want to be in 10 or 15 years. If you do this, you are now ready to create a plan of what you really want in the years ahead. Make sure you write it down.

2) Buy a gorgeous filing cabinet, one you really like and won’t mind using.  You are going to be spending quality time with that cabinet and the files you are about to put in it.  Carve out four hours a week (preferably in one or two chunks) and organize or re-organize all of your life’s paperwork. Go thru the account statements, the healthcare documents and shred the old stuff that has no value (cell phone statements from the last decade) and keep the stuff you need (stock purchase information, 10 years of tax info etc). Then figure out what you are missing.  Do you have info on all accounts; pensions, 401k’s, investments, bank accounts etc? Are the beneficiaries for these accounts correct and updated? Even bank accounts should have someone named as the “payable upon death” recipient.  Do you have a contact sheet for important advisors like CPA or tax accountant, financial planner, lawyer, executor of your estate etc? Do you have a will, living trust, health care-proxy?

2.5) The will.  You have to have a will and if you are over 50, when was the last time you read it? Is it still valid? Do you need more than a will now? At this point in you life you have accumulated something of value in your life, even if you checkbook is constantly in the red.  Read up on estate planning. If you have kids or property and you don’t have a will, you have to get your act together.  Just Google “will” and you will find out everything you need to know about one. Don’t wait on this – you can step in front of a bus tomorrow and if you do, a judge who knows nothing about you will determine the guardianship of your kids and who gets what from your estate.  If you don’t have kids but you do care who gets your bobble-head collection or the beach house, then you have to have a will to make sure your wishes are granted.

Make sure you have a health-care proxy. This little document will designate who will make medical decisions for you in case you are unable to speak for yourself.

Yes, I know this stuff is morbid, but do it. You will actually walk a little taller once you get this part of your life in order.

3) Make peace with your 401K. Yes, just like the skin above your elbow, your 401K isn’t what it used to be. It’s sagging with almost no hope of bouncing back. The reality is that the stock market will grow more modestly in the decade ahead. It’s the hangover from a bubble party, from techs to homes and every asset class in between that blew up then burst in the last decade.  Today, you need to know what you have and guestimate what you will need. There are a million retirement calculators on the web; chances are your 401k plan has one on their site.  Try it and assume very modest growth 3% after inflation. You may get more than that, but probably not. Once you get a realistic idea of your retirement income, then you can make a better decision about how long you need to work and what kind of lifestyle you will really be able to afford later. It may be a little bit of a downer, but remember we are checking our fantasies at the door. You want a roof over your head in retirement, not a park bench. No, it may not be a condo in Boca, but get over it. Too many of our mothers are living in poverty. Don’t add to the statistic because you didn’t plan.

If you have not saved a penny for retirement, that is a bummer, but your situation is not hopeless. You need to get your plan together. Social Security may or may not be there for you – and even if it is, it’s not a lot. What kind of work can you do now to start contributing to savings?  It may be worth getting a second job or consult on the side to start stashing some cash away. If you find yourself in this category, pay particular attention to your health. Stay on top of things and lose a few pounds. You want to go into fighter mode. Think of Linda Hamilton in “Terminator.” Get ready to take on the enemy, and that enemy is time. You want more of it to build a nest egg for yourself. If you are healthy and strong you can do it.  Other women are doing it so can you.

4) Don’t look for a miracle in the market or you will get a Madoff.  If you just read tip number 3 and you think you will do better than others in the market or can get some sort of magic return on your investment – snap out of it! It is not going to happen and thousands of charlatans wearing suits and nice smiles are waiting to rip you off. They will be recommended, like Bernie was. But here is the truth: magic returns don’t exist. Someone offering to fix a complicated problem in one easy step is lying. Don’t fall for it and please don’t even look for it.

5) Pay attention to taxes.  This could be a hidden strategy for making your money last longer. Understanding how your retirement income or your estate will be taxed is powerful stuff. The lingo is totally boring but the wealth it can preserve is glorious. Get a good CPA. You want someone who will be in business for a while – so don’t be afraid to hire younger. Having a trusted accountant retire on you just when you need them most, stinks. It happens all the time if you hire someone in your age group.   Don’t let an accountant manage your money. I believe in a true separation of church and state here. You want someone who is giving you tax advice period. If you want a financial advisor, don’t let them manage your money either. Pay them by the hour to give you sound advice about where your money should be – period.  In this day and age, open up your own discount trading account and buy your own index funds or ETF’s. That is likely what a good advisor would recommend anyway.  –Mary Caraccioli

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    About Mary Mary Caraccioli, MLA, MBA is the Money Confidante. An Emmy™ Award winning financial journalist, she has worked at CNBC, FOX, Comcast and ABC's LiveWell TV where she has created numerous award winning programs. Mary also helped to create the Lou Dobbs syndicated radio report. She was an early adaptor of digital media and creator of well respected money websites.

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