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battle of the sexes

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Women have a life expectancy of 83.3 years while men average 78.8 years, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada. And this has major financial consequences for them.

Barbara Stewart, a portfolio manager who has studied the spending habits of women for 20 years, has put a figure to how much more on average women are expected to spend in retirement than men.

"Given that the average retiree spends $2,400 per month, the extra 54 months of life expectancy translates to about $130,000 more for the average Canadian woman," says Ms. Stewart, a partner and portfolio manager at Cumberland Private Wealth Management who also writes about women and finances in her Rich Thinking series.

And women face another obstacle. While Canada's population has more female residents than male – 17.9 million and 17.6 million, respectively, according to Statscan data released in 2014 – women trail behind men in terms of earning power and social mobility.

As of 2012, full-time working women earned on average 73.1 cents for every dollar men earned, according to Statscan data.

Though women have made strides in employment – today, they occupy 52 per cent of management, professional and related positions – this has not translated to the highest levels, according to a Bank of Montreal report on women and finances released last March by BMO Wealth Institute. According to BMO, as of 2014, women held less than 5 per cent of chief executive officer positions and just 25 per cent of executive and senior-level roles at S&P 500 companies.

Another factor affecting women's financial position is their social role as nurturers, BMO reports. More women than men are caregivers: An estimated 66 per cent of caregivers are female, and a third, or 34 per cent, take care of two or more people. Consequently, women shoulder the major burden of care (21.9 hours versus men's 17.4 hours a week).

As women age, their caregiving responsibilities can increase as they go from raising children to aiding aging parents. It all adds up.

BMO further observes that women lose an estimated $324,044 because of caregiving, compared to men at $283,716. "Lost wages for women who leave the work force early because of caregiving responsibilities equals $142,693, and for lost social security benefits an estimated $131,351, and pensions an estimated $50,000," the report concludes.

So as women grow older they actually have less money.

A 2015 Royal Bank of Canada poll of Canadians suggests, among other findings, that women invest differently than men do for their future retirement.

The 2015 RBC RRSP poll found women were less likely to own, save and invest in registered retirement savings plans than men (53 per cent compared to 57 per cent) and that, across Canada, more than almost one-third (36 per cent) of women had not started saving for their retirement, compared to one-quarter of men (25 per cent).

The RBC poll further found that the amount women felt they need to finance their retirement years now totals approximately $492,400 (compared to $510,000 in 2010), while the same goal for men has risen to just over $631,000 (compared to $493,000 five years ago).

The poll was conducted Nov. 11-19 as an online survey of 2,217 Canadians aged 18 and older.

The bottom line for women planning for retirement? Having a savings and investment strategy in hand.

"Take a word from the wise," says Ms. Stewart. "I have interviewed over 350 smart women around the world. Their No. 1 piece of advice? Make more money. Focus on creating wealth for yourself. Any age is a good age to focus on becoming financially independent. Get a great education, make sure to get paid what you are worth, and get started on your investment plan."

Ms. Stewart offers these tips for women:

Get paid what you are worth: Saving for retirement gets easier if you make more money. Do your research, find out what your work is worth in the marketplace and get paid accordingly. Women are less likely to speak out and demand their full value, so getting your maximum possible income is more important than what you spend, or how you invest.

Investor, know thyself: Take the time to think about why you want to invest and what the money is for. In investment expert and author Ashvin Chhabra's The Aspirational Investor, he recommends organizing your financial life around what you want to achieve for yourself and your family. According to Dr. Chhabra, "you can't control market fluctuations, but you can control how you prioritize goals."

Set goals for saving and investing: Clearly determine how much money you will need over the course of your retirement and how much money you will need to save and invest to reach that target. Retirement is not a finish line where you get to stop. You will need to continue to invest for the remainder of your life, which for most Canadian women means you need to finance 20-plus years of postretirement lifestyle.

Get started: Get started right away. Whether you decide on a do-it-yourself approach or work with a professional adviser, the opportunity cost of not investing can make or break a financial future. Never forget that cash is the lowest performing asset class over time. Putting off the decision until you think the market timing is perfect, or your planning is perfect, is a bad idea.

Be disciplined: You have developed a well-thought-out plan, now stick to it. And use all of the tools available to you to help you progress. Free education is available on most bank, investment firm, and industry websites. Set up automatic monthly transfers from your payroll to your bank account to fund your registered retirement savings plan and tax-free savings account contributions as well as additional savings accounts. Don't wait to do it the few hours before deadlines.

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