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personal finance tips

There are times in a woman's life when retirement may seem like a far-off fantasy.

For Deborah Owens, that time came when she left a high-paying corporate job to gain some flexibility when her children were young.

"It was a lifestyle issue. So as a result of that, I didn't have this big pension plan being funded. I didn't have a retirement plan being funded. I had to do that on my own," says the Baltimore-based author of A Purse of Your Own: An Easy Guide to Financial Security.

Ms. Owens started small, knowing that the amount she saved was less important than starting to save early. "The key is to get started today: That's what I want to implore women [to do] You may have credit card debt, you may be in financial distress, but you have to pay yourself something consistently, even if it's just $10 a week or $20 a month. Whatever you can afford, start filling your purse up with something."

According to an RRSP survey by Ipsos Reid for Royal Bank of Canada, one-third of Canadians have not started saving for retirement, with women (37 per cent) and those in the 18-34 age group (45 per cent) more likely to say they are not contributing to a retirement fund. If you're one of them, Ms. Owens offers some simple steps to get started:

1. Figure out your price tag.

Estimate the dollar amount you'll need to be financially independent in retirement. Factor in how much of your current earnings you are willing to commit, what you've already accumulated and the number of years you intend to continue to work. Then calculate a monthly "payment" to your retirement fund.

2. Open a tax-deferred retirement plan.

If your company offers a pension and you're not participating, sign up immediately. If your company doesn't offer a pension, go to a bank, credit union or other financial institution and open a tax-deferred registered retirement savings plan.

3. Invest in a mutual fund.

Find a mutual fund that fits your needs. There are four basic types of funds - money market, bonds, growth and income, and growth - and they range from low to high in terms of risk tolerance.

4. Enroll in a debit program.

Authorize your mutual fund company to debit a preset amount from your bank account to buy units on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Many companies have reduced their minimum investment for establishing such accounts to as little as $25 per month.

5. Sign up for a reinvestment program.

Help your investments grow automatically by opting to reinvest your dividends in more shares instead of receiving the dividends in cash. At the time you establish the account, simply check the related box on your application.

6. Pay yourself first.

Every month, write yourself the first cheque - before you pay your other bills. Deposit the cheque in your savings account or retirement fund. Do the same thing with "found" money - gifts, tax refunds, work bonuses, health care reimbursements and other types of cash outside of your regular paycheque.

7. Commit to a long-term strategy. Stay invested for five years or more. You will increase your opportunities for gains and help create true financial security in your retirement.

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