PUBLISHED: 7:04 PM on Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I am woman, watch me save
Statistics show fewer women save for retirement than men
When it comes to retirement savings, the gender gap is ever widening.

A recent survey of more than 1,300 workers or retirees over age 25 by Employee Benefit Research Institute and Matthew Greenwald & Associates showed 68 percent of women and 76 percent of men said they had saved for retirement.

Fifty-nine percent of women and 70 percent of men said they were currently saving, and 58 percent of women and 64 percent of men said they were contributing to a workplace retirement account.

Sure, on average, women make 80 percent of what men do, and they often work part-time hours because of child care issues or leave the work force altogether.

Nevertheless, women tend to live longer than men, and more women spend their "golden years" without a spouse. So it makes sense for women to actually save more.

While working at a newspaper in Huntington, W.Va., I befriended a woman named LaVonda Singer. As a newsroom assistant, she was assigned to report to me, but I quickly realized I would probably learn more from her.

Widowed at 37, Singer was left with two small children to raise alone. She knew she had to plan for her future, too.

"I didn't think I'd remarry, so I knew that I had no one to take care of me but myself," she said.

With the money she received after her husband's death, Singer paid off recent upgrades to her house and set up a retirement account for herself and college savings accounts for the children. Although it was tempting to splurge, she kept the goal of a comfortable retirement in mind.

"I learned to live within my means," she said. "I didn't necessarily scrimp, but I didn't spend money foolishly."

On a modest salary, she managed to go on several cruises, out-of-state camping trips and annual pilgrimages to the beach with her large extended family.

In 2006, before she took early retirement at age 62, she'd paid off her house, her car and her credit cards. Two years later, she says the slumping economy has made her a little nervous, but she's not worried she'll have to find a part-time job or lower her standard of living.

So how'd she do it?

"I sat down with the bank president and asked him what I needed to do," she said. "I've been banking with them since I was 15, so I wasn't shy about asking questions."

She knew how she wanted to live, and the bank helped her figure out an amount to aim for. Singer had several types of retirement accounts, including an IRA and participation in the company 401(k) plan.

And she didn't just let the money sit, either.

"I'm no financial wiz," she said. "But I keep track of my balances, and when it looks like it's dipping or isn't growing as fast as I think it should, I call the bank and ask what I should do."

She drew on her Social Security benefits when she retired but will switch to her late husband's benefits when she turns 65 since his amount will be more.

Next year Singer will also be eligible for Medicare and has already started looking at supplemental health insurance.

Her advice for women and men alike: plan.

"Start saving as early as you can. ... Don't let retirement sneak up on you."

Arlinda Smith Broady is business editor of the Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at 652-0314 or