From The Boomer & Echo Mailbag: Retirement Planning For Single Women

Q. I am a single woman, by choice. So much financial advice is written for couples. How can I invest for my retirement when I have to cover all my living expenses by myself?

Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to saving for retirement. They often face lifestyle and economic issues that require special consideration. Women tend to earn less money than men and take more time away from the workforce to care for family members giving up their income stream and losing out on raises and promotions. They are less likely to have access to retirement benefits at work, and live longer than men.

On top of that, women who are single face other retirement planning challenges, whether they’ve always been single, or are now divorced or widowed.

Single women can’t count on a spouse’s income to help shore up their retirement savings or take advantage of tax splitting and credits. Plus, they are shouldering all the costs of pre-retirement living themselves.

Related: Whatever you do, don’t retire alone (and other helpful advice)

They’re entirely on their own to make sure they are financially secure. It’s no wonder they’re worried.

This doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to retire. But it does mean you need extra planning for your financial future.

You need to take a realistic look at your financial resources. How long will you need to work? Should you change your job to generate more income? You’ll also need to determine whether you’ll need to pare down your discretionary spending or explore alternate living arrangements, either now or during your retirement years.

Retirement Planning for Single Women

Investing in your future

Financial security is a high priority for women investors so they tend to take a more conservative approach. Being conservative has advantages and disadvantages. Being too conservative and shying away from the stock market altogether can leave you financially vulnerable.

If your money is in savings accounts, money market accounts or GICs because you’re afraid of stock market volatility, you’ll not have enough growth and inflation will quickly eat into that cash. It’s actually riskier in the long run. You’ll have less retirement assets and a higher risk of outliving your money.

But being risk-adverse can also be an advantage as women tend to understand that they can’t afford to sustain large losses. They can focus more on their progress toward financial goals rather than market swings and hot investment tips like many of their male counterparts.

A US study by the Family Wealth Advisors Council showed women “don’t trust the financial services industry.” Many survey respondents reported experiencing disrespect and condescension as well as receiving poor advice.

The industry to some degree makes financial information overly complicated. With some basic education on how investing works and relating the process to their personal goals, women can increase their confidence and make excellent investment decisions. Learn as much as you can to make the best use of your financial and social resources.

You may find yourself becoming interested in researching individual stocks or other investments. You can simplify the investment decisions with regular contributions to such options as the Tangerine Balanced Portfolio or broad market ETFs.

On the other hand, if you want a totally hands off approach, robo-advisors such as ModernAdvisor or Wealthsimple are an ideal way to automate your decisions, diversify your portfolio and reduce time spent worrying about your investments.

Surround yourself with support

Finally, consider forming a money club. This differs from an investment club in that members discuss all financial concerns.

The purpose of a money club is to meet with a group of like-minded friends and/or family members that you trust to discuss your progress toward your financial goals, keep you motivated, provide support and accountability, share tips, and help one another out when things get off track.

Admitting your own money mistakes, and learning about those of your friends can actually make you feel less anxious about your own situation and creates an immediate bond. And, it’s rewarding to celebrate the progress your fellow money group members have made.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Beth on September 30, 2016 at 4:17 am

    While I appreciate a PF blog tackling advice for singletons, I was disappointed that this article spent more time describing the challenges we face rather than providing useful advice. I know the challenges – I live with them every day 🙁

    I will, however, send this article to the next married person who comments about how easy I have it — soooo much free time and money to spend on myself! (Um, no)

    Fellow singletons, do you find having a financial advisor helps? I think I’m in that group that knows I need some help but distrusts financial advisors! I’d like to try WealthSimple, but not for my entire portfolio!


    • Belle on September 30, 2016 at 10:17 am

      I would highly recommend a financial advisor who is patient and has your interest at heart. I don’t understand half of what my advisor says when he explains stuff to me but I know that I’m covered for any situation that arises when I get older. Pretty much every year when I meet with him, I end up asking the same questions like what happens if I am on long term disability before I retire, after I retire, or short term disability? What if my pension disappears, how will I get money? What about insurance etc? Find someone that you trust or who comes recommended from a friend/family who has similar risk tolerances as you. I’m in the Ottawa area if you need a recommendation. 🙂

      • Beth on October 1, 2016 at 6:50 am

        Thanks for the response 🙂 I’m on the other side of the province, or I’d take you up on that recommendation.

        You make a good point about it not just being about investing – things like insurance and planning for the unexpected.

    • rhonda caplan on October 8, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      I believe that my financial advisor has interest in seeing me reach my retirement goals. However, no matter the income we have, the financial advisors still make their money. I am 66 and will work part time for 6 months. I made a reasonable budget, and have decided that I will live on my reduced amount of money. Using cash not credit. Let me see if that works. BTW I have no government pension. Take a bit of time, and interview FAs to see how you feel. There are wonderful books that you can browse through with dozens of questions to ask advisors.

  2. Susan on September 30, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Yes, I have to agree that I didn’t find this response terribly helpful, unlike most Boomer and Echo posts. I also find it unfair that all the tax breaks go to married couples.

    I have had a financial advisor for the past 25 years. She is a single woman, so understands the needs of women planning retirement on their own. I know that I am paying management fees to use her services, but it has given me some sense of security over the years. I am now retired (67) and while I won’t have a rich retirement in the financial sense, through planning with my financial advisor, I expect to have enough money to last me to age 95.

    Oh, and I have learned the difference between needs and wants. My first question to myself before making a purchase (at least one I consider a “want) is, “Will this purchase make my life any better?” I have become an excellent window shopper!

  3. Christine on September 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

    This is a very interesting topic for me. When I was a single young woman, I always told myself to build a life where I can take care of myself, and this included retirement. I wasn’t making big bucks back then but it wasn’t a stretch to meet all my needs and save on top of that. I never felt like there were major “challenges” to being single.

    Now, married to someone who makes just above minimum wage and raising two children with ever-growing expenses, I often think back to my financial situation as a single woman with envy. My goal used to be to retire when I was 55. Now I’m thinking early to mid sixties and wondering how my retirement income will ever cover two people! Thankfully, I still have a long time to save before then.

    • Beth on October 1, 2016 at 7:03 am

      Well, when I was young I didn’t find being single too financially challenging either 😉 You don’t have to seriously think about retirement, home ownership, your health, looking after aging parents, etc. I find when my married friends half-heartedly express envy, they’re longing for their their 20-something singleness which bears little resemblance to my late 30s singleness.

      But, I’ve also learned there are advantages too. I’ve seen a few costly divorces, and otherwise happy couples who struggle with money. There’s a lot of responsibility in being the only one making financial decisions, but a lot of freedom too.

  4. Judy on October 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I thought this paragraph was good: “If your money is in savings accounts, money market accounts or GICs because you’re afraid of stock market volatility, you’ll not have enough growth and inflation will quickly eat into that cash. It’s actually riskier in the long run. You’ll have less retirement assets and a higher risk of outliving your money.”

    I am gradually getting braver and putting more of my money in my Tangerine balanced fund, especially with today’s dismal interest rates.

    I have an advisor that is with Investor’s Group, but I don’t really trust him, and I feel that most of his advice is designed for his own benefit (commissions). I have tried to learn as much as I can on my own. And I am planning to bite the bullet and pay the service charge to get my money out of there.

    About the only financial benefit I can think of to being single (I am widowed) that I can think of is that you can make your own decisions without having to consult a partner.

    • rhonda caplan on October 8, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      i cannot agree more. After IG, I trusted no one. I am not a financial planner but decided to trust my bank. If youvare with an investment house that can only sell their own products it may be worth the 300 or so dollars needed to get your money out.

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.