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Women Are Worried About Outliving Their Money. Here Are 5 Ways To Help Make Sure You Don’t Outlive Yours

Kathryn Tuggle  |  May 14, 2024

We all want our money to be there for us when we need it. If you’re worried about outliving your money, it’s time to make a plan.

Women have very real concerns about outliving our money — and for good reason. We live longer than men yet, due to the gender wage gap, we earn less over the course of our lifetimes and we’re twice as likely than men to step out of the workforce for caregiving. In other words, we’re faced with the classic conundrum of having to do more with less — and that has become a major source of financial stress for many of us. 

According to The 2023 State of Women survey from HerMoney Media and Principal Financial Group®, three-out-of-four women (76%) said ensuring their money lasts a lifetime is a risk. Additionally, 45% of the women we surveyed said that “financial peace,” which most define as the ability to enjoy a low-stress financial life, means that their money will last as long as they do. In other words, reducing the risk of outliving our money is a top concern for women.  

Clearly, charting a course that can help ease those fears is an important priority. Here are five steps in the right direction.

1. Understand Your Financial Picture

One big reason people may fear running out of money in retirement is because they don’t have a grasp on their total financial picture. 

“Thankfully, fear is afraid of the light,” says Pam Horack, certified financial planner, owner and founder at Pathfinder Planning in North and South Carolina. “Whenever you sit down and bring your numbers into the light, you can see, ‘Oh, here is exactly how much I’m taking home, and exactly what I want to be saving, and exactly what my fixed expenses are every month.’ And then you start to see where you might be having issues. And if you can see it, then you can fix it.” 

A good place to start “fixing” things is often with debt. 

“There are  millions of credit cardholders paying 22% or more interest on their debt, but many have money sitting in a savings account earning very little to pay down that debt,” explains Sri Reddy, senior vice president of Retirement and Income Solutions at Principal Financial Group. “They just don’t know because they haven’t gotten a handle on their debts and assets.” 

Once you’ve got a handle on the bigger picture, it’s time to take a look at your day-to-day purchases — yes, even the mindless Amazon buys, Horak says. “If you’re afraid of running out of money, then you have to ask yourself why. What is causing that fear? Many people say to themselves, ‘I know I am spending too much, but I don’t know how to stop it.’ You stop it by tracking your spending and seeing immediately where you’re having issues.”

2. Understand The Difference Between Needs And Wants 

We live in a world where we’re “always being marketed to,” Reddy says. “On search engines, television, social media, people are telling you what to think, what to buy and how it’s going to make you happy.” 

This constant stream of consumerism has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish needs from wants — and this can be especially dangerous when we transition to living on a fixed income in retirement. “We all have needs and wants, but there’s another variable to it: We also have fixed expenses and variable expenses. It’s important to keep in mind that just because something is a fixed expense does not mean it’s a need,” Horak says.  

For example, your fixed expenses every month could include your mortgage payment and the electric bill — but also things like Netflix and a monthly salon appointment. “Just because it’s a line item on your budget every month doesn’t make it a need,” she says. 

Why is this so important to understand before we retire? Our needs and wants may shift dramatically once we leave the workforce, so we need to start flexing the muscles that allow us to distinguish between the two as early as possible. “You may need to spend more on healthcare in retirement, but you want to go travel,” Horak says. “Likewise, you may want to buy a beach house, but you need to downsize. Things will constantly be shifting, and you’ll need to be ready to adjust.”

3. Talk To Your Partner About Where You’re Headed 

Money is the No. 1 stressor in relationships so, if you have a partner, it’s incredibly important that you’re both on the same page about where you’re headed in retirement. Surprisingly, once they start talking, many couples find that they’re not.

“Start with the basics such as how long you want to keep working, whether you want to retire completely or work part-time, or maybe do something different. Talk about what you’ll do for health insurance, and things like family planning, if you think you’ll need to reduce your working hours for caretaking,” Reddy says. 

If money has typically been a fraught topic of conversation for you and your partner — or if you just want some space to think for yourself — Reddy suggests going into separate rooms and writing one another a letter to get things started. “Write down what you want for yourself in retirement, then trade letters with your partner and see how different they are. This becomes a conversation starter,” he said. You may also find it helpful to bring a third party, like a financial planner, into the conversation to help bridge the gaps.

There may be compromises. And that’s okay! The important thing is that you get the compromises figured out before you stop earning an income, Horack says.

4. Be Thoughtful About Social Security 

Making a mistake when it comes to Social Security — particularly claiming too early, but also for the divorced or widowed, not understanding the possibilities for claiming on a spouse’s record rather than their own — can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement, Reddy cautions. 

“Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do their retirement,” he says. “But you have to take time to meet with the Social Security Administration, run the calculations, and talk to friends about their successes and mistakes.” 

When? Ideally, at some point in your early 50s, you’ll schedule a visit to the Social Security Administration and get a copy of your report to see where you stand, Horak says. (If you don’t have an account with, open one now and start looking at your record to make sure the information on you and your years of income is accurate.) Doing this at least a decade before you plan to retire allows you to spot any potential problems early. 

“Something I’ve seen with women more than men is that they may not have enough credits to claim Social Security,” Horak says. “The last thing you want to have happen is to hit retirement and say ‘I have nothing to claim because I didn’t work enough.’ But when you run this calculation early you can get back into the workforce if you need to…and you might find that you love it!”  

One word of caution: Yes, if you wait until age 70 to claim your Social Security benefits, you’ll get the highest dollar payout. But that’s not the right number for everyone. “If you plan to retire at 62 but don’t claim till 70, what will you do for income during that time period?” This is where having a specific plan becomes crucial. Sometimes it will make sense to pull money out of retirement accounts (both taxable and non-taxable Roth accounts) to bridge your way to Social Security. But knowing which accounts depends on myriad factors, including your tax bracket, maintaining subsidies on health plans purchased via the ACA exchanges, and avoiding Medicare penalties. This is where working with a financial professional becomes all the more important, which brings us to…

5. Meet With A Financial Planner 

One of the best ways to alleviate concerns over running out of money is to sit down with a financial professional who can help you run all the calculations to see exactly where you stand. 

“There are some people who haven’t saved anything, and they should be worried,” Horak says. “Then you have the opposite extreme where someone has saved more than they need, yet they’re still afraid to spend a penny.” 

Getting this clarity may be particularly beneficial for women. “Women generally have preference towards certainty — this is not a bad thing, they prefer predictability and want to know what they can spend, so they don’t have to worry,” Reddy says. 

Get more ideas on how you can prepare for retirement at

This story was sponsored by Principal Financial Group®

About Principal Financial Group®

Principal Financial Group® is a global financial company focused on improving the wealth and well-being of people and businesses. In business for more than 140 years, Principal® helps customers plan, protect, invest, and retire, while working to support the communities where they do business, and build a diverse, inclusive workforce. Learn more about Principal at


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