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What’s different financially for women?

Tips for powering through obstacles on your road to financial security


CHRISTI WARREN IS NOT ANXIOUS ABOUT INVESTING or uncomfortable talking about it. “I’m just super busy,” says Warren, a resident of Naples, Florida. “I work 11- to 12-hour days running my own practice as a veterinary ophthalmologist. I have enough on my plate.”


Lorna Sabbia headshot“There’s a huge wealth gap between men and women.”

— Lorna Sabbia, head of Workplace Benefits, Bank of America

Warren is describing one of the biggest hurdles many women face when it comes to money. There’s a lot to juggle between work, caring for kids and relatives, and managing the household budget, among other demands. Even in marriages where spouses earn about the same amount of money, on average women do more housework (4.6 vs. 1.9 hours a week) and caregiving (6.9 vs. 5.1 hours a week) than men do, according to Pew Research.1 Investing, retirement and other financial goals often get lost in the shuffle.


Women can’t afford to ignore these issues, says Lorna Sabbia, head of Workplace Benefits at Bank of America. “There’s a huge wealth gap between men and women, caused by such things as the wage gap and the fact that women tend to spend more time out of the workforce. Our saving and investing are impacted by these things, which makes it all the more important for us to take control of our finances early on.”


Warren saw that she needed to pay closer attention to her finances when, after years of investing, she realized, “I wasn’t really making money.” It turns out she had been paying almost as much in fees as she’d been making on her investments.


Switching to a new financial advisor after a cross-country move, she shifted her investments into low-fee options. That advisor, Merrill’s Mitch McLendon, has been a valuable sounding board, offering Warren advice on everything from financing for her business to how she can focus on volunteering at animal charities close to her heart as she phases into retirement.


5 steps to help you pursue your financial goals

  1. Push to earn what you’re worth.
  2. Make up for career breaks.
  3. Invest for a more secure financial future.
  4. Plan for late-in-life healthcare costs.
  5. Know yourself and your priorities.


TIP: If you can’t negotiate a higher salary, ask for a performance review six months into your new job.

1. Push to earn what you’re worth

“Very few women push back on salary offers compared to men,” Sabbia says. “That has huge implications when it comes to your ability to save.”


Boning up on negotiating skills can help turn the tables. Most job seekers — men and women — don’t negotiate a starting salary offer, a Pew survey found, but more than half of those who do are able to sweeten the deal. Still, women are more likely than men to say they didn’t feel comfortable asking for more.2 Get past that hesitation. Prepare by researching going rates in your profession, and if you can’t negotiate a higher salary, ask for a performance review six months into your new job once you’ve had a chance to prove yourself.


2. Make up for career breaks

Complicating matters, the career breaks many women take to care for family give them fewer years to fund a retirement plan. Career interruptions also can cause women to lose out on potential raises and reduce how much they’ll collect from Social Security. One recent study found that breaks for caregiving cut women’s lifetime earnings by 15%.3


TIP: If you’re married, a spousal IRA could help fund retirement savings while you’re taking a career break.

There are ways to compensate for the financial impact of taking a time-out for family. “Familiarize yourself with resources, such as 401(k)s and health savings accounts, that can offer tax advantages as you work toward building a more secure future,” Sabbia says. If you’re married, look into a spousal IRA. “And develop a smart strategy for maximizing your income when you claim Social Security.”


It also helps to find an advisor who understands women’s different life journeys — “someone who really gets how things like the wage gap and career breaks can impact your progress toward your goals and who can suggest ways to compensate,” Sabbia suggests.


3. Invest for a more secure financial future

On average, women live nearly six years longer than men do.4 “Make longevity an asset. Invest early and make your money work for you,” says Lindsay Hans, president and co-head of Merrill Wealth Management. “Something as simple as making sure we take advantage of critical wealth escalators like company matches in our 401(k)s can help us become more financially secure.”


Lindsay Hans Headshot“Make longevity an asset. Invest early and make your money work for you.”

— Lindsay Hans, president and co-head, Merrill Wealth Management

When you earn less, you have less to save — and the natural inclination is to guard it by choosing investments that are more conservative. Over the long haul, those investments tend to have lower growth potential. Instead, work with an advisor to create a diversified portfolio that meets your goals, timeline and tolerance for risk. Having a financial plan in place can help you withstand the inevitable ups and downs of the market over what could be a long life. For more on investing for a more secure financial future, watch “Women’s superpower: Investing.”


“Financial independence is a goal worth pursuing,” Hans adds. “It can unlock doors for us to achieve all our aspirations as professionals, as entrepreneurs, as policy influencers, as single women, as mothers, as partners and spouses.”


4. Plan for late-in-life healthcare costs

Early retirement is a priority for Wyletter Whaley, an attorney based in Dallas, Texas. When her mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure 10 years ago, Whaley became involved in her mother’s caregiving — not surprising, given that three out of five caregivers are women.5 A year later, Whaley moved her mom to a nearby assisted living community. It came with a hefty price tag. Whaley’s outlay for her mother’s care ran $3,500 to $4,200 each month.


Projected healthcare spending in retirement for a 65-year-old woman



for a man.7

That unexpected responsibility, plus her marriage shortly before, had a seismic impact on her financial footing. “I went from being a single professional with no one to consider but myself and a lot of disposable cash, to supporting Mom and then becoming the primary breadwinner in my marriage when my husband and I decided it was time for him to start his own company,” Whaley says.


Like Warren, Whaley doesn’t go it alone. For more than a dozen years, Patricia Barksdale, her Merrill Lynch financial advisor, has helped her navigate these challenges. Barksdale has subtly boosted Whaley’s investing swagger by encouraging her to ask questions. “Today, I’m confident when it comes to investing, but I’m not a risk taker,” Whaley says.


Not surprisingly, Whaley has also been taking stock of her own future healthcare expenditures — a wise approach given that healthcare spending in the U.S. is expected to grow by about 5% a year.6 Her mother passed away three and a half years ago, but Whaley’s experience paying for her mother’s care has pushed her to shop for her own long-term care insurance. “I had planned to self-fund, but I know now that I’d like to have a safety blanket,” she says. “I don’t have any children. My mom had me to look after her, but I don’t have a me.”


5. Know yourself and your priorities

For Whaley and Warren, understanding their financial priorities was the first step in finding ways to pursue them. What’s the one thing that empowered them to reach for their success? “It’s soul-searching,” says Sabbia. “Ask yourself: What’s your money for? Figure out how much you might need to retire early or pay for your kids’ college tuition and start working toward those goals. And don’t feel you have to go it alone. Talk about money with your friends and family. Maybe even consult a financial advisor.


“You don’t have to be perfect or know everything before you begin investing,” she adds. “Just start.”


There’s too much at stake not to.


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1 Pew Research, “In Growing Share of U.S. Marriages, Husbands and Wives Earn About the Same,” April 13, 2023.

2 Pew Research, “When negotiating starting salaries, most U.S. women and men don’t ask for higher pay,” April 5, 2023.

3 Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, “Lifetime Employment-Related Costs to Women Providing Family Care,” May 11, 2023.

4 National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Mortality in the United States, 2021,” 2022.

5 AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving, “Caregiving in the U.S.,” 2020.

6 Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, “How much is health spending expected to grow?” October 2023.

7 Milliman, “2023 Milliman Retiree Health Cost Index,” May 2023.


These case studies are intended to illustrate products and services available through Merrill. Case studies do not necessarily represent the experiences of other clients, nor do they indicate future performance. Investment results may vary. The investment strategies discussed are not appropriate for every investor and should be considered given a person’s investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs.


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