Women focus on retirement

More women than men outlive their savings, partly because they tend to live longer.

But women's work histories also set the stage for financially pinched retirement years.

As a group, U.S. women work fewer years than men, and they're more likely to work in part-time or lower-paying jobs. Many women, therefore, build up fewer Social Security credits for retirement benefits.

And, because women are more likely to cycle in and out of the labor force for family care-giving reasons, they're less likely to accumulate sizable employer-sponsored pensions, assuming they even work in jobs that offer pensions. Thus, they end up with less pension income to supplement Social Security.

Financial advisers emphasize that Social Security alone won't be enough to maintain a pre-retirement standard of living. That means women, like men, need to build personal retirement savings, starting as early as they can.

Here are stories of women from several walks of life who have heard that message.

Pay yourself first

Sharon Holmes, 32, took that message to heart last year. When she moved to a new job, she immediately put her raise into her employer's profit sharing plan.

“Instead of pocketing it, I said I'm going to ignore the fact that I got this extra money,” Holmes said. “I didn't have to give up anything because I never saw it. You can't miss what you didn't have.”

Live off the interest

Trish Tataryn started saving for retirement in her mid-20s. In her mid-30s, she became what she calls a disciplined and aggressive saver.

Now 43, she puts money into a Simple IRA, a savings instrument available to business owners, and a Roth IRA. The owner of a laboratory that makes appliances and retainers for orthodontists, Tataryn last year put $16,700 into those two accounts.

She and her husband live on 15 acres near Weston, Mo., where they expect to pay off their home in four years. Her goal is to continue saving aggressively and retire comfortably by age 55. She and her husband want to travel throughout North America in a recreational vehicle.

“I'm hoping to live off the interest … and anything we get from Social Security would be a bonus,” she said.

Reinvent yourself

The drive to build a business and take responsibility for herself propels Marti Miller, a career coach and independent fashion consultant who lives in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas.

Miller retired from a job with Exxon Mobil in 1992, then went to work for an outplacement company. Next, she started two consulting businesses. Now in her 60s, Miller is married to a man who is retired and older.

Miller said she had to acknowledge the actuarial likelihood that her husband will die before her, so she has concentrated on her businesses to help supplement their Social Security income.