FP: Bank on Yourself — Why women need to focus on Financial Independence with or without a spouse

My latest Financial Post column looks at an upcoming book, Bank on Yourself, which focuses on how Canadian women need to focus on Financial Independence, whether or not they are currently part of a couple. Click on the highlighted headline here for the full review: Why Women shouldn’t let a solo retirement catch them by surprise. The review also appears in the print edition of Tuesday’s Financial Post (page FP 3, April 2, 2019).

The book, which is being published this month (April) by Milner & Associates, is co-authored by a lifelong single woman, Ardelle Harrison, and a financial advisor, Leslie McCormick. McCormick is a Senior Wealth Advisor with Scotia Wealth Management but Ardelle is not a client.

The subtitle says it all: “Why every woman should plan financially to be single. Even if she’s not.”

The authors say 90% of women will end up managing their own finances at some point, whether because of divorce, widowhood or because they never married in the first place. And because women tend to live longer, expect five female centenarians for every male who reaches 100 years (according to the 2016 Canadian census).

Allegedly one of women’s biggest fears is ending up in old age as a “bag lady” destitute on the streets. In fact, 28.3% of unattached women live in poverty and single older women are 13 times more likely to be poor than seniors living in families, the authors say.

They cite Pew Research’s eye-opening finding that when today’s young adults reach their mid 40s and mid 50s, 25% of them are likely to never have been married, and that by then “the chances of marrying for the first time after that age are very small.” (Whether by choice or circumstance.)

But even those who do “couple” earlier in life may not always remain in that state. A 2013 Vanier Institute of the Family report says 41% of Canadian marriages end before their 30th wedding anniversary. 68% of divorced couples cited fighting over money as the top reason for the split. 2011 Canadian census data shows the average age at which women are widowed is 56.

Multiple Streams of Income

A key concept emphasized throughout the book is having Multiple Streams of Income, at least three in Retirement. Employment income is the springboard to other income streams,  including employer pensions.

A second is government benefits unlike CPP and OAS. Other streams are business, investment and real estate income, and annuities. Home owners have a potential backup in their home equity, although the authors rightly say “Debt is not something you want in retirement.”

I asked McCormick if these principles apply equally to single men. General financial planning principles apply across genders, she replied, but women have longer life expectancies, so when you add the gender wage cap, it’s harder for women to build wealth. Female baby boomers can expect to outlive their spouses by 10 to 15 years, “yet so few women plan for it.” While 31% of women view themselves as being financially knowledgeable, 80% of men do.  Her hope is the book will help bridge that gap. So might a planning tool at her Plan Single website (www.Plansingle.ca).


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