From Social Security benefits to budgeting for health care, strategies that help ensure a secure retirement for men may not work for most women. Here’s what they need to consider.

About two years ago I was presenting a financial plan to a couple. Long-term care expenses are particularly hard to predict, not to mention, extremely expensive, so I often add a “stress test” to get a sense of whether the couple can afford to pay that cost out of pocket. The test assumed that the wife would be in a facility for four years and the husband, two. I emphasized the importance of the wife planning for long-term care. They noticed. It was an aha moment.

Men and women are different — and financial planning needs to reflect that reality. Yet most couples plan for the husband and wife exactly the same way. Women, on average, live two or three years longer than men, and 75% of them become widows, according to the National Resource Center on Women and Retirement Planning. They spend, on average, 13 fewer years in the workforce and often retire with half the balances in their retirement accounts as men do.

The Challenges of a Longer Life

Longevity is typically a great thing for your life — and a terrible thing for your finances. Let’s start with health care. Medicare provides coverage for eligible individuals 65 and older. However, the average couple will pay $260,000 out of pocket for health care in retirement, according to Fidelity’s 2016 Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate. That’s not a typo. In major metro areas, that figure is even higher. In Washington, D.C., the average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $137,058 per year. Seventy percent of nursing home residents are women, and they tend to stay for 3.7 years, while men stick around for 2.2.

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