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HerMoney Podcast Episode 187: How Gen-X Women Can Save For Retirement (And Everything Else!)

Kathryn Tuggle  |  November 13, 2019

It’s time Gen-X women got back on track for retirement. Here’s how.

This week Jean sits down with Shelley Emling, Editor-In-Chief at AARP’s The Girlfriend, to talk all things Gen-X women and how they can get back on track for retirement. 

Gen-X women feel ignored by brands, and feel that most of the talk around investing and career advancement is focused on either Millennials or Boomers. Jean and Shelley tackle what Gen-X women can do to get off the sidelines and build the self-confidence they need to ask for raises and make empowered financial decisions. 

Jean also answers some of the most commonly-asked questions from readers at AARP’s TheGirlfriend, and tackles what to do (and what not to do) when you’re taking those first steps to regain control of your financial life. 

Lastly, in Mailbag, Jean dishes on the best way to manage credit cards while keeping your credit utilization rate low, and advises a woman who is considering moving money in her 401(k) and selling stocks. In Thrive, Jean talks about open enrollment and how to choose the right health insurance plan for you and your family. 

If you’re not subscribed to the podcast, you’re missing out on juicy tidbits from some of the most accomplished women in the world!

Transcript

Jean Chatzky: (00:06)
HerMoney is brought to you by Fidelity Investments. We want you to feel confident about investing so that you can make your money work just as hard as you do. Learn the ropes without the jargon at fidelity.com/demandmore. HerMoney comes to you through PRX. Hey everyone. It’s Jean Chatzky. As you can hear, HerMoney is on location. We’re at FinCon today. FinCon is the big annual conference for financial bloggers and journalists and podcasters, so if you’re a big listener of financial podcasts, there’s a good chance that a lot of your friends are here. I am sitting down with Shelley Emling, Shelley’s the editor-in-chief of The Girlfriend, which is a website and a free weekly newsletter for women 40 and over. Although I know some younger women who read it and love it, it comes from AARP. For those of you who don’t know, I have been working with AARP as their financial ambassador for, gosh, going on seven years now. It’s a relationship that I love because it allows me the opportunity to write for their wonderful magazine and to have important conversations like this about life and money with people like Shelley. And it’s amazing to be doing this podcast right on the convention floor. So Shelley, thanks for sitting down.

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Shelley Emling: (01:42)
Thank you so much Jean, for having me.

Jean Chatzky: (01:44)
Tell me a little bit about The Girlfriend and how it got started.

Shelley Emling: (01:49)
So The Girlfriend is, as you said, a free weekly newsletter. We also have a website and a big social presence. AARP launched this website and newsletter about two years ago, and the idea was to aim a product at Gen X women primarily. And I always joke that when you get that card, when you turn 50, from AARP, a lot of people want to toss it in the trashcan. They don’t want to know that they’re 50 years old. This is a way to show how relevant and valuable AARP can be. And the membership can be to women under 50 as they’re leading up to turning 50.

Jean Chatzky: (02:27)
Gen X women feel ignored. Gen X-ers, feel ignored in general by, by brands. They feel like everything is either focused on millennials or focused on boomers. And I’ve got to say, I’m right on the cusp. I was born in 1964 so I am officially the last boomer.

Shelley Emling: (02:47)
You are, yes.

Jean Chatzky: (02:47)
But I do often feel like a Gen X-er just based on when I came out of college and how life has gone since then. The fact it’s such a smaller generation by comparison does mean they get left on the sidelines.

Shelley Emling: (03:06)
Yes. And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to target this particular demographic. I think that being in between boomers and millennials, which are both larger generations, they’re loud generations, that I think Gen X-ers have felt a bit left out. And what I hear constantly from readers, women that are in their late forties, early fifties as that is that they’re starting to feel very invisible in their lives. I don’t know if you watch grace and Frankie, but there was a great episode with Jane Fonda where she went to a store and the store clerk went to the 20-something and would never wait on her and she threw a fit. That’s the way I think a lot of women starting around age 50 maybe are feeling, that they’re ignored when they go into a store. They’re ignored out in the workplace. They’re overlooked for something. Somebody that’s 20 years younger and I think this is something that we need to work on. Helping to build up the self confidence in these women so that they can go out, ask for raises, get a job, stand up for themselves and not feel ignored.

Jean Chatzky: (04:06)
When you hear from your readers, what are the things that they tell you that they care about in the world?

Shelley Emling: (04:14)
I think a lot of the readers that we have are women in their forties and fifties, again, that have raised their children. They’d been out of the workforce for maybe 10 years or stayed in part time and they realize suddenly they wake up one morning, their kids are going off to college. They don’t know enough about finances. They realize, actually my husband’s been taking care of our taxes all these years. What would I do if something happened to him? So I hear time and time again from readers even asking you this question, how can I be more confident and learn more about my finances at such a late stage in life after my husband’s been handling it for 20 something years?

Jean Chatzky: (04:52)
It’s a topic that we encourage women to talk to each other about. You know, because we were not raised many of us to have these conversations about money with our communities, with our friends, with our colleagues. I mean it’s only starting to become acceptable. I think millennials are pushing it along and Gen Z is pushing it even further. Is it something that you’re finding your readers are open to?

Shelley Emling: (05:22)
Yes. They really want concrete steps. You know, how can we support one another in the workplace and to help each other learn more about finances? I mean another thing I hear constantly is that this generation I think has one foot in the past and one in the future. They grew up in the analog generation. They did not have the internet and so what they could do is be more of a bridge in the workplace I think between millennials and baby boomers and play off that a little bit more, but often our readers tell us they’re afraid of, it’s kind of a stereotype, but they’re afraid of technology. They’re afraid to get back out there and compete against millennials for jobs that require them to know how to design a website or a program of something. They are very nervous about competing against that younger generation.

Jean Chatzky: (06:09)
I totally get that. I mean I can’t even program, you know, the remote control, so.

Shelley Emling: (06:14)
Neither can I.

Jean Chatzky: (06:15)
Technology and I are often not on speaking terms. You collected some questions from readers of the girlfriend, most common questions that you’re hearing from these Gen X women about their finances. Let’s dig into those.

Shelley Emling: (06:32)
Yes, we asked our readers what would they like to ask Jean Chatzky and we literally got hundreds of responses. And the main thing is what we were just talking about. If a woman has been married and raised her kids and now she’s in her fifties and suddenly she thinks I need to get a handle on my finances. Either her husband’s walked out on she’s just realized it’s time for her to get control of her life. How should she start doing that?

Jean Chatzky: (07:00)
I think slowly, right? You can’t expect yourself to wake up one day and be in charge, but you can wake up one day and start to play a role and start to become a more engaged partner and eventually if you want to be in charge, be in charge. So I think it starts with the conversation with that spouse where you say, I’m feeling out of the loop and I need you to bring me along and allow me to participate with you.

Shelley Emling: (07:36)
I think also a lot of women feel like their husband may not be the best teacher often, that they might need to do some independent learning and study on their own. So would you advise them to go out and read their own material before they approach their husband or maybe it’s in sync with that?

Jean Chatzky: (07:57)
I think when people start to think about reading financial material, they think it’s going to be really daunting and scary. I think you can pick up the money section of USA Today or go online and just read the money section of USA Today on a regular basis and you’re going to start to get your feet wet. You’re going to start to get educated. You can pick up a book. There are lots of great books on money, but you don’t have to dive in that deeply. The one thing you shouldn’t do is turn on the stock channels. That’s trading. That’s not investing and that’s not what we need to do as women to manage our financial lives. I tell this story occasionally, but I was 10 years into my career as a personal finance journalist. I went out for a run, where I often find that I either have my best thoughts running or in the shower. I don’t know what that is. Although I did interview the woman once who did the Head and Shoulders commercials. Or maybe it was the Herbal Essence commercials, but there was some research that when the water is pounding on your head, it actually does jar your brain into thinking big thoughts. So, I don’t know that this was a big thought, but I was running, and it occurred to me that in order to get your financial life in order, there are only five things that you have to do, but you have to do them over and over and over again. You got to earn money, right? A decent amount of money. You have to spend less than you make, which for some people is hard and that tends to be the most challenging step. You got to take what you’re not spending and first save it and then invest it so it works as hard for you is you work for yourself. You’ve got to protect your financial life and you got to figure out some way to give back. So you do those five things over and over and over again and your financial life works and the investing part of it doesn’t have to be complicated. You know, put your money in a target date retirement fund, put it in a couple of low cost index funds and just keep adding to it. It will do the hard work on its own. I think sometimes, if we’re not comfortable talking to our own spouses, and this does happen, then finding somebody else to talk to. Finding a financial advisor, even if you approach it as short term therapy to just get you going is a good move.

Shelley Emling: (10:31)
I think that’s important.

Jean Chatzky: (10:35)
Now is a very good time to remind everyone that HerMoney is brought to you by Fidelity Investments. You don’t have to know all the answers when it comes to your financial future, but an important question to ask yourself is what do you want from your money? What are your financial goals? No matter where we’re meeting you on your financial journey, Fidelity is here to help you reach those goals faster. It all starts with a financial checkup and an understanding of what you own and what you owe. From there, we’ll work with you to evaluate your investment options and ways to grow your savings, discuss your goals, see where you stand and get help taking the next steps at fidelity.com/demandmore. I’m happily talking with Shelley Emling, editor-in-chief of The Girlfriend, which is a website and free weekly newsletter for women 40 and over from AARP.

Shelley Emling: (11:30)
I know a lot of women also that have been in the workplace for a number of years. They’re in their fifties they’d probably perhaps been in the same job for 20-something years as they raised their children, their husbands, the primary breadwinner. And there comes a point, they’re seeing the people hired, all these millennials are being hired and I don’t want to really pit one generation against another, but they’re seeing younger people be hired at maybe higher up positions, making more money, and they wonder, how do I ask for what I want at this stage in my life? Well, they just, if I go in and I’m 55 years old and ask for a raise or more responsibility after my kids go off, how do I know they’re not going to say, you know, we don’t need you anymore? I think a lot of women lack that self confidence at that age.

Jean Chatzky: (12:16)
I think a lot of women at all ages lack the confidence to ask for money. And it’s not about what you want or what you need. When you make this case, you have to prove your value to the company. When we think about I need, I want, I am ready for, we’re having these eyes centered conversations and thoughts, but that’s not the way an employer thinks. You know, an employer thinks about, well what am I going to get on the other side? And so the best way to make your case is to come in with a plan, document, case history of what you’ve already done for this company, the value that you’re going to bring in the future, how you’re going to bring that. And of course they should pay you more because look at all of the value that you’re providing, right? It has to be about that.

Shelley Emling: (13:17)
You have to make a case for yourself.

Jean Chatzky: (13:19)
And I would urge all The Girlfriend listeners, and we can do a follow up written piece about this, but we’ve got a podcast coming up on HerMoney with an amazing woman from Hewlett Packard who teaches the women at HP had an negotiate against her because she’s in charge of HR and in her business school education, she said the very best thing she learned was how to negotiate for money and so she does it with a term sheet. It’s a process. I have not been so excited about one of our episodes, this one not withstanding in a really, really long time, so everybody should just tune in for that one.

Shelley Emling: (14:02)
One final question that people ask all the time is these same women who are trying to take control of their own finances, they have daughters and sons coming up that are teenagers and they want to make sure that their daughters don’t end up like them. Maybe they’re, these readers, their mothers did not take time to really teach them about finances, so now they have their own children and they’re wondering, how do I teach them how to be fiscally responsible, how to learn about how to play the stock market, how to budget money. When does that start and how do I do that?

Jean Chatzky: (14:34)
It can start fairly young. I mean, I think the most important thing that we need to teach our kids about money is that money’s a limited resource and we have to choose how we’re going to use that resource. And they don’t learn the lesson. They have money to manage, which means you got to put money in their hands in some way. You can start to do it when they are young, when they are starting to go to elementary school and they’re asking for money for the school store, if there’s a school store. They’re asking for money in the grocery store to get their treats. Or in the latest Target run. You know, this is a really good opportunity to say bring your wallet. They need to feel empowered to make choices about what they will and what they won’t buy. And so I think if you’re going to give an allowance, you given allowance with a list of things, a growing list of things, that you know your kids want, but that you are no longer going to pay for. And the goal is as they get closer to college, the list grows, the allowance grows, and they have to manage larger sums of money so that when they go off to college, they don’t have a month’s worth of money that they blow in a week. That’s what you’re looking for. I also think it’s crucial that they work.

Shelley Emling: (16:00)
Right, I do, too.

Jean Chatzky: (16:00)
I mean I’ve worked from the time I was 11. I started babysitting at 11. I had jobs all the way through high school. I saw this light bulb go off with both of my kids that the $10 that they get for an allowance is worth nowhere near the $10 that they earn the first time that they babysit. ‘Cause all of a sudden it’s their time. And that is really valuable to them.

Shelley Emling: (16:30)
Well I have three children and my middle kid wanted to take a gap year after high school and I said, I, I’m all for that idea. I’m not opposed to it. But how are you going to fund that gap year because we’re not paying you $40,000 to backpack through Thailand, so you have to figure out how to do it. And he did. He spent two years, his last two years of high school raising money so he could be sure to have enough to take a year off before starting college.

Jean Chatzky: (16:55)
That’s amazing. Well, it happens when kids want something. They have to want something, you know, more than, and this is true of adults, too, we have to want something more than we want the impulse item, right. Otherwise the money just flies through our fingers. And this is why, you know, when financial planners and advisors get into the meat of setting goals, which sounds like a lofty term, what they’re really just saying is, just want something.

Shelley Emling: (17:32)
I agree.

Jean Chatzky: (17:32)
He did it.

Shelley Emling: (17:33)
He did it. He went on a gap year. It was a volunteer program. So he was actually, he got his room and board in South America to do this program for a year and we did not have to pay very much money.

Jean Chatzky: (17:45)
That’s amazing. What about, what about you and your financial journey? How have you come along to manage your own money?

Shelley Emling: (17:54)
Well, I have always worked. I’m in my fifties now and I started out right after graduating college wanting to be a journalist. I was lucky that I became a foreign correspondent overseas in London for many, many years. And, even after I got married, I always wanted to continue working as my three children were born, they grew up. I always made sure that I had my foot in the door of my career world somewhere.

Jean Chatzky: (18:21)
I think that’s so important. And, and I am sure that many of the readers that you hear from at The Girlfriend are similar to the women that we hear from at her money. I can’t tell you how many say to me, I wish I would’ve kept a foot in.

Shelley Emling: (18:38)
Right. Well, I have a lot of friends that stopped working when their kids were born for the first few years and then they tried to get back in when their kids were 10 or 11. I kind of have a different way of thinking. I think that it’s actually more important to perhaps be closer to home when your kids are preteens and teenagers than when they’re, you know, zero to four years old. That’s my thought.

Jean Chatzky: (19:00)
Why?

Shelley Emling: (19:00)
I just think kids need you quite a bit when they’re that age and they need somebody in that house when they walk in the door after middle school or high school. So I tried to work from home for a few years there when they were about that age. But I worked all, you know, took three months off from attorney leave and jumped right back again. But the other thing I hear, on a different note a little bit, from our readers is that as they age, they’re really looking for friendship and support from other women. They have hit their fifties and their kids are going off to college and they don’t have the support system they once did. And I have so many readers that write and say, how can I make friends again where we’ve moved, we’ve downsized to a smaller town, how do I start over again? Or my husbands, you know, we’ve gotten a divorce and I’m single and moving to a different community and I had this beautiful set of friends and it’s really hard to keep in touch and keep that intact as you age. And it’s, especially when the kids go off to college, they need that support system. So to me, the big thing when women hit their forties and fifties is to try to maintain a very close circle of female friends.

Jean Chatzky: (20:05)
Yeah, absolutely. And we hear it in the statistics and the research on loneliness. You know, I wrote a book called the Ageproof with a doctor named Mike Roizen, and he says that loneliness in older adults is as detrimental to your health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Shelley Emling: (20:26)
I believe that. Yeah.

Jean Chatzky: (20:27)
Well The Girlfriend is a place, and HerMoney, too, where women find community.

Shelley Emling: (20:32)
That’s right. We’re all about women finding each other and making connections with one another.

Jean Chatzky: (20:36)
Thank you so much for having this conversation.

Shelley Emling: (20:37)
Thank you Jean. Thank you very much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Jean Chatzky: (20:41)
And we’ll be right back with Kathryn and your mailbag. And we are back in our studio in New York. Kathryn Tuggle is with me here all the way back from FinCon. Nice to see you.

Kathryn Tuggle: (20:58)
Nice to see you.

Jean Chatzky: (20:59)
So what’d you make of that conference?

Kathryn Tuggle: (21:02)
It was pretty great. It’s so exciting to see that many people in one room so excited about personal finance.

Jean Chatzky: (21:08)
It’s the only place in the world you’ll see that many people in one room excited about personal finance. What is so inspiring to me is that it’s a community of people who are there to serve. You know, they’re really there to help other people with their finances. They all have their own tribes. They all have their own methodologies, but at the heart, they want all of us to step up our game.

Kathryn Tuggle: (21:31)
Right. And I feel like no one there had a secret that they were keeping that they didn’t want to let everybody else in on. Everybody wants to shout it from the rooftops. If they’ve learned something good that is helpful, that has improved their lives, they’re there to tell it.

Jean Chatzky: (21:45)
Yeah, absolutely. It was fun. I was glad that so many of us were able to go this year. Let’s get to our mailbag.

Kathryn Tuggle: (21:54)
Our first letter comes to us from Alexandra, who is originally from Russia and now lives in Georgia here in the United States. She says, I have a clarification question about credit card use. I keep hearing on the podcast that your credit usage should be around 10% to 30%. but if let’s say my line of credit on a card is $10,000 and I spend %3000 and then pay it off in a week and then spend another $2000 during the same month that is also paid off in full, would this affect my credit score negatively? My husband has an excellent credit score and I have a very good one, but not excellent because I immigrated here six years ago and my history is short, but we’d like to keep both our scores high and not make any mistakes. Thanks so much.

Jean Chatzky: (22:37)
So Alexandra, the key is that mid month payment, that intermittent payment that you don’t have to make, but you should make for the basis of your credit score. If you, to use your example, go back to a credit card where you have a credit limit of $10,000 and you spend $3,000 then you’re at 30% credit utilization. If you pay it off, you write an extra check to that credit card company even though the balance is not due, that takes your utilization back down to zero. If at that point you charge another $2,000 which you pay off at the end of the month, your utilization is 20%. you haven’t gone over that 30% but if you don’t make the mid month payment, which you could do based on your line of credit, and you charged the $3,000 and then you charged the $2,000 you would be at 50% utilization and that will hurt your score. So the bottom line here is if you know that you are routinely using up to 30% of your credit limit, you probably want to ask for an increase in your credit limits so that you’re not coming up against those levels. And as long as you’re paying your bills on time and regularly, they’ll probably give it to you. Or you just get in the habit of knowing how much you’ve spent and sending in those mid month payments. It’s something that I do. When I know that I’m on the road a lot and that my credit usage is going to be bumping up against 30% of my credit utilization. I just send in another check.

Kathryn Tuggle: (24:18)
I never would’ve thought of that to do that. That’s great.

Jean Chatzky: (24:21)
Yeah, super easy and you know, we pay our bills online. I never have to have any stamps. I just read another check and it takes the balance down at the end of the month as well.

Kathryn Tuggle: (24:30)
Fantastic. Our next letter comes to us from Joanne in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She writes, I recently joined a new company and I’m troubled by what to do with my previous 401(k) along with some stocks. The account balance in the 401(k) is approximately $300,000 it’s been suggested that I move the old 401(k) into a variable annuity, but since I already have one annuity, I’m not sure if this is the right fit. I also have an account with TD Ameritrade that has a large amount of stock, around $145,000. I’m 59 and I’ve heard that perhaps I should sell my stock and purchase mutual funds instead. Quite frankly, I have no idea what to do and therefore have done nothing with either account for fear of making the wrong decision. I started a new Roth 401(k) with my new company where I’m contributing 20% of my salary and I plan to work at least another five years. Any guidance you can give would be appreciated.

Jean Chatzky: (25:22)
So Joanne, I’m so glad that you wrote and I’m so glad that you wrote right now because you are a poster child candidate for an appointment with a financial advisor, but I very specifically want you to go to a financial advisor who is not going to sell you anything. I want you to sit down with a fee-only financial advisor just for a consult, and you can sit down with one and decide that you want to work with them on an ongoing basis. But more than giving this person your assets to manage, I want you to get some very clear, very objective advice. You can find a fee-only financial advisor at the website of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. It’s called NAPFA, napfa.org and the reason for doing this is that you are at a point of transition in your life. You’re five years out from retirement. You’ve got a good deal of money, almost a half a million dollars that you could roll over, and you are confused. When you say that you’ve heard perhaps you should get out of the stock market and purchase mutual funds instead, there’s some confusion just in this line of thinking. My guess is that the money that is in your old 401(k) is already in mutual funds. It’s probably in mutual funds that own stock, but you are a very young woman at 59 years old, you could live another 40 years. You don’t want to be out of the stock market entirely. You want to build a portfolio that takes into account the prior 401(k), your balance at TD Ameritrade, and the 20% that you’re contributing with your new company and allocates those assets into a mix of stocks and bonds and cash that makes sense for you based on your age and your risk tolerance right now. And that’s why it’s so important that you get this kind of objective advice. Don’t do anything until you sit down with at least one financial advisor and possibly a couple of them.

Kathryn Tuggle: (27:35)
So to clarify, I think she’s talking about cashing out the stock in her TD Ameritrade account, not her 401(k).

Jean Chatzky: (27:42)
Either way, mutual funds and stocks are not separate things necessarily. Many of the mutual funds that she would invest in would have a big component of stocks. So it’s possible that she wants to move out of individual stocks and put her money into mutual funds, which would diversify things more and that’s a fine thing to do. But I still don’t want to see her do it exclusive of the money that she’s got in that prior 401(k) and the new contributions that she’s making into the Roth IRA. It should be looked at as a whole. And although as you and I know, I’m a fan of using annuities to make sure that your fixed expenses in retirement are taken care of in a way that you don’t have to worry about it by taking a portion of your money at retirement and perhaps using it to buy some sort of immediate low cost simple annuity. I don’t necessarily think that’s a decision that you make before looking at your entire financial picture. And so that’s what I’m advocating for here. Does that make sense?

Kathryn Tuggle: (28:58)
Absolutely.

Jean Chatzky: (28:59)
Okay. Thanks Joanne and let us know how it goes. If you need any additional help, I hope that you’ll write to us and keep us posted. In today’s thrive open enrollment time is here. It’s that time of year again. That’s the six week period where you are tasked with choosing health insurance coverage for you and for your family. It is a dreaded chore for many Americans, but now is not the time to bury your head in the sand and stick with what you already have no matter how tempting it might be, it is the time to open your eyes and look at your options and make an educated decision about what’s going to be right for you and what’s going to be right for your family over the next year. And that’s true by the way, whether you are on your employer’s plan, whether you are getting your health insurance through one of the exchanges or even whether you’re on Medicare, because now is the time that you can make choices in those decisions as well. Here are a couple of things that you need to know for the year 2020. You are likely to have more choice in plans. According to the National Business Group On Health in Washington D.C. In 2018 39% of companies offered only high deductible health plans. This year, that’s down to 25% the reason why we’re told is that employees are asking for more choices, but those choices need to be evaluated and you’re likely to have more choices on the exchanges as well. Simultaneously price increases will still have them, but they’re slowing down. That is really, really good news. You’ll also see mental health care being included in more company plans. If that is something that is of concern to you or you think might be of concern to you in the future, then you should absolutely be looking for those benefits. And you should finally see that enrollment on those health exchanges is easier than it has been in the past. All of those are good things, but the bottom line message that we want you to take away is spend some time on this, spend an hour, talk about it with your spouse or your partner if you have one, ask questions of your benefits providers if you have them, pick up the phone if you have additional calls, get all the information that you need. Our healthcare is taking up a greater share of our budgets than it ever has before. It is definitely something that you want to pay attention to. Thank you so much to AARP. Thank you to Shelley Emling for today’s wonderful conversation on location at FinCon in Washington D.C. Thanks to all of you for tuning into our episode today. If you like what you hear, I hope you’ll subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts. I hope you’ll leave us a review because we love hearing what you think. We want to thank our sponsor Fidelity. We record this podcast out of CDM Sound Studios. Our music is provided by Track Tribe and our show comes to you through PRX. Tune in next week, we’ll sit down with gender economist, Katica Roy and discuss gender issues in the workplace and how we can all work to close the gender pay gap. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll talk soon.


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