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Women Share Their Secrets To Being Financially Prepared For Retirement

By Mary Cornatzer The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Jo Ann Williford, 61, retired in 2011.

Sheri Green, 56, sees retirement on the horizon.

The two Raleigh women have this in common: They see themselves as financially prepared.

Part of their confidence comes from having worked for the state, which means guaranteed pensions "as long as the state retirement plan doesn't go belly up," Williford said.

But they are also anomalies in that they have taken an active role in preparing for retirement, something few women do.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, less than half of women participate in retirement planning, and many aren't confident in their financial situation, worrying about their lack of savings and investments.

Kathy Kraeblen, a financial planner with PNC Wealth Management in Raleigh, says the key for women is to be proactive and educate themselves about financial terms and retirement needs.

Take control

Williford and Green left little of their retirement planning to chance.

Williford, who worked 33 years in the Archives and History division, took care to start a 401(k) and make her own investments. She took advantage of seminars the state offered and found advisers to talk to, after getting recommendations from friends.

She credits being single with giving her the push to take control of her financial life. "You figure out pretty early that you've got to take care of yourself," she explained. "I was always pretty much fiscally conservative, so I started planning pretty early in my career. I wasn't sure if I'd get married or not but knew I needed to take care of that."

Williford said her decision to retire came quickly when the state began having layoffs three years ago. "I knew I could retire and others could not," she said.

But thinking about retirement and actually doing it were different.

"It was scary," she said. "No matter how much you think you've prepared, you still need to be able to eat and live indoors."

She also missed the daily structure that came with work. So when she was offered a part-time contract doing similar work, she took it.

"I could live off of my pension, but having that extra money makes me not hesitate to take a nice trip," she said.

Plans change

Sheri Green also includes some work in her retirement plan, a plan that has changed over the past few years.

At one time, Green and her spouse had talked about retiring at 54 and moving to the mountains.

But a few years ago, he was laid off.

Then first her father and then her mother were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

And although her parents had always been financially conservative -- "they never bought anything unless they had the money in hand to pay for it," she said -- their health care took a good deal of their money.

In recent years, she also has seen other friends' lives change because of illness, job loss and the unexpected death of a spouse.

The lesson in all of this for Green: "As much as you think you have your plans in place and are in control, you're really not. Anything could happen."

So the self-described control freak "backed up and recalculated."

The move to the mountains is out now, she said. Instead, they'll stay here where they have a support system of family and friends.

"As you get older, you get practical and less dreamy," she said.

But she also knows they want to travel some -- biking tours of Europe, rail trails through Canada, an Alaska cruise.

So, as the director of planning and design for the Wake County Public School System, she started networking with an eye toward consulting when she does retire.

She also sold some land to provide a little comfort cushion and to help with any business startup costs.

The part-time work will provide flexibility and give her more control, Green said.

And when the inevitable life changes come about, she has a plan for that as well. "Recalculate. (Ask) what can I do now? How does that change the plan?" she explained.

"Part of it is to be ready for anything."

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