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I’m not Wonder Woman but I can still enjoy a family in my 40s and a pension

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I left starting a family quite late - I turned 44 in March, the same month my little boy turned two.

According to the Office for National Statistics, this makes me part of a growing minority of women in the UK today, with one in 25 new babies now being born to a mum over the age of 40.

Why did I leave it so long to get started?

Like many other women, I was so caught up in a demanding career I loved that I never really stood still for long enough to tune into my maternal instinct.

Like many families, my partner and I both needed to work to afford our mortgage, too – and also like a growing number of families, I was the main breadwinner.

Thankfully, I did acknowledge my nurturing instinct just in time, and the result has changed our lives.

I’m not Wonder Woman

Not only do I now have a beautiful little boy who is the undisputed love of my life (closely followed by my partner!), after trying valiantly to maintain said career while living up to my personal vision of ‘mumminess’, I’ve finally come to the realisation that I’m not, in fact, Wonder Woman.

As a result, I’ve decided to take control of my work/life balance and start an exciting – if a little daunting – new chapter in life.

I’ve set up my own blog, myworkingmummy.com, as a way of recording my journey into this uncharted territory, and capturing the precious mum-and-lad time that lies ahead.

I’ve also established my own business as a freelance communications and editorial consultant, bytracyfletcher.com.

Being an older mum is no mean feat, financially

While I’m fired up by what lies ahead, I’m acutely aware of the additional financial challenges this presents for me as an older mum.

Firstly, I am more than 10 years older than the average first child bearing age of 30 (also according to the ONS). Not only does this make running around after and wrestling with a three-foot-tall ball of constant energy quite an achievement, but our own parents are also older, so help with childcare is a paid-for necessity rather than a freebie we can take for granted from grandparents.

Secondly, I am making this move when I am much closer to retirement than the norm, which means ensuring I’ll have enough pension to live on in the future as well as now a real priority.

Fortunately, as a senior manager in my field, I’ve enjoyed a good salary for quite a few years now, so I’ve got a reasonable head start in terms of pension contributions. But I urgently need to think about how I am going to avoid running up a retirement fund deficit from here on in.

Not all doom and gloom

I asked Mark Butterworth, head of technical services for Skipton Financial Services Limited, how older mums in a similar position can achieve the best outcomes: “Like anything in life, this is a game of snakes and ladders,” he said.

“Although older mums who decide to prioritise childcare are taking time out of work, or reducing their earnings closer to retirement, doing things this way means many have built up a reasonable pension head start earlier in their careers.

“In some ways they’ve got a stronger starting point than younger mums who have never worked, or didn’t have chance to build their careers and income levels before having their children.”

Mark reassured me I’m representative of a zeitgeist when it comes to retirement planning.

“The whole retirement landscape is changing, and there is no longer a standard pension age, or way of retiring – the recent pension changes reflect the fact people are demanding greater control and flexibility in terms of how they approach their later years,” he says.

“Many older mums use the skills they’ve accrued to develop more flexible solutions to be there for their children while also bringing some income into their households.”

Information is power

According to Mark, there are some basic principles any mum in my position should follow: “First and foremost, build up a clear picture of your current and potential future pension provision, private and State.

“Fill in a BR19 form, and find out exactly how many qualifying years you have accrued towards the benchmark of 30 (soon to be 35) to receive the State pension, and how many you might need to make up later. The good news is you continue to accrue National Insurance contributions towards your State pension if you’re not working for a period but claiming Child Benefit, right up until your child reaches the age of 12.

“Similarly, understanding the value of your private retirement investment portfolio – including your and your partners’ pots – will govern your future choices in terms of how much you might need to earn and contribute in future to top things up.”

Once you have this information, you can see how much income you are on course to receive in retirement and assess how this will compare in relation to your anticipated expenditure.

He adds: “Every woman should start contributing to a private pension as early as possible, to put them in the best position for the future, whatever life choices they make.

You may not be Wonder Woman, but you can have the best of worlds

So, if you’re an older mum like me and concerned about the impact taking time out of your career, or scaling things back, could have on your future pension provision, there are things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position.

The key is to get as much information as possible, and to seek expert financial advice to help you achieve your retirement goals.

Are you an older mum and struggling to achieve the right work/life balance? How have you made sure a change of lifestyle didn’t damage your pension savings? We’d like to hear from you.

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

Comments

Well Tracy, I am a stay at home dad. Going through your post you could have replaced the word "mum" for "dad" and it would pretty much have applied to me! SLowly but surely, I think men in my position will become less of a rarity. I know that I have to go away and see how many qualifying years I have paid National Insurance contributions. I haven't paid any for the past year and I think I may have to make voluntary contributions to avoid a shortfall. Good luck sorting out your work / life balance. I hope you are succesful.
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