If you read a lot of personal finance stories, you’ll notice that often the advice given applies to couples. But singles—especially women—face their own unique challenges when it comes to saving and investing for their futures. And since they have only themselves to rely on in case of a job loss or other financial setback, they can often be better off financially if they get some key financial decisions right. In many cases, that simply means being organized and embracing a bit more risk in their investments. “I find a lot of singles are afraid of investing in equities but doing so will often give them the freedom and money to do a lot more in retirement than had they stuck with a very conservative portfolio of GICs,” says Vickie Campbell, a certified financial planner with Ryan Lamontagne in Ottawa.

To start, understand how much you need to be saving. The truth is that women in general often earn less than men. So it helps to save more from day one. Most financial planners recommend that single women aim to save 20% of their gross income each paycheque. They should increase this amount as they approach their 50s and are a decade or so away from retirement.

Singles should also pay attention to the little things. For instance, they should be sure to sign up for any free money they’re entitled to at work. That means employer stock sharing plans that match employee contributions as well as company pensions, especially defined benefit pension plans, as they can be very generous at some workplaces.

As well, singles need to understand and use the savings vehicles that are right for them. “In general, if you make less than $50,000 annually, a Tax-Free Savings Account is often the right vehicle for savings,” says Ayana Forward, a certified financial planner also with Ryan Lamontagne. “If you make more than $50,000, then RRSPs are likely the better option.”

And finally, whether you’re a DIY investor or use a financial advisor, make sure that equities make up a healthy portion of your investment portfolio. “Historically they’ve offered up good average annual returns that have kept pace with inflations and also given a bit of extra growth,” says Campbell. “Just be sure to look at the details—what’s your net average annual rate of return annually [3% or so is good] and how much are you paying for this?” These details can translate into big savings.

In almost every case, investing your money doesn’t have to be complicated. And sticking to a passive portfolio that is invested 60% in equities and 40% in bonds can give you the returns you need with little effort. (For more on passive investing, check out Canadiancouchpotato.com, a complete guide to simple and cost-efficient index investing you can either do yourself or along with your financial advisor.)

At all times, you need to educate yourself and really understand your risk tolerance. Repeated surveys over the years have shown that when it comes to investing women, in general, have a lower risk tolerance than men. But if you make it a priority to educate yourself on some of the basic principles of investing, you’ll likely be more comfortable taking on a bit of risk to reach your goals. “There’s better ways to manage risk than GICs,” says Campbell, who often tells her clients that adding a bit of equity to a very conservative investment portfolio can often mean the difference between being able to travel extensively in retirement and being pinched to pay even basic living expenses. Having a growing, well-diversified portfolio that allows you to sleep at night will pay off—at any age.

Julie is senior editor and writer at Moneysense magazine. An award-winning business journalist, she has written for Macleans's, Chatelaine, Canadian Business and many other leading publications. Her mission is to empower women to be proactive about money.