George, who is African American and was 51 at the time, hadn't ruled out returning to the workforce and was in a healthy financial position after having invested in the company's 401(k) plan and stock. Her greatest uncertainty at the time was how best to withdraw the funds.
On one hand, she could have opted to receive monthly retirement benefits from her employer. The downside was that under her plan if she died, her husband would receive benefits for one year. The remaining money would return to the company. So, she sought the advice of a financial advisor and decided to invest in an individual retirement account (IRA) portfolio.
"It was just a matter of consulting with the financial analyst and having her roll my money over into that account," George said.
Such consultation was a needed step for a major investment, but nothing could have prepared her for what rocked her finances. One year into retirement, George lost half of her IRA investment in the economic downturn that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
By the end of 2010, she had exhausted the remaining funds on cost of living and unforeseen expenses.
However, during those years she also capitalized on the career-development programs Bell South offered retirees. George used the programs to secure training in cake decorating, bridal consulting and day care management. She also volunteered for her granddaughter's school for one year and was eventually offered a paid position. George has since worked in the insurance industry.
Today, at 63, George is the office manager for a Louisiana-based home health care agency. Financially, she and her husband are surviving on a monthly basis with income from both of their jobs and Social Security. But she has no regrets.
"I wouldn't do anything differently. Had it not been for 9/11, I would probably still be OK. I never intended not to go back to work at all. That [9/11] was an unforeseen something that was totally beyond our control," she said.
George's long-time friend and former co-worker, Laverne Johnson, 63, of Pearl River, La., retired from Bell South in 2007. The market was turbulent at the time, and she decided to make conservative investments in stock with the assistance of a financial advisor. By 2008, she, too, began to lose a couple of thousand dollars monthly.
"She had me invested in some things that really had problems at the end of the year," Johnson said of her advisor.
So Johnson pulled out of the market and worked with an insurance company to invest in an annuity. Although this route doesn't guarantee a large return on investment, Johnson said she prefers being in control of her finances, which allows her to maintain a life of practicality, leisure and travel.
But she warned, "Retirement isn't sitting back with your feet up and sipping coffee in the morning—not if you're concerned about your financial well-being. You have to be aware and you have to gain some knowledge about what's going on with your money—the money you've invested."
Experts say that data is limited on how women invest for their post-retirement years, partly because of individuals' reluctance to share information about their finances, said Wilhelmina Leigh, a senior research associate in economic security for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in Washington, D.C.
In 2009, the Joint Center, a leading think tank on policies affecting African Americans, polled 1,700 individuals nationally about Social Security, retirement savings and the economic downturn.
One finding was that 16.4 percent of the 475 black women surveyed and 15.9 percent of the 377 white women said they had consulted with a financial advisor—only about one in six overall.
A look at women-owned assets is another potential indicator of whether or not women are in a position to invest later in life.
Among those ages 65 or older, 61 percent of white women said they receive income from assets, such as stocks or bonds, as opposed to 29 percent of black women and 32 percent of Hispanic women in that age bracket, according to Mariko Chang, author of Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth & What Can be Done About It.
Chang said among older women, the median earnings are $1,527 for whites and only $292 for African Americas and $543 for Latino women.
"What these numbers tell me is that minority women ages 65 and older are less likely to have assets that give them any income. And when they do own these types of assets, the value of the assets is far lower than the value owned by white women and men," Chang said.
Similarly, women's pre-retirement status is critical to their post-retirement viability. However, they face significant challenges with changing pension plans, caretaker responsibilities and fewer earnings—all of which steer their ability to save for retirement, according to Howard Rodgers, a financial advisor in New Orleans.
"As a result, their retirement plan balances, Social Security benefits and pension benefits are often lower. To meet these financial challenges, they need to make retirement planning a priority," said Rodgers. He added that, ultimately, each individual's retirement experience will be unique.