Pop quiz! Which U.S. institution employs the most workers nationwide, has been in operation longer than any other American entity, and assuredly will be in production long after many businesses have disappeared?

Unfortunately, its 85 million workers earn no pay. Insurance, retirement or Social Security benefits are not guaranteed, and time off is negligible.

Have you figured it out? The answer is motherhood. As Americans, we will spend approximately $20 billion this year trying to pay tribute to our mothers who are, of course, priceless. But if we can’t put a price on motherhood, we must at least pay attention to its costs. According to the USDA, on average, it costs between $25,000 and $300,000 to feed, clothe and house a child up to age 17.

While monetary costs are ideally shared with fathers, they represent just the tip of the iceberg for our nation’s mothers. Some studies have found that the pay differential between men and women for the same work is a function not primarily of gender, but of motherhood. In fact, for elderly American women, poverty is more prevalent among mothers.

Most mothers would give their lives for their children – but many may not realize they might be giving up their financial security, as well. It’s time for mothers to start taking care of themselves while caring for their children. Until the unpaid duties of motherhood enjoy the same social and market protections as paid labor, women — and all who love and depend on them — need to think about their financial planning differently.

Mothers are living longer, and are more likely to spend a significant period of their lives single as compared with their male counterparts. With that in mind, here are some steps that mothers need to be taking toward greater financial security. 

  • Create a savings plan. Aim to put away more money, both for retirement and for a rainy day.

  • Get adequate disability and long-term care insurance. These risks are more prevalent for women.

  • Take more investment risks. Women have traditionally been more conservative in this area, but they need to make their capital grow sufficiently for their longer lives.

  • Consider taking an adult education class. Mothers who want to return to the workplace, or are looking to gain additional skills to advance their careers, should invest in additional education and training.

In a word, mothers need to be more selfish about seeing to their own needs.

American women are responsible for nearly 80 percent of household consumption decisions. So as our domestic CEOs, perhaps it is time for them to pay themselves, by diverting more of the resources expended on their children to their own savings and retirement funds.

And perhaps it is time for those of us who love and value the mothers in our lives to step it up a bit. This year — along with the carnations and chocolates — consider making an IRA or other savings contribution for Mom. Yes, take her to brunch, but also talk about the importance of her financial security, a financial plan, and planning for stages of her life.