Women hold more financial power than ever, but our financial literacy remains dismal. We continue to relinquish our financial decision-making power to our husbands, boyfriends or the guy yelling the loudest on TV. Many women were raised under the assumption that men handled the finances because they understood it best. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Women underestimate their own ability to manage their financial life and overestimate their partner’s ability to do it right.
If you’re in a relationship, financial literacy shouldn’t even be an either/or situation. It should be a partnership. At some point in your life, there is a good chance you’ll be the primary financial decision-maker. Women cannot afford to wait for Prince Charming to show-up and take control.
5 Steps to Becoming Money Savvy Women
When women claim their financial decision-making responsibilities, good things happen, including peace of mind and more control over their lives. And guess what? The men in their lives appreciate their input and support too.
1. Set Specific Financial Goals
Every day you make hundreds of decisions. Do you buy a latte? Do you buy a new pair of shoes? Do you plan a family vacation? Decisions are easy when you know what you want or have goals. You can now filter your decisions against your goals. Does this bring me closer to achieving what I want or further from it? This simple question makes it easy for you to honor your goals and walk away without feeling deprived, even when you find something very tempting. Making good financial decisions is the backbone to creating the life you want.
2. Lower Your Debt and Build Adequate Cash Reserves
A common mistake many women make is sacrificing their cash reserve to help reduce their credit card debt. Instead, you should actually build your cash reserve and reduce your debt at the same time. While it may seem counter-intuitive to worry about an emergency fund when you're getting out of debt, the truth is things will still break and need to be replaced.
If you don't have funds readily available to cover those costs, you'll have no choice but to use your credit card and undo all your debt repayment efforts, which can be very demoralizing and cause you to give-up. Ideally, you should build your emergency fund to cover 3-12 months of living expenses.
3. Save, Save and Save Some More
“I work so hard and deserve to splurge a bit" is one of the many excuses we use to defend our lack of savings. Or we assume someone else is going to save for us, (maybe a spouse, an inheritance, or our government’s Social Security system). The question we need to ask ourselves is—do we want to depend on someone else for our financial future? I vote no.
A savings plan for cash reserves, goals and retirement creates hope for the future and lowers stress during times of change. And most importantly—puts you in the driver's seat. So why aren’t women saving more? Much of it boils down to a lack of discipline. Don’t let that be your excuse. Pay yourself first by automatically setting aside money to fund your savings goals. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
4. Create a Retirement Plan and Review Regularly
One common mistake women make is not taking time to prepare for their own retirement. Life moves fast as we care for those around us, but we have to slow down to make sure we remain financially strong as we age. Contributing to a 401(k) is not a plan, but it is a good start. A plan needs to consider your living expenses, inflation, investments, and income sources.
The two top mistakes that investors make with retirement are not creating an income plan and not considering the need for long-term care. The first is simply making sure you have a plan as to what assets you are going to use when considering taxes and risk exposure. The second involves planning for the day when we can no longer care for ourselves, regardless of how difficult it is to think about. Some of us are already experiencing this with our parents and know the costs are high.
Investing intimidates many women, but you still need to have a baseline understanding of how investing works, even if you work with a professional. This is where you can really put your money to work for you, so educate yourself and make informed decisions.
5. Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Women are natural protectors; we are “Mama Bears”. We teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street, to buckle their seat belts and to eat their fruits and vegetables. However, we commonly fall short when it comes to our own protection planning needs. Life insurance is typically addressed through a life insurance policy offered as part of our work benefits. We often select an arbitrary number that feels comfortable in a policy that is generally not portable should we chose to leave our employer.
We avoid the hard discussions of what would actually happen if we die or our spouse dies prematurely. We underestimate the actual value of our lives, and the money we contribute to our family’s well-being. Should the unthinkable happen, those shortfalls could significantly impact you or your loved ones. You must determine what amount of protection is needed to cover lost income and to continue living the life you planned. The conversation isn't always the easiest but is incredibly important, so don't put it off.
Over to You
These five steps will help you reclaim your financial power and help you create the life you want for yourself and your family. What are you doing to reclaim your financial power?
(photos courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net)
Shannon Ryan, CFP® is a Mom on a mission to help busy parents teach their children simple, value-based principles that guide their money decisions and support their long-term financial well-being. Shannon wrote The Heavy Purse to help parents start money conversations with their children through a fun, bedtime story and developed companion workbooks to help deepen those conversations. Visit TheHeavyPurse to learn more on how to raise Money Smart Kids.