We women are big stuff these days.
Marketers want us. Financial advisors want us. And boy, do the politicians want us.
I have news for them all though; we are not a new marketing niche. We’ve been here all along! It may be that we’re more recognizable as an economic and political force in recent years because we as women are recognizing that ourselves.
I grew up in the 70’s, in the era of the Equal Rights Amendment and bra burning. As a kid that all it meant to me was I might get drafted someday, and I didn’t like that idea. Beyond that though, I think we as women tried so hard to prove our equality with men that we forgot for a while that while we are equal, we are different, and that’s not a bad thing.
I’m glad to see it swinging back to a place where we can recognize that while we can open our own doors, it’s not a sign of weakness to allow a gentleman to hold the door for us.
In that spirit, I’d like to acknowledge the unique financial challenges and learning styles of women.
When it comes to our personal finances, women have some disadvantages- and not due to lack of intelligence or the caricatured personality traits of the female shopper.
It’s a reality that women are likely to be the sole financial provider at some point in life, likely to have interrupted a career to care for family, likely to put the needs of others before our own, and are likely to be wearing a multitude of hats, leaving taking care of ourselves often last on our list of things to do.
We need to recognize and address those challenges if we’re going to have a chance at a secure future. Here are three things every woman should do for good financial self-care.
Know what’s going on with your finances. Even if you’re the one mechanically paying the bills, with online banking we often lose touch with how much money we’re really spending. If your spouse is the family bookkeeper, have regular conversations and be aware of how things are going money-wise. Same thing with your investments. Sometimes it seems easier not to know, because knowledge brings responsibility- but that’s no excuse. Good information makes for better decisions, and better positioning to carry on should it fall on you. Being in the dark is not a safe place to be.
Know yourself too. We all do things to undermine ourselves financially. Being aware of those tendencies and thinking them through ahead of time can help us avoid making financial commitments we may not really want to make, or avoid those that are harmful to our financial situation. Do you have a hard time saying no to your kids? Do you feel compelled to go to every home party you’re invited to because you feel like you’d be letting a friend down if you declined? Women tend to use money as emotional currency, and without thinking, we could easily spend away more money than we can afford. I don’t know about you, but one of my most entrenched emotional/financial connections is the unwritten rule that how much you spend on a gift for someone should be related to how much your relationship means. But only in gifts I give, because I don’t care how much anyone spends on a gift for me. How silly is that! As my husband can attest, there are plenty more silly rules where that came from. When I am aware of them I can laugh about them and work to change my thinking.
Cultivate your career, even during times you are out of the work force. I have tried to drill this into our daughters: always maintain the ability to earn an income. That’s your greatest financial asset. Even if your family situation is such that you are able to be a stay at home mom, it is so critical to keep up your skills and your contacts. You never know what the future holds. You may in fact be married to Prince Charming, but what if your prince loses his job? Or suffers from an extended illness? What if he dies or your marriage ends? Life insurance is helpful but probably not enough to never need to work again; disability insurance probably won’t cover everything; unemployment insurance does not go far enough; and there is nowhere to buy divorce insurance. You may need to step in and re-enter the workforce at any time, and the better tuned your skills are the quicker you can get up to speed in your career.
Learn about money management and how to get the right information to make good financial decisions. When we don’t know much about a subject, it can feel intimidating and vulnerable. I hate having to deal with car issues because I don’t know enough to know when I’m being taken advantage of, and I feel stupid- and often am treated that way. Until I take the time to educate myself, learn the language so to speak, I’m going to continue to feel that way. The same may hold true for you with money and investing. It can be hard to learn the language though, when it’s being taught in a way that doesn’t relate to real life. The technical information is important, but how does that apply to my life? How does that help me balance my kids’ needs with my retirement needs? Or my parents’ needs? Women are great at sharing information and support. We can use that skill to our advantage by being part of a community that can help us learn the language.