I recently read a shocking bit of information revealed by the 2013 Allianz Women, Money and Power Study. That study claims that almost half of the women in the U.S. often or sometimes fear losing all their money and becoming a bag lady. As you might expect, the highest percentage of those with that fear were single (56 percent), divorced (54 percent) and widowed (47 percent). But perhaps even worse, 27 percent of the women who generate over $200,000 per year of income also felt that way. Clearly, many women have a deep insecurity about their finances and how to manage their money in a SMART and responsible way. So here are nine tips that I believe any woman should consider regarding her money.
Of course, I must remind you I am not an expert or a financial planner of any kind. What I do have is over 40 years experience in what has worked in my life and what hasn't. And while I've made quite a few financial mistakes over the years, I am proud to say that I've learned from every one of them. With the help of my financial partner (who happens to be my BFF and husband, Thom) we've used our experience to become financially comfortable. And although I don't consider myself money-rich, I have never ONCE believed I would become a bag lady.
With those disclaimers aside, here are my nine suggestions for women and their finances.
#1. Know exactly what your financial situation is at all times. I often meet intelligent woman who nonchalantly hand this task over to their partners and know very little about their financial picture. But because about 40 percent of all marriages end in divorce, and with women typically living longer than men, we owe it to ourselves to be an equal financial partner with those we live with. Organize yourself. Know where your money and investments are located. Most importantly, know the costs your lifestyle requires.
#2. Live within your means. Regardless of what advertisers, your neighbors, or even your mother think is necessary to live a "good life," don't buy things you can't afford. Know how much money you have and try to spend less than that on a regular basis. Avoid debt of all kinds. Instead, find things you love to do that fit in your budget, and avoid things that cost a lot and bring only marginal enjoyment. Crave freedom, happiness and peace of mind more than you crave possessions.
#3. Get on the same financial page as your partner/spouse as quickly as possible. It took Thom and I about 15 years to really work through all our money issues with each other. We started 38 years ago with different styles, but have learned what works to make us both comfortable and happy. It's not easy but it's extremely important. If you don't get together until later in life, do your best before you marry or commit to another relationship to find out if your financial perspectives are compatible.
#4. Never assume someone else cares more about your money/investments than you do. Far too many single/divorced/widowed women turn their financial lives over to a financial planner and passively agree to everything they are told. While that might work for some, there are thousands of examples of what happens when it doesn't. Bernie Madoff instantly comes to mind.
#5. Find someone you trust to talk to about finances. According to a 2007 study done by Gender Differences in Investment Behavior at Iowa State University, women prefer to receive investment advice in person or in a group rather than seek it out on their own. Much of the time we are uncomfortable talking about money, and will likely talk more about our sex lives than our finances. For that reason alone I am thinking about starting or joining a local Women's Investment Book Club as part of my 60-for-60 project. The more comfortable we get with investing money, the easier and perhaps more rewarding it will be.
#6. Rightsize your life as soon as possible. I define rightsizing as finding a lifestyle that suits your personal needs, your personality and your finances. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will eliminate living a lifestyle that 1) doesn't make you happy; 2) you can't afford; and 3) you can't maintain. Rightsizing is a big topic that covers everything from the job you take, the place you live, and what you plan to do with the rest of your life.
#7. Stop using your money to buy love or acceptance. Regretfully, some women spend too much money hoping it will make other people love them more (their kids?), or that just one more pair of shoes will make them more attractive. Instead, when we are content with who we are and what we have, we seldom spend money that we don't have. Learn to say NO when others ask us for money.
#8. Realistically begin to imagine where and what you want to do and be in the years to come. Because I am child-free, I can't expect children to bail me out. Yet many mothers I know say that although they never want to be a burden on their children, they have no contingency plan for retirement or old age. We can't leave our future lives to chance any more than we can expect others to take care of us if or when the time comes.
#9. Realize that a more simple life with less stuff just might be the solution to most of your financial worries. The good news is that it will probably make you happier as well.
Optimistically, the Allianz Study says that more and more women are hungry for more knowledge about financial planning, with 62 percent having a strong interest in learning more about finances and retirement strategies. But just the fact that so many of us remain worried about losing all our money and becoming homeless is reason to support and encourage each other. With the New Year just getting started, it is SMART to begin thinking and talking about our finances in a more aware and resourceful manner today.
Kathy Gottberg believes in living healthy, authentic, fearless and SMART. Follow her journey at SMART Living 365.com.