Financial Planning

Ladies, Take These 7 Steps to Own Your Financial Future

From lower salaries to caregiving duties and longer lives, women face some stiff financial challenges. A few small steps can make a big difference.

Women are the economic engines of more than half of American households. Most will live longer than their male counterparts. And in their lifetimes, four out of five will be solely responsible for their finances.

When thinking about women and financial confidence, it’s important to acknowledge that women are increasingly in the driver’s seat when it comes to financial power. Consider this:

  • 60% of women are in the labor force, with 40% in managerial and professional jobs.
  • The proportion of women with college degrees has tripled over the past 40+ years to 40%.
  • Women account for 51% of the population and control over $11.2 trillion of investable assets.

Yet, with as much wealth as women control, there continues to be challenges when you look at the relationship between women and money, and they struggle with financial wellness.

Women certainly understand the importance of financial wellness, that is, being able to live well today and plan for tomorrow. Yet statistics show that women are 80% more likely than men to be impoverished after they reach the age of 65, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Despite progress when it comes to equal pay, women’s earnings still lag their male peers, with women earning about 80 cents for each dollar a man makes for the same work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And with lower income, debt often piles up for women as well. Those factors affect a woman’s ability to set money aside for retirement and leave them at risk of outliving their hard-won earnings.

But perhaps the biggest barrier to building financial wellness is finding the time to consider which steps to take. Women work outside the home nearly as much as men and, on top of that, spend another 28 hours per week on unpaid work at home. Parenting duties have traditionally affected women’s time disproportionately, but caretaking responsibilities increasingly have the same effect. In fact, two-thirds of caretakers looking after an aging or disabled family member or friend are women.

As a result, 44% of women say they haven’t given financial planning the attention it deserves and 46% say they haven’t set aside any money for the future, according to Prudential’s report, “Closing the Retirement Income Gap.”

So it’s certainly no surprise that women say they’re not feeling financially secure, or financially confident — and certainly not for a lack of interest. Of Americans surveyed by Prudential, women prioritized financial planning. And LIMRA’s recent Retirement Risk Perception Report showed that women are more concerned than men about risks to financial security in retirement, worrying about the impact of health care costs, inflation, becoming widowed or becoming a full-time caregiver.

Despite financial challenges, it’s critical to take steps toward owning your own future. Here are a few tips that can help build financial confidence:

1. Just get started.

For women, procrastination in the face of busy lives proves a major obstacle to financial planning, and researchers have found that inaction leads to even more inaction. So, perhaps getting started simply feels like too big of a task. It’s not: You’ll never be too late, and no step forward will be too small, whether you set aside your first $100 for an emergency fund or add extra money to a credit card payment.

2. Learn.

Find resources to help you understand how financial planning syncs up with your needs. Find a podcast on personal finance and listen while you exercise or commute. Talk with friends and family about money — chances are they’re as eager to learn as you are, and research shows that women tend to look for information from others before making decisions. Feed your curiosity on your schedule.

3. Imagine your future.

Don’t get bogged down in the jargon of financial products. Focus instead on what you want for yourself and your family. Do you want to live in an urban area and volunteer after you retire? Do you want to be free to spend as much time with family as possible? Do you want to climb Mount McKinley? The sky’s your limit. Cast your vision, understand how much it will cost and start planning.

4. Start saving.

Only 40% of Americans have saved enough money outside of their retirement accounts to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to Bankrate.com's January Financial Security Index survey. So, stash away enough to cover a car repair or failed furnace. And yes, budget to manage day-to-day expenses, with a budget that includes a commitment to save money.

5. Pay down debt.

About a quarter of women report carrying student debt, compared with 18% of men, according to The Cut, a subset of Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census. And because of that higher amount of student debt, women often have more debt in general, with an average balance of $7,793. Understand how much debt you have and start paying it off, without increasing it.

6. Invest.

Forget the myth that you must be wealthy to invest and that financial services are too expensive. You may have a lot, or a little, but you can always begin investing through low-fee services, including some just for women that allow you to begin without a minimum balance. You can also find a trusted financial expert, like an adviser, who can help you match your goals to financial solutions that meet your needs and fit your budget. Your friends may even know someone. At work, understand your benefits and ensure you’re taking advantage of everything you can.

7. Plan your career and negotiate.

When it comes to work, don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Know the average salary range for your job, know what you’re worth and make a case to be paid fairly. And if you take a career break to take care of your family, think about how to maintain your skills through volunteering or learning while you take time off from paid work.

It seems almost too simple, but taking time to outline financial goals, then beginning to build a plan to reach those goals, will go a long way toward building financial confidence.

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About the Author

Salene Hitchcock-Gear, President of Prudential Individual Life Insurance

President of Prudential Individual Life Insurance, Prudential Financial

Salene Hitchcock-Gear is president of Prudential Individual Life Insurance. She represents Prudential as a director on the Women Presidents’ Organization Advisory Board and also serves on the board of trustees of the American College of Financial Services. In addition, Hitchcock-Gear has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law, as well as FINRA Series 7 and 24 securities licenses. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association.

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