5 Common Money Mistakes Many Women Make
Don’t let these financial pitfalls leave you unprepared for the future
With the possible exception of Warren Buffet, everyone goofs now and then when handling long-term finances. So there’s no need to beat yourself up if you’re not a financial wizard. Still, learning more about managing money can pay off in a big way — especially for women.
Numbers tell the story. On average women earn 77 percent of what men do in similar jobs, yet women live an average of five years longer. The result: a money crunch that can leave women vulnerable. “Income inequality continues to be challenging for many women. Less available income to save leads to lower lifetime savings,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
For many women, self-doubt and a knowledge gap about finances compound the problem. One recent survey by the financial-wellness organization Financial Finesse found that only a third of women felt confident about their investment allocation compared to one-half of men. Likewise, a study for Fidelity Investments found that only 37 percent of women felt confident about making long-term investing decisions.
How do you buck this trend and increase your financial security? Start by avoiding these five financial pitfalls experts say are common among women.
1. Always putting others’ needs before your own
It’s a matter of priorities. Do you fund your retirement account or save for your child’s college? Do you pursue a full-time career or work at home part time (or not at all) so you can tend to children or elderly relatives?
Too often, women give without measuring the long-term consequences for their own financial wellbeing. “Caregiving is a noble responsibility, but it can lead to a smaller nest egg,” says Collinson. The solution is to make sure caregiving and budgeting choices are equitable and well-planned and take into account everyone’s long-term needs, including the your own.
2. Letting the lingo get to you
Studies indicate that in general women are less knowledgeable about money issues than men. This matters because “financial illiteracy,” as the experts call it, is directly linked to poorer financial outcomes, according to economist Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University.
Many women ignore financial info because they find economic jargon confusing and annoying, says Collinson, who recommends reading all about it: Instead of tuning out, turn to books that speak clearly and frankly about money issues. Collinson recommends Kimberly Palmer’s “Generation Earn” and Manisha Thakor’s “Get Financially Naked: How To Talk Money With Your Honey.” For general investing advice, look for William Bernstein’s “The Four Pillars of Investing.”
3. Being clueless about what you have — or what you owe
Collinson calls this a hangover from earlier generations, when husbands were always chief financial officer of families. She finds married women tend to rely too heavily on their spouses to keep track of their joint savings. This hands-off policy leaves women unprepared for worst-case scenarios such as divorce or a spouse’s untimely death.
If someone else is managing your finances, at least check the credit card bills and keep a list of all pertinent financial info, such as the account numbers for your savings and insurance policies. (A great starting place: Fill out FEMA’s financial first aid kit.) Part of this process means sitting down with your partner for a serious discussion about financial goals and planning. Research finds that many women are less comfortable talking about money with others, which can be a serious liability in the case of a crisis, notes Collinson.
4. Not having an emergency fund
A rainy-day fund is a crucial first step toward financial security, yet only 47 percent of women in the Financial Finesse survey had one, compared with 62 percent of men. (Lower income may explain the discrepancy.) Whatever your income level, building an emergency fund should be your first order of business after budgeting for bare-basic necessities like food and rent. One exception: conventional wisdom says to pay down any high-interest credit card debt first. How large an emergency fund you need depends on circumstances. “Take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself how long you can pay your rent or mortgage, health insurance, utilities if you lose your job today” says Collinson.
5. Not knowing about your future social security benefits
The farther away you are from retirement, the less you probably think about social security. Younger people may dismiss this safety net as a political football that probably won’t be available for them.
“The reality is social security will be there, though the benefits may be lower in the future,” Collinson says. The program’s on-line estimator will let you see exactly how much you’ve already contributed and how much you’re likely to receive down the road. Plugging in your personal info will give you crucial financial planning information. For example, to qualify for benefits you must have worked the equivalent of about 13 years full-time. So it makes sense to run your numbers before opting for part-time work or stopping out of employment altogether to care for children or elderly relatives.
“Not building your earnings history comes at a very high price,” Collinson warns. Keep in mind, too, that because social security benefits are based on income you report on your tax returns, anything you earn off the books won’t count, including your own income.