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When it comes down to it, money knows no gender. However, that doesn't mean women don't have some unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to their financial well-being.
More women are staying single for longer, becoming their family's breadwinner and playing vital roles in the financial decision-making at home. That's why understanding personal finance for women is so important. The more women can be proactive around earning more, saving for children's college educations and their own retirement, the better.
Here's an overview of budgeting tips for women, as well as a few key strategies that can be considered.
Women Are Key Decision-Makers
Today, women make significant financial contributions to households — and many are the head of their own household. In fact, single and married women make up nearly half the workforce. These professionals are closing the gender pay gap and climbing the corporate ladder thanks, in part, to higher levels of education. Millions of women are now the breadwinners for their families.
At the same time, it's true that women still do face financial challenges. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that working women were especially hit hard, which can have potential long-term impacts on savings and retirement.
What some of these ups and downs illustrate is just how important it is to have a focus on finances. Even if you aren't the primary breadwinner, chances are you're still taking an active role in making critical financial decisions that impact your household. Having a plan can help to ensure you're able to weather the financial storms that might come your way over your lifetime.
8 Strategies for Maintaining Financial Well-Being
While many money tips can apply to anyone, women face some special considerations when it comes to their finances. Here are eight strategies that can help you enhance your financial wellness.
1. Keep an Eye on Your Finances From the Start
Many single women are seeing their earnings rise and a larger share of today's marriages are far more equitable than they were in the past. Estimates show that women are the primary breadwinners in approximately 40% of households, and single women are outpacing men when it comes to financial accomplishments such as homeownership.
With all that responsibility comes a need to stay on top of your finances to help set a budget, determine your retirement savings and pay off any debts. Set up a system to review your budget and spending on a regular basis.
As you know, your financial needs aren't static — they'll change frequently throughout your life. Stay on top of everything by walking through your entire financial picture a few times a year and making adjustments as necessary.
The same logic holds true if you're going through or are recently divorced. Your spouse might have held more control over the finances in the past. Now is a good time to look at everything with a clean slate and start planning for the future.
2. Set Goals & Create a Budget to Achieve Them
Determining your budget helps to build a good foundation for your financial future. With a budget, you can gain a fuller picture of your finances, which can help you make better decisions about where you spend your money and how much you can save. Most of all, it can help you avoid issues with debt.
Setting a financial plan for your future also goes hand in hand with budgeting. You likely have financial goals in addition to saving for retirement. Maybe you're considering buying a home or want to contribute to your kid's college fund or take a nice vacation every year. Having the funds to do all those things means planning for them ahead of time. With your budget in hand, you can develop a plan to save for those long-term needs while also setting aside some "fun" money for the short term.
3. Think Beyond Social Security
Millions of Americans rely on their Social Security income when they retire. Social Security uses a complicated equation to determine exactly how much every individual qualifies for, but it's based on the 35 highest-earning years you worked and paid into the system through taxes.
For many women, especially those who may be responsible for child care or elder parent needs, taking time off can impact Social Security earnings. Because of this, it's important to think about other ways to supplement retirement income.
As you set your budget and think about the plans you have for your financial future, consider some of the retirement savings options available to you and how you can maximize them. These might include contributing as much as you can to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan or opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
4. Develop a Network
When it comes to discovering more financial opportunities, there's a benefit to knowing women who have previously gone through the processes you're currently facing.
Today, many people form meet-up groups and clubs to discuss money and personal finance for women, including the special challenges they might face. Or, they read books about investing and encourage others with ways to save. Other women may also seek out professionals in their peer group at work or other industry events with whom they can discuss managing career opportunities and salary negotiations.
Having other women who can offer insights and strategies in approaching situations — such as asking for a raise, or their best advice on switching careers — can go a long way toward making you feel more comfortable with the opportunities out there that can help you make more money and expand your knowledge.
5. Ask for More at Work
Study after study has shown that, in most cases, women earn less than men during their careers. On average, women earn about $0.81 for every $1.00 a man earns. That lower salary can translate into hundreds of thousands of lost dollars in income over the course of a full career.
There are many reasons for this pay gap, but one of them is that some women don't think about negotiating when it comes to salary and raises. When women need to leave the workforce for a few years to care for a child, they are often at a disadvantage in reaching the same earning threshold as their male counterparts. That often plays a role in having less money to invest or save for retirement, too.
Bottom line: Consider requesting more to help you reach those plans you have around savings and retirement. The next time you apply for a new job or have the opportunity to discuss a raise or bonus, try asking for a higher income.
6. Watch Your Credit
If there's one number that can play a big role in your finances, it's your credit score. This plays into everything — from getting good rates on mortgages and car loans to the available limit on your credit cards. A poor credit score can end up adding thousands of dollars in interest rates over the course of your life.
Something else to consider, especially for single women, is that it can be more difficult to secure a mortgage or personal loan because of a sole income, even if you are making a good living. One way to help combat that is by focusing on maintaining a high credit score to show your creditworthiness.
If you're working on building your credit, focus on the basics. Paying your credit card bills on time every month, keeping a low balance on your cards and gradually increasing your credit limit are all good ways to help improve your score over time.
7. Plan for the Long-Term
Statistically, women tend to live longer than their male counterparts. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the average woman turning 65 today can expect to live until they are nearly 87 years old. That means you could potentially spend 20 years in retirement.
So, as you think about the long-term, especially life in retirement, you might want to consider your income and savings plans now. If you're married or not, try gaming out a variety of scenarios. Estimate what you might need and if your current planning and budgeting can help you get there. Ideally, you'll want to have the retirement savings to meet all of your potential longevity needs.
Chatting with a financial professional can help. They can guide you through some estimates of various costs, such as long-term care needs or typical healthcare expenses. Once you have a general estimate of what you might need, you can adjust your budget and savings accordingly.
8. Consider Life Insurance
Life insurance serves a basic purpose. It's there to help provide a financial cushion, in the form of a death benefit, for your beneficiaries in the event you pass away. This death benefit can help to provide some of the funds needed to cover expenses such as mortgage payments, college tuition and credit card debt. Regardless of your age, gender or marital status, life insurance could benefit you and your loved ones.
In many families today, women are the primary earners. Having a life insurance policy can provide a death benefit that may help to cover the loss of your income. If you're the main breadwinner, you'll want to consider how your family might be financially impacted by your passing.
Something else to consider is life insurance as a stay-at-home parent. Many stay-at-home parents fulfill an essential role that's of great value to a family, even if they aren't bringing in an income in the traditional sense. If a stay-at-home parent were to pass, their spouse might have to hire outside help to cover child care, transportation, cooking and cleaning. A life insurance death benefit can help to pay for some of those costs.
Ready to Get Started?
It's never too late (or too early) to get a handle on your personal finances and prepare for your future. The more you focus on your plan now by creating a budget, maximizing your retirement savings and thinking about the long-term, the better prepared you'll be to handle the ups and downs of life without impacting your finances in a major way.
From here, you can begin to build your network and speak with a financial representative to get more advice that's tailored to your specific needs.