Financial Literacy for Women: 3 Ways to Level Up Now
It’s time to take control of your finances and rise above.
Managing money when society is against you is no easy feat. Women earn degrees, negotiate salaries, raise children, take care of family, and fight for equality. The incredible strides in equality that women have made over the last century — despite everything — is astounding.
But there is still a huge gap in financial literacy between men and women.
Women live longer, earn less, and save less. This further increases their financial burden. And this applies to women across the board — although women from marginalized backgrounds have it even worse.
So how can women take control of their financial future? Here are three ways to start — and actionable steps to get going.
No. 1: Rein in debt
For the last four decades, women have made up the majority of college-educated adults. As of 2019, they were the majority of college-educated workers. Unfortunately, a college degree doesn’t guarantee financial stability. And it turns out debt is breaking the bank.
Graduates entering the workforce, including women, are burdened with student loans. In fact, the average household student loan debt exceeds $47,000. It doesn’t stop there. Most people will deal with another form of debt in their lifetimes — such as credit card debt, personal loans, a car loan, or a mortgage.
Further, women dedicate more of their earnings to monthly student loan payments than men. They also rely on smaller paychecks to meet their financial obligations. Paying off debt allocates money away from financial goals, such as financial independence, retirement savings, and milestones like homeownership.
Learning how to manage your finances is the first step in paying off debt and reaching financial freedom.
Here are actionable steps to help tackle your finances — namely, debt.
Create a budget
A budget allows you to view, adjust, and set spending limits. Differentiate between needs and wants to prioritize the expenses that matter.
Write down all of your debt obligations. Track your progress paying it off and celebrate each win.
Pay overdue debts
Don’t ignore debt collectors anymore. Work with your lender to negotiate payments instead of racking up interest and fees.
Know your credit score
Access your free annual credit report. Review the report for errors and determine if your credit score needs improvement. Develop a plan to build your credit.
No. 2: Advocate for your worth
Historically, women’s lack of access to higher education excluded them from long-term careers with stable salaries. Today, increased rates of graduation have opened doors for women to be and do anything they want. Well — almost.
Participation in the workforce comes with unique struggles for women.
Despite educational gains and pursuing high-wage majors, women must deal with a gender wage gap. In fact, women earn less than men — 81 cents for every dollar a man earns. It’s much worse for women of color — dipping to 75 cents for Hispanic and African American women. And that’s before other factors come into play.
Women are more likely than men to take career breaks — whether for raising children or caregiving. But women are often forced to sacrifice their career trajectory and salary to do so. The decision comes with stigma and reduced earning potential once they reenter the workforce.
If discussing your finances — what you have earned, currently earn, and expect to earn — makes you uncomfortable, you’re part of the majority. Most people aren’t open about their salaries with friends and coworkers, let alone with a manager. But that needs to change.
Learning how to navigate hard financial discussions in the workplace can help women advocate for better — or at least fair — compensation.
Here are actionable steps to navigate a salary discussion.
Learn about the fair rate
Research how much you deserve to be compensated based on speaking to coworkers, comparing average earnings, and searching professional salary databases.
Understand the gender gap
Take the time to learn about salary differences, especially in an industry or role where women have traditionally been paid less. Come with facts to support your ask for a salary increase.
Know that you are allowed to negotiate
Even if you don’t feel comfortable asking for more money, you have every right to ask and be heard. And don’t accept a no without sound reasoning.
Find an ally
Finding someone to advocate for you at work can boost your cause. This may be a hiring manager, a superior, a mentor, or a member of HR.
Know that you have options
If you are being paid unfairly and you can’t come to an agreement during your salary negotiation, then you don’t have to stay. While it’s easier said than done, there are other companies that will value and compensate for your contributions.
No. 3: Plan for the future
On average, women live longer than men — five years longer, in fact. But it doesn’t look great financially.
As a result of a lifetime of limited earning potential, underfunded retirement accounts, and a lack of financial planning, women are more likely to spend old age in poverty.
Women spend more money on health care in the long run. And a greater number of women will end up widowed or single at the end of their lives, navigating their finances alone.
In fact, 40% of women can’t afford to retire compared to only 29% of men. Their retirement accounts are less funded than their male equivalents. It’s understandable. Women tend to focus on more immediate priorities rather than retirement, such as owning a house or providing for children. And women are more likely to take a break from their careers to act as caregivers.
So where do we go from here? Women must prioritize their retirement funds sooner rather than later.
One of the dangers of ignoring retirement savings is missing out on years of compound interest. And a lack of financial planning and saving will catch up to women in the future.
Here are actionable steps to take to help secure a sound financial future.
Open a savings account
Open a dedicated savings account and set up a monthly automatic direct deposit from another account or your paycheck.
Set up a retirement fund
If your job offers a 401(k) program, set up an account. And if there is an employer match, take advantage by maxing out the full amount. No 401(k)? Set up an IRA or Roth IRA account instead.
Define your short- and long-term financial goals
Determine the financial milestones that are most important for you to achieve five, 10, 20, and 50 years down the line. Then, prioritize saving for your goals by following your budget.
Why financial literacy is important for women
Justine Chan, founder of Live With Plum
Having financial freedom gives women options and allows us to not be shackled to any toxic situations, be it a workplace, partner, or other. Financial literacy is a tool that allows women to achieve financial freedom.
Unfortunately, a very clear financial literacy gap exists for women, and it is time that gap is closed.
Molly Ford-Coates, AFC, founder and CEO of Ford Financial Management
Financial literacy is so important for women for a variety of reasons. The pressure to earn enough and the pressure to care for a family are top reasons why women can become stressed when it comes to finances.
Statistically, women don’t earn as much as their male counterparts. This can cause a great deal of pressure when it comes to planning for their futures and planning for retirement.
Women are also usually the ones to either stop working or cut back to part-time work to take care of their children. This can make it harder to stay on track with your financial goals and/or plan for retirement.
On average, women live longer than men. If they do not have financial literacy during their working years, they could find themselves in tremendous stress and anxiety during their retirement years. This is especially true if their husbands were the ones who took care of the household finances. They may feel very lost and not know where to start if their husbands predecease them.
Betty Wang, CFP, owner of Betty Wang Financial Planning
I truly believe that financial literacy is one of the top priorities for women. Educating ourselves empowers us to make our own choices and live our lives the way we want.
The simple fact is that women make less money in their lifetimes and live longer than men. Eighty percent of women die alone, meaning we will be solely responsible for our finances at some point in our lives.
Most Americans want to pay their own way until they die. We don’t want to be a burden to our children or society when we are older. If you are a woman, you have to save a larger amount of money and save more aggressively to realize this financial goal.
Justine Chan is an experienced real estate investor in New York City. She graduated from The Yale School of Management with an M.B.A. in Strategy and International Business Management. She has lived in New York for 12 years and has bought four apartments in five years. Chan strives to use her experience and knowledge to help and empower other women towards achieving their home- buying dreams through Live With Plum, the home buying guide for the modern woman.
Molly Ford-Coates is founder and CEO of Ford Financial Management, a virtual financial counseling company. She is passionate about helping people with their personal finances and has been quoted in Fox Business, USA Today, and others. Being a military spouse has provided her numerous opportunities to help and serve people all over the country with one-on-one counseling, workshops, and presentations.
Betty Wang is a fee-only CFP with more than 15 years of experience in the financial services industry. Wang serves clients across the county by providing unbiased financial advice to manage their money wisely through Betty Wang Financial Planning. She is committed to building real, long-term relationships with clients to help give them greater clarity, control, and confidence in their finances.
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