Women seeking security and independence may have some learning to do—as well as mindset shifts to make. But it’s rewarding! This learning can all be done through our guide that dives into the 6 financial steps for women.
Women live longer than men and are increasingly seeking their own financial independence, regardless of relationship status. To build wealth, or at minimum ensure a secure financial future that will hold up to a variety of circumstances, it’s important for women to be financially literate and learn how to make sound financial decisions.
This step-by-step guide covers what we believe are the top 6 financial steps for women to become financially secure and comfortable.
Strategies to Maintain Your Financial Independence
What can women do to increase financial literacy, security, and freedom? To build financial independence and wealth, it’s important to start budgeting, investing, saving, and planning for retirement.
1.) Get Smart and Get Involved
For many women, the first step is to become financially literate and establish a personal financial identity. This means getting involved with your finances, rather than being passive. Sometimes, even professional women later in life find themselves allowing their partners to do the financial heavy lifting—and they give up autonomy in the process.
GET AN EDUCATION. If you haven’t already, develop a basic understanding of the principles of personal finance: budgeting, borrowing, investing, and saving. You can use online resources, or get help from friends, family or an advisor. It will serve you well to learn about concepts such as:
- Interest rates and how they affect savings and debt,
- Compounding and how it accelerates financial growth,
- Diversification of investments, and basic balance sheet and recordkeeping skills.
KNOW YOUR STATUS. Review your accounts regularly and be aware of what you’re spending and earning. Be conscious of your spending habits, and know your creditors.
MAINTAIN AN IDENTITY. It’s very common for women who share finances with a spouse or partner to relinquish control of the money instead of maintaining some financial independence. You don’t have to do all the work, or even be the primary billpayer, but you should still stay aware of bank account balances and establish your own credit (more on that in Step 3 below).
Make sure your name is on your own bank account (or shared accounts). Joint accounts are okay—just make sure your name is included. It’s a good idea to have at least one account only in your name. Your own credit card in your name and even your own account earmarked for retirement is also helpful. If life or circumstances change down the road, you’ll have a solid financial identity, with credit scores and financial history.
2.) Plan for Retirement
The second of the 6 financial steps for women is to plan for retirement. On average, women live four to six years longer than men. Yet because women typically save less than men, they’re at risk of outliving their money. Women have smaller retirement savings overall, with an average $57,000 saved, compared to men’s $118,000.
(It’s worth noting that neither of those amounts—for men or women—are anywhere near the $1 million that represents the minimum for a comfortable retirement. That’s one reason 55 percent of workers plan to work in retirement.)
With some retirement planning, the risks can be mitigated.
Make sure you’re at least contributing enough to claim the employer match. Ideally, you would contribute the maximum amount allowed to your 401(k) ($22,500 for 2023 plus an additional $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older).
If you’re self-employed or not employed, you can look into an IRA. Again, try to contribute as much as you can while still meeting other goals and keeping your spending plan active.
Women who haven’t saved enough for retirement can work longer, reduce living expenses, seek support from family, or invest more aggressively (although that brings higher risk and should be done cautiously and with guidance). Again, a financial adviser can be helpful as you plan for retirement.
Interestingly, while most research shows that women feel less confident than men about investing, many studies also show that they outperform men in their investments by a small but significant margin. For example, women outperformed men by 0.4% in a 2021 analysis of 5 million Fidelity customers over a 10-year period. Yet Fidelity found that only one-third of women see themselves as investors, and the majority don’t feel confident making investment decisions.
How can women be less confident, yet more successful? The better performance may actually be because lower confidence makes women more conservative. They may be more inclined to study and learn about investing, rather than assume they know. They also tend to be less impulsive and more likely to remain calm during market volatility.
A 2021 study by Fidelity found that 67 percent of women are now investing outside of their retirement accounts. In 2018, this number was just 44 percent. Investments can provide income, combat inflation, and give you an opportunity to accumulate wealth.
The right investment strategy for you will depend on your risk tolerance and your goals, both short-term and long-term. You may want to be more active or more passive in your investing; you may want to be more aggressive or want a less volatile portfolio. There are many strategies, vehicles, and instruments to explore, and some women can find this overwhelming. A knowledgeable and patient financial advisor can guide you in the right direction.
At Calamita Wealth Management, we are fee-only, fiduciary, and independent financial planners. That means we’re never paid commissions of any kind, and we have a legal obligation to provide unbiased and trustworthy financial advice that puts your best interests first. Our mission is to provide effective financial planning that is based solely on what you want your life to be. We also specialize in supporting Wells Fargo employees. If you’d like to speak to us, reach out by scheduling a free consultation (https://www.calamitawealth.com/contact/) where we can learn more about you, and see if we can help.
4.) Spending Planning
A spending plan allows you to plan and track where, when, and how cash flows in and out. It helps you allocate spending, make investments, and build savings.
A simple way to begin is by simply listing out how much money you (or your family) earn each month, then sort all spending into common categories. It can be very eye-opening to see where the money is going and to start defining necessities as well as luxuries.
Common categories can include rent or mortgage, food, transportation, health, and medical, insurance, education, entertainment, and debt payments, for example. There are computer and phone applications that can help you track expenses; some include budgeting tools and even link to your bank accounts. These can help you categorize and even remember when bills are due.
One common spending plan strategy is the 50/30/20 rule. This technique has you divide your money into three primary categories: 50% to needs, 30% to “wants” and 20% to savings and debt payments. This structure can be a good guide. Be sure to use your after-tax income (your take-home pay) when allocating cash.
5.) Save and Establish Emergency Funds
Having some extra money set aside for life’s emergencies, unexpected circumstances, and surprise expenses provides important peace of mind. An illness, job loss, car breakdown, home repairs, or any number of other family emergencies are far less stressful if you’re able to pay for them. Women in particular are harder hit by economic and labor market downturns, so it’s especially important to be prepared.
Experts offer different suggestions for how much to set aside, such as enough to fund three to six months’ worth of living expenses, or allocating 10%-20% of gross income per month to an emergency fund. But ultimately any amount is better than none, so work with what you have. Use your budget to methodically set aside a certain amount weekly or monthly.
Cash savings can also keep you from running up credit cards in an emergency. Moreover, having money in the bank may help you secure a loan if you do need one.
Keep this cash liquid, preferably in a savings account or money market fund, so you can earn some interest while you save. Try to find the highest-yield account you can, so you can compound your savings. With rates as high as they are currently, you should be able to find banks that will pay around 4-5% interest.
Last but certainly not least out of the 6 financial steps for women has to do with debt. Some debt, such as a mortgage, isn’t necessarily bad (because it comes with some of the lowest interest rates in any lending sector, it’s tied to a tangible asset that typically appreciates, and your monthly payments eventually build equity).
However, unsecured and uncontrolled debt can damage credit, create stress, and reduce your ability to save.
As discussed earlier, your monthly budget should include debt reduction payments wherever possible. There are two popular approaches to eliminating debt: in the avalanche method, you pay off debts with the highest interest rate first, while the snowball method has you pay off the smallest debts first.
If you carry balances on multiple credit cards, pay as much as you can toward the credit card with the highest interest rate each month, while continuing to make minimum payments on your other credit cards. When the first card is paid off, move on to the next highest interest rate card. Every amount over the minimum payment helps.
Reducing consumer debt is critical to having the assets to save and plan for retirement, and also protects your creditworthiness. The ideal debt-to-income ratio for many lenders is a maximum of 36 percent.
The Bottom Line
While women continue to have some challenges financially compared to their male counterparts, including a persistent wage gap, they can absolutely take steps to ensure their own financial security. You don’t have to take every action at once, but devote some energy to each step above one at a time and soon you’ll be building a solid path to financial stability and security. These 6 financial steps for women are sure to get you off on the right start.
By budgeting and paying off debt, saving and investing, and building financial literacy and identity, you’ll be well on your way to more financial independence and security. If it feels overwhelming to begin, consider having a financial planner help you create a roadmap and begin tackling these tasks. You can do it, and we’re happy to help!
Todd Calamita is the founder and managing principal of Calamita Wealth Management, an independent, fee-only wealth management company located in Charlotte, NC. Calamita Wealth Management serves people locally and across the country, providing wealth management solutions to affluent individuals over age 50 and their families, with a special focus and expertise supporting Wells Fargo employees.
Todd has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. He’s passionate about helping people create a better life by designing and implementing customized financial plans that bring clarity and confidence. Todd is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™(CFP®) and CERTIFIED DIVORCE FINANCIAL ANALYST® (CDFA®). He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Ohio University. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.
Todd has authored a book, Plan Smart: Conquering 10 Common Money Traps. Todd also wrote numerous articles on wide-ranging personal finance topics, from taxes to retirement accounts. He was featured in a Financial Boot Camp TV series as a volunteer. There he was showing people how to make smart decisions with their money. When he’s not working, you can find Todd spending time with his wife, Teresa, and their sons, Colin and Cameron. He enjoys rock climbing, swimming, and traveling. Todd even has a black belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art. To learn more about Todd, connect with him on LinkedIn.