This is the first of a two-part series. Read part two is here.
In a recent financial planning forum where I hang out virtually, a male planner reached out to the community asking for advice on how to deal with a new female client. A woman in her early 60s, widowed suddenly two years ago (some details have been changed to protect identities).
The widow is cash poor but asset rich. Her late husband successfully handled the family’s financial affairs during their nearly 40 years of marriage. He amassed investment properties and sizeable retirement accounts. But now the widow, in charge of the money for the first time in her life, is paralyzed by anxiety. Unable to move forward.
Strapped for cash, she has not yet finished paying for her late husband’s funeral. She is paying for routine home maintenance in installments and has taken a job in a local diner to cover day-to-day expenses. Granted, the widow might want to get out of the house and socialize since her youngest son has moved into University housing. And perhaps, still grieving, she may not (yet) be ready for the proverbial nail in the coffin as reflected in paying off the funeral expenses.
But I think the problem runs deeper.
I think this woman is not comfortable talking about her money. And, in fact, I think she may be panic stricken by the thought of managing money on her own.
Six Money Muscles Every Woman Over 40 Must Develop
According to the 2015 Fidelity Investments Money FIT Women Study, most women lack financial confidence, feel uncomfortable talking about their money, refrain from financial discussions with close family and friends, and feel intimidated by finances and financial jargon. Women shmooze about every topic under the sun: health issues and work issues, religion and politics, shopping and parenting, and intimacy with their partners. But NOT money. According to the Study, talking about money is uncomfortable. Women don’t want their friends and associates to know their money issues. Money is too personal.
Now, let’s pair these survey results with lifestyle and longevity statistics: 80% of men die married, while 80% of women die single.
The bottom line: Women are very likely to need to manage money alone during some part of their retirement years. So, here are six money muscles every woman over 40 must develop
So what’s a girl to do?
A woman needs to start developing and exercising her money muscles from a very young age. Just as a baby moves slowly and with intention from the crawling, to the walking, to the running stage, we women need to take baby steps, developing money muscles, financial coordination and competence.
Here are the first three of six baby steps you can take today to get your financial figure in shape:
1. Learn something about money Every. Single. Day.
That’s how a baby does it. Every day she gets up, tries to walk, falls down and gets up again. Pick up the newspaper, virtually or in hard copy, and spend 5 minutes reading the financial section. A good beginner’s book on money management is also a strong choice. Pick it up and read it for just. five. minutes. At first it may seem like Chinese. But as your money muscles develop, you will notice that the words start making more sense. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to search online to clarify some of the financial jargon.
Know the stocks & bonds
Let’s start now. I’m always surprised, when I meet prospective clients and when I hold financial workshops, how many people (both men and women) don’t know what stocks and bonds are, and/or don’t know the difference between them. If you’re one of those who does know, skip to #2 below. For the rest of us, here is a very simple definition to get you going:
- Stocks – if you own stock in a company then you are a part-owner. If the company makes money, you make money. And vice-versa. When the company turns a profit, the stock price goes up. Conversely, when it loses money, the price drops. Stocks are also called Shares and Equity.
- Bonds – if you own bonds, then you have lent money to the entity – the company or the government – that issues the bond. The bond issuer pays you a certain interest rate to borrow the money and promises to pay you back at certain time. The interest rate the entity pays is set ahead of time and is not tied to the entity’s profitability. Bonds are less risky than stocks because you know, you have certainty, as to when you’re getting paid the interest and when you’re getting your money back (subject, of course to the entity not going bankrupt).
2. Look at your bank, investment and retirement plan statements.
People commonly stuff their statements in a drawer, paying little attention. And then, as they near retirement, they get a rude wake-up call, confronting all the should-haves, could-haves, and would-haves that might have been had they taken control of their money earlier on in their working lives.
While you still have time to change the course of your financial future, open the envelope.
At first glance it might be just a confusing array of numbers. But with time and experience, you will understand those numbers and come to recognize what they mean. You will be able to estimate, under different scenarios, how much you are likely to have when you reach retirement age. And you will be able to make adjustments today that will serve you well into the future – into the years when you no longer want or are no longer able to go back to work.
3. Calculate your Net Worth.
Your Net Worth is simply the difference between what you own and what you owe. Add up the value of everything you own – your home, your car, the money in your bank account, your investment and retirement plans, and investment properties. If you own valuables like art and jewelry that you might sell to pay off your debts, add those items in as well. Subtract from this number everything you owe – your mortgage, car loan, bank loan, credit card debt and any other debt you may be holding. The resulting number is your net worth.
During our working years, we should monitor our net worth on a yearly basis to make sure the number is going up. During retirement, our net worth usually falls as we draw down our savings and investments to cover expenses.
The real power in calculating your net worth is in monitoring changes over time, comparing the figures from year to year to make sure we’re on track to reach our long term financial goals.
That’s a lot for today. Enough to get you started developing new financial habits and flexing your money muscles.So which of these six money muscles every woman under 40 must develop?
In Part Two, I’ll be discussing the importance of tracking your spending, visualizing your financial future, and why you might want to meet with a financial consultant. Until then, grab the financial section, your online financial dictionary, and keep moving forward – one baby step at a time.