Learning to meet fiscal responsibility head on.
It's hard to accumulate wealth when you shy away from the responsibility of making fiscal decisions or if the idea of money scares you. Unfortunately, this emotional attitude toward money stops many women in their financial tracks and keeps them from reaching their long-term goals.
The job is getting more complex. More American families than ever have stock market investments, mutual funds, 401ks, college funds and recent or pending inheritances to consider. The majority of people still handle this work without the benefit of outside assistance, but that may soon change. After all, the economy is changing, families are changing, and so must the traditional approach to managing the family money.
As women, we have been taught to seek safety and avoid risks. Even when we dabble in investing, we are often more conservative in our investment choices. Women tend to be cautious because we don't have deep knowledge of the stock market. We would rather keep our money in savings where we can see it, than in something we know little about.
When did this all begin? Women are subjected to all kinds of societal messages around money at an early age. The most prevalent and power-robbing message of all is that managing money is a man's business. For example, parents typically encourage their sons to start earning money at age 13 but they don't encourage their daughters to earn money until age 16. The results are discouraging:
- Over the course of our careers women earn less than men do.
- We tend to spend 10 years away from the workforce vs. one year for men.
- It takes five years to recover financially for each year away.
- We are three times more likely than men to work part-time.
Being a woman and a financial planner, I am especially aware of these unique circumstances and I take them into account when dealing with clients.
Women often have math anxiety. That math paranoia interferes with financial planning decisions. And so, when we are married, many times women choose to be the financial follower, rather than leader, in the relationship. "I'll let him do it," many women think. "He's better at it." But in reality, the husband may not know any more about financial planning than she does. Often women literally "pass the buck" because we don't want to make a wrong decision. Consequently, we often make a decision by default.
Women tend to save more, but have less, because we're conservative. In a relationship, the woman tends to be conservative in investment strategies; the man tends to be aggressive. That can be a good thing for couples. When they are combined, it often works out well. Aggressive can do well in up markets; conservative may be more appropriate in down markets. But when I meet with couples and sense that a woman seems content to let her husband do the heavy financial lifting, I ask "What will you do if he dies or becomes disabled?" Over the years I have found that women do step up to the plate if we're forced to. And it's good to raise the issue before an emergency or crisis occurs.
Women (and their partners) often need help in sharing their financial roles. It's up to me as a planner to encourage active participation of both so it becomes collaboration. I encourage women to start out balancing the checkbook and paying the bills, but more often than not, it's the man who's doing the investing.
Financial planners are trained to look at all aspects of a client's life. We have to know how to discern how clients feel psychologically. When I start with clients I have them fill out an extensive fact-finder. I ask questions to figure out what their financial goals are. I ask things like: "Do you buy new cars? Do you buy used cars? If you get lost will you pull over and ask directions?" That way I have an idea when we're working together if a person will “stop and pull over” to ask a question or explore an issue s/he may not fully understand.
Once I get a client to talk and feel comfortable, then we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on the business of creating and managing wealth. I have learned over the years that psychological and emotional obstacles can be overcome. Once they are, there's no reason we women can't successfully manage – and grow – our finances. After we lose all of that money-baggage, we are ready and fully equipped to proceed to prosperity with joy and confidence. My goal, then, is to help you with your financial dreams.
Heidi Clute, CFP® of Clute Wealth Management in South Burlington, VT and Plattsburgh, NY, an independent firm and registered investment advisor that provides strategic financial and investment planning for individuals and small businesses in the Champlain Valley region of New York and Vermont. Clute Wealth Management and LPL are separate entities. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations.