Financial Advice for Women at Every Age
Women aren’t financial “dopes,” but the stereotype persists, even among women, that they are no good with money. The fact is women are no worse at saving and spending than men. Women do, however, face some different challenges because of social and institutional factors. For instance, more women than men decide to take time off from their careers to raise children. Some women perhaps have lived in families where their spouse was the primary breadwinner, and after a death or divorce, find themselves starting all over again. And then there’s also the reality that women tend to earn less than their male counterparts. This means women have to save almost twice as much to have the same amount of money set aside for retirement. The truth is finance can be confusing for all of us. There is no one-size-fits-all advice. The real key is to educate yourself and know what you, as a woman, can do to ensure financial success no matter what stage of life you are in. Here are some basics guidelines that can help you navigate the waters of financial health as you grow older.
In Your Twenties…
In your twenties, time is on your side. Learn, plan, and build. Work on your career, save up, but don’t forget to have fun, too.
Live frugally: Many people in their twenties have greater mobility and flexibility with what they do and where they live, especially if they are single and have no children. Try living beneath your means to save extra money.
Don’t get into debt: Getting into debt in your twenties can mean struggling out of it for decades. Consider need versus want. Borrow only when it’s necessary, which means don’t take out a loan just because you really want that big screen TV or that designer handbag.
If you have debt, pay it off: During this time, work to pay off school loans and existing credit card debt, which will help you avoid building interest. Apply as many extra payments to principle as you can. This improves your chances of financial health as you age, and it will help keep your credit score on good footing.
Begin investing in retirement: By twenty-five, you should start investing in your 401k or IRA. If your company has a match plan, try to invest the maximum match percentage. Be aggressive with your investment by putting your money in stocks. If the markets falter, you will still be less at risk and have a longer time to make things up.
Learn to budget: Consider using what financial writer Richard Jenkins calls the 60 percent solution: Keep basic committed expenses like household expenses, food, and bills at 60 percent or lower. Then make sure 30 percent is allotted for long- and short-term savings, such as your 401k and your emergency fund. The final 10 percent you can put aside as “fun money.”
In Your Thirties…
The thirties are a time when many people are buying their first home, having children, and getting married. It can be a chaotic decade, but good planning can help to make the transition easier.
Retirement: In your thirties you can still take some risks, but as you get closer to your forties, start thinking about moving money from high risk stocks into safer bonds if you have been growing a strong nest egg in your twenties.
Build an emergency fund: Try to save at least three months worth of salary in case of emergency. You never know when a health problem will hit, a car will need a major repair, or if a layoff is on the cards.
If you have kids: If you are considering private school, that’ll be extra money you’ll need to start saving when your child is still in diapers. For college savings, the state of Maryland has a 529 plan that can help you start saving early (www.collegesavingsmd.org).
In Your Forties…
There are a lot of things that we can “put off for later,” but as you near your forties, the time for putting off begins to end.
Retirement should be your top goal: If you were an early saver, continue at a steady pace. If you started late, go aggressive while trimming expenses. The same goes if you’re thinking about early retirement.
Teach kids about money: The teens are a good time to start teaching your kids about money. Help them get a job, save money, and learn how to budget.
Get regular health check-ups: Prevention is the best way to avoid a health emergency. Get regular yearly check-ups, including mammograms and physicals.
Consider authorizing a power of attorney or living will: It may feel morbid, but it’s necessary at some point to start putting things in order for your family’s financial and emotional health.
In Your Fifties…
Your fifties can be a tricky time depending on your financial situation. Most people this age are at their peak in earnings and most of their children are out of the house. However, depending on how you’ve managed your finances up to this point, you might have to make up the difference, and fast.
Retirement is on the front burner: You have a lot of obligations at 50 but retirement should move to the forefront. If your retirement was destroyed during the financial crisis, work to rebuild it with risk, but make sure that risk is balanced.
Accelerate debt repayment: If you’re behind on retirement savings, your money should go there first. If you’re doing okay, be aggressive with paying off debts like mortgages so that when you retire you can use your savings for living and not for credit cards.
Self-sufficient children: If your children are still receiving financial support, it’s time to teach them to care for themselves. This will be best for both parties, as adult children must learn to fend for themselves, and it will lessen the financial burden as you near retirement age.
In Your Sixties and Beyond…
Congratulations! You have made it to retirement age. But that doesn’t mean you should have to live on retirement money alone. Hopefully you have made good financial decisions and can reap the benefits now.
Have goals after retirement: Retirement is an opportunity to relax, but fun can also be tied into goals and service. Use this time to serve family, friends, religion, or the less fortunate. Keeping busy will keep you active and young at heart and it may bring in some extra cash to help you maintain your lifestyle goals.
Don’t retire just because you can: If you enjoy work you don’t have to retire just because you turn 65. The longer you work, the less you will have to worry about saving for retirement. Keep working and saving for when you’re finally ready.
Live frugally: Even if you have additional investments, it’s a good idea to live frugally to make sure your savings will stretch so that you can continue to live comfortably.