By Maura Keller
There was a time when women were rarely involved in the financial matters of their family. In fact, it’s wild to think that before 1974, women couldn’t even open a credit card in their own name — they had to have a male spouse or a man in their life cosign for an account. Today, however, things are different — women have taken the proverbial reins of their financial health seriously, and for good reason.
“When you get involved in your finances with conscious daily decisions about saving, spending and giving, you are owning your financial life,” says Rachel Slesarik, senior lending advisor and financial coach at Summit Credit Union. “You need to understand your finances, especially if you lose your partner. Relying on someone else could leave you feeling fearful about the future.”
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
Make savings an automatic plan. While many financial professionals advise saving 5% of your income, no amount of savings is too small and it’s never too late to begin. Having a savings plan also prevents lifestyle creep. As Slesarik explains, as your standard of living increases and your discretionary income rises, you could view luxuries as necessities.
“Let’s be honest, can you live without a $6 coffee in the morning? If you switched from buying a $6 coffee three times a week to making coffee at home, you could save over $900 a year,” Slesarik says. “What would you do with $900?”
WORK WITH YOUR PARTNER
Christine B. Whelan, Ph.D and director of MORE: Money, Relationships and Equality at UW-Madison, says financial issues are the leading identified cause of divorce and in cohabitating couples, these conflicts can predict a split. Fights about money are fights about values, time and other core issues within a relationship. It’s about how we decide to use our limited resources, and whose priorities get funded.
“When you and your partner got together, financial circumstances may have been different,” Whelan says. “It’s important to come together at regular intervals to check in and make sure both of you know what’s going on financially.”
Write down your three top financial goals and discuss. “Together you can create a spending plan. This includes an allowance for the adults (fun money), money for bills, and short-term and long-term savings,” Slesarik says.
CREATE AN EMERGENCY FUND
Try to build an emergency fund with at least three month’s worth of income. If that’s not possible, work toward one month, and build from there.
“Life can take you into an unexpected financial detour of uncertainty and anxiety,” Whelan says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead and create an emergency fund so you are financially empowered for whatever comes your way.”
If putting aside money for emergencies isn’t a reality for you, Whelan says that clear communication is just as important.
“Not everyone can always have a three-month emergency fund,” she says. “It’s a great goal to have, but when life happens, the most important thing is to have clear communication about finances and values.”
KEEP YOUR CREDIT HISTORY HEALTHY
Your credit score, which is a rating that determines your credit worthiness and the likelihood of loan repayment, can affect loans and even what you pay for insurance premiums.
Credit scores usually range from 300 to 850, with the average around 700. Every year, check your credit report (for free!) through Experian or Equifax.
HAVE REGULAR INSURANCE CHECKUPS
Determine your needs for property and casualty insurance, disability insurance, life insurance and long- term care insurance. This is one method for managing unexpected risks. Every two years, contact different insurance companies to get quotes on your insurance portfolio. This can be accomplished online quickly, and potentially save you hundreds of dollars.
CALCULATE YOUR NET WORTH
Regularly check your financial pulse by calculating your net worth each year. A strong pulse is that your assets exceed your liabilities. Regardless of your income level or age, have a goal to increase your net worth each year.
“Not knowing about money or being aware of your financial situation is an error I see often,” Slesarik says. How much are you making? How much are you spending? How much are you saving? Do you know what is coming in and going out each month?”
EVALUATE YOUR RETIREMENT PLANS
Ideally, you and your partner should be saving some percentage of your annual income for retirement. Take advantage of tax-deferred savings plans — contribute the maximum to your 401K plan or retirement plan. And even if you aren’t contributing “financially” to the family as a stay-at-home mom, you can establish a spousal IRA, which is a type of individual retirement account that allows a working spouse to contribute to a nonworking spouse’s retirement savings.
ORGANIZE YOUR PASSWORDS
Having online access to your banking, investments, insurance, mortgage and retirement accounts means you have passwords aplenty. Know all passwords and keep them recorded in a secure location.