by Denise Berger
Does the thought of visiting the accountant almost cause hives to break out all over your body? Does the idea of monitoring your and your family’s investments make you so uncomfortable that you just avoid it altogether and your funds remain in a bank savings account? Do you break out into a cold sweat when someone starts talking to you about Life, AD&D, LTD, STD insurance? (huh – what are those acronyms anyway?!) Does looking at a balance sheet make you dizzy? Are you in a position of control and power over your assets or are you plodding along, holding your breath, hoping that miraculously you are adequately protected and your investments are growing? The issue becomes even more daunting when you are faced with headlines showing economic downturn, a rise in cost of living and job instability.
Remember “Show me the money,” from the movie Jerry Maguire? Used in jest, with a strong undertone of seriousness, the phrase represents a focus on results. Used in the context of finances, we use this phrase to ask about dividends, returns and investment income. But who is predominantly asking this question? Men are.
While we won’t discount the number of women who are investment-savvy, who have received their MBAs in Finance, or merely have that mathematical side of the brain on fire, many of us -smart as we are, high-earning and successful as we might be in business - find our personal investment and money management issues daunting. Betsy Schiffman in Pink’s Taking Stock article notes a study from sharebuilder.com  that finds 74% of men think investing is “fun” whereas only 61% of women find it “fun”. Citing and annual “Retirement Reality Check” survey, in 2006, msnbc.com  showed that “almost half of women — 48 percent — have considered the financial implications of retiring alone, compared with 36 percent of men. Yet when asked who takes the lead in planning for retirement, 45 percent of women and 65 percent of men said the husband or male partner.” There are several components to ensure your current and future financial security and growth: retirement, education, housing, investment plans for any savings, debt-management, insurance, estate planning, accounting, elderly care, and the day-to-day expenses.
If you read just one or two books like Barbara Stanny’s, Secrets of the Six-Figure Women, or take advantage of the numerous resources available online, you’ll begin to feel comfortable with the idea that managing your finances isn’t rocket science… and it is DO-ABLE, manageable - - and, yes, empowering to take that control. For example, Wife.org (Women’s Institute for Financial Education) is designed to help women take the right steps toward financial health. In one of their recent articles, “Difference Between Men and Women”, they advocate capitalizing on a female strength: tending and befriending. Like book clubs together and diet programs, we should start money clubs to help each other navigate through the financial world and learn more about what options are out there for us to consider.
Sharing knowledge and information is eye-opening. For example, Suze Orman in O at Home, offers us a list of common financial concerns that we can set aside to help hone our initial efforts to learn our finances, manage them and “bring home the bacon”:
- On average, the annual appreciation rate of housing is about 1% over the inflation rate; we are encouraged to not pay too much attention to the ups and downs of the real estate market. Long-term, you can count on at least this modest increase in the value of your home.
- If you’re younger than 55 years old, building a retirement fund (eg. 401k) that is stock-centric will yield the best long-term gains. Do nothing with this funding through the ebbs and flows of the market.
- Paying down your debt and reviewing your monthly credit card statements for fraudulent charges ensures a good credit record. There is no need to pay for credit report services, but maybe for once a year.
- Consumer Reports recently determined that most extended product warranties are not worthwhile.
- Get rid of all that paper! Keep only big-ticket receipts and major home improvements (which reduce the capital gains tax should you sell our house). Shred paycheck stubs, credit card and ATM receipts and investment account statements. Assuming you are an upstanding citizen also shred your old tax documents. (The IRS goes back six years for most audits.)
- And here is the most startling tip: 4-year private college costs are just under $ 100,000 and going up, but it is MORE important to save for your retirement. Here’s why: There is so much financial assistance that goes toward higher learning: $ 130 billion each year according to the College Board. But there are NO federal loans or scholarships for those entering retirement. Says Suze, “I promise that when the time comes, your kids will be grateful that you don’t need to rely on them.”
Here and now, we need to take charge of our financial conditions. We need to be engaged and educated in the choices that are made for our families. We can not merely rely on a corporation making our retirement arrangements via pension and 401ks, as we all know, and we should work together with our spouse/partner to make sound financial decisions. It is a partnership, after all, and finances are too important to leave yourself out of the loop. Don’t you think?