These 6 Smart Money Moves Can Help Women Claim Their Financial Power
If you’re a woman and have been worried about finances lately, you’re not alone.
A 2022 study by Ellevest, a female-centric investment and wealth management firm, found that between inflation and recession worries, women’s financial health hit a five-year low. Almost 60% of women surveyed reported worrying about money once a week, and a startling 43% reported worrying about money daily.
Combine that with the fact that women are more likely to take time out of the workforce to shoulder caregiver responsibilities — plus that little matter of equal pay — and it’s clear why your personal money struggles as a woman may seem more daunting.
The fact is, taking care of your own financial house can end up on the bottom of multiple to-do lists. And the consequences become apparent at stressful times — if you’re about to have a child, you’re getting a divorce or you’re ready to retire.
But today is going to be different — we’re going to set our course and take control of our financial future with practical advice. Here’s how to get started creating a personal financial empowerment plan.
Women and Money: 6 Smart Moves to Make Today
Regardless of your age, employment or relationship status, making time to prioritize your own financial security is essential to your future. Here are six smart money moves you can make today to secure a solid financial future.
1. Know Your Credit Score (or How to Get One)
Knowledge is power, right? So finding out your credit score can strengthen your ability to take control of your finances. And women are beginning to realize that having financial awareness is just as important as emotional awareness.
The score is an indicator to lenders of how good you are at managing money and repaying debt. If your score is low, you’ll pay higher interest rates and may have difficulty obtaining credit and loans.
Your credit score is based on credit bureau reports, so you should check yours for errors — you can get the reports for free at annualcreditreport.com. Ordinarily, you’re entitled to only one free report per year from each bureau, but due to the pandemic, you can receive a free credit report every week through December.
There are actually a few credit score models, but FICO is the most common. You can find out your FICO Score for free at freecreditscore.com, and many banks and credit card companies offer this service to customers.
To learn more about how credit scores work, check out our guide to understanding your credit score.
If your score is lower than you’d like it to be, we have plenty of tips for improving your credit score.
But if you’ve never opened a line of credit — or you let your better half open all accounts in their name — you may have no credit score at all.
Even if you’ve never considered yourself “good with money,” certified financial planner Hali Browne London emphasized that it’s important to establish your own credit history.
“Sometimes people say, ‘I don’t have a credit card because I don’t want to put myself in that situation,’ ” she said. “And while that’s a very admirable approach to it, it can come back to bite you because having a credit history is important.”
Establishing a credit history doesn’t necessarily require big changes in your life. London suggested taking the following first steps if you don’t have a credit score:
- Apply for a secured credit card in your name — you’ll need to put a cash deposit down, which will essentially act as your credit limit.
- Put one monthly subscription service, like Netflix, on the card that you know you can cover every month.
- Set yourself a reminder to pay off the balance in full every month.
If you’re part of a couple, London suggested also transferring at least one monthly bill — such as the electricity or internet — to your name to further establish a history of on-time payments.
2. Negotiate Your Salary and Your Benefits
If you heard anything in the news about women and money, it’s probably that we don’t earn as much as our male counterparts.
In fact, for every dollar a male full-time wage or salary worker earned in 2021, women made 83 cents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are plenty of contributing factors to this phenomenon, but don’t let one of them be that you never asked.
Negotiating your salary can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it. Following these four steps is a good start:
- Research salaries for your role. You can look up salary information on websites like Dice, Robert Half and Payscale.
- Know your work’s worth. To figure this number, keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments and contributions, then quantify them.
- Plan your thresholds. Set your aspirational salary, the amount you foresee agreeing to and the minimum amount you’ll accept.
- Practice the negotiation conversation. Ask a trusted friend or family member to rehearse the conversation, and let them make it difficult by challenging your assertions.
Check out more tips and tricks for how to negotiate your salary and how to get a raise. And if you’re in the market to move soon, consider one of the following states where the U.S. Census Bureau says the gender pay gap is considerably smaller than the national average.
To put this in perspective, a woman doing the same job as a man in Vermont gets paid an average of $4,600 less, while in Wyoming, a woman would make a whopping $21,000 less than her male counterpart for doing the same work. That kind of differential can have a huge impact on women’s financial lives.
Sometimes, though, it’s about more than money. If you’re a younger worker who’d prefer professional development opportunities or a mom who needs a flexible schedule, you can negotiate benefits, too.
Benefits are more than just add-ons and fun perks — they account for more than 30% of an employee’s total compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Negotiating benefits includes a lot of the same tactics that are required for salary, so go in armed with facts. That’s what this woman did when she negotiated for nine additional vacation days, plus her birthday off, plus work-from-home flexibility.
3. Tackle Your Student Loans
If you’ve enjoyed the break from student loan payments thanks to the CARES Act, it may be time to reassess how to pay off your remaining student debt. President Joe Biden’s stalled student loan forgiveness program is currently being considered by the Supreme Court. The loan repayment pause has been extended until the end of June 2023, with payments expected to resume in August 2023.
Women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States, according to the American Association of University Women. And it takes women about two years longer to repay their student loans.
Why? For one, see that whole gender pay gap in the previous section. But women also often take on caregiver roles — whether it’s staying home with an infant or caring for family members, which can negatively affect their earnings.
If you have kids, don’t go into debt to pay for their college — remember, they can take out loans for education, but you can’t do the same for your retirement.
If you’re prepared to start tackling your debt, we have strategies for paying off student loans this year.
4. Save for Your Retirement
Want to know one area where women have an advantage over men? Life expectancy.
Don’t break out the champagne just yet — that means we also need more money to cover those additional years of retirement.
Unfortunately, we aren’t saving nearly enough. In fact, a 2022 survey from Goldman Sachs rang alarm bells by announcing that 50% of women aged 55-66 have no personal retirement savings.
Women who are out of the workforce or working only part time to care for family members typically lose out on benefits like investing in an employee-sponsored 401(k). No matter the reason, women are often sacrificing their future emotional and financial security by failing to save for retirement.
If you do work for an employer who offers a 401(k), now would be a good time to check if you could start contributing more to the account — even a percentage or two can make a big difference when you figure the compound interest you’ll earn on those savings.
Don’t have an employer-sponsored plan? Take control of your retirement planning by opening an individual retirement account, or IRA. The most popular types are the traditional IRA and Roth IRA — both shelter you from certain kinds of taxes to help you hold onto more of your money for retirement.
Additionally, if you’re on a high-deductible health care plan with a health savings account, consider upping your pre-tax contribution. The money you invest in an HSA can be used to cover medical expenses even if you switch to another health care plan later — and throughout your retirement.
5. Buy a Home for Better Financial Security
The housing market took everyone for a wild ride the past few years, but most regions have cooled off and prices are falling. However, that doesn’t mean you need to jump at the first random house that goes up for sale in your dream neighborhood.
More single women than men actually own their own homes in the United States, and even the most pessimistic financial adviser agrees that real estate is still a good investment. In fact, Suze Orman, a financial education expert, refers to homeownership as the keystone to wealth.
Not sure the financial peace of mind that comes with owning the literal roof over your head is within your fiscal reach? You can work with a lender to get preapproved for a loan and take some time to shop for the best interest rates.
The key to a full and meaningful life is living within your means. That’s especially true when buying a home. Use our formula for figuring out how much house you can afford
Keep in mind that delaying homeownership isn’t necessarily a problem for women simply because they enjoy a much longer life expectancy. Taking on a 30-year mortgage at the age of 40 isn’t as risky an endeavor in terms of financial planning for a woman as it might be for a man.
6. Secure More Financial Freedom With Smart Investments
Some of the most widely read financial gurus highlight the same missed opportunity for women to build a solid financial future. Female investors are a significantly underserved population in investing and wealth management.
Women in the United States control $10 trillion in assets, with up to $30 trillion expected to shift to their control within the next three to five years. And yet many women hesitate to exercise their own power and invest outside of retirement portfolios, citing a lack of financial knowledge and aversion to risk.
Ironically, Fidelity’s 2021 research shows female investors tend to get better returns than men, perhaps because women prefer lower-risk investments. More women also have larger amounts of untapped cash that could provide more financial power than just sitting in the bank.
Looking for an easy way to start investing? The Penny Hoarder money team likes Stash, which lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio.
While it’s a little cheesy to say it’s our most precious commodity, women tend to undervalue our financial ability in the same way we downplay even our professional accomplishments. It’s time to step up and develop a healthy relationship by saving money, investing money and building a more equitable future for us all.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is deputy editor at The Penny Hoarder. A journalist for 25 years, she has been with The Penny Hoarder since 2018 covering debt and ways to make money. Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.