Tips for overcoming challenges and finding financial clarity.
Thrivent clients Breanna Wallace, Monique Moniz and Sarah Cheesman don’t know each other, but they share something in common: Each is knowledgeable about and takes an active role with her finances.
Their interest and involvement with their finances isn’t the norm. A recent Kiplinger study shows that women’s confidence around financial security was only 62%.1
Why isn’t it higher? Women tend to face unique challenges that can keep them from learning about and being involved in money matters. And that can have serious consequences, including not having enough money to sustain them in retirement.
Whether you’re married or single, if your financial confidence could use a boost, you first need to understand what’s holding you back. Then you can take the necessary steps that will enable you to make informed money decisions and gain what Wallace, Moniz and Cheesman have achieved: financial clarity.
When you have no debt, you have freedom.
Identify your challenges
Ricky Jackson, a regional development director for Thrivent in Lexington, South Carolina, has helped many women with their finances over the years, including Cheesman.
“I’ve seen the challenges women face and they tend to fall into three areas: an income gap, a confidence gap and an age gap,” Jackson says.
Women typically earn less money than men during their lifetime, which is partly due to differences in pay scales. But it’s also because women often spend more time out of the workforce caring for others, whether it’s their children, aging parents or a spouse.
After starting a family, Moniz, 63, from Davis, California, and her husband, Rick, wanted to have one parent at home with their kids. Because her husband had the greater income and the best benefits at the time, they agreed that she would stay home. But it has cost her financially. “I don't have any credit for those years with Social Security,” she says, “and no credit for it in a pension.”
Whether intentional or not, historically when it comes to the delineation of household responsibilities, women often aren’t the ones managing a family’s finances, says Jackson.
Moniz saw this with her mother. When Moniz was 10 years old, her mother left an abusive marriage and became a single parent to Moniz and her younger sister. “My mother was a homemaker until that point and took care of the family,” says Moniz, “but she was really dependent on my father for anything financial.”
Her mother took a job but struggled with budgeting and paying bills. So she asked Moniz to help her with it. She was only 10, but Moniz wrote checks and learned to cook so the family could live on a very small budget. The experience taught her the importance of understanding finances.
It’s not about how much you make. It’s about how much you give and save.
Statistically, women live longer than men so they need to fund more years in retirement. Jackson refers to that difference as an age gap and believes a woman’s financial strategy should reflect that gap. But often that’s not taken into account, he says. As a result, women can find themselves without enough funds to cover their full lives.
Cheesman, 70, from Leesville, South Carolina, is grateful her husband, Jim, encouraged her partnership in their finances. “He’d say, ‘I want you to sit down here to see how this works,’” says Cheesman. He died two years ago, when he was 76. His death was a shock, but she knew she’d be OK because the two of them had worked together on their finances.
Thrivent financial advisor Erica Cantrell, from Vacaville, California, who serves both Moniz and Wallace, has observed a few additional challenges:
Crunched for time.
It’s no secret that women often feel pressed for time. “I think women typically have a bit more to juggle when it comes to their daily lives,” says Cantrell. “Not only do many women work outside the home, but we also help run our households. We’re natural caregivers. And we try to maintain a social life with friends or as an active member of our church or community.”
As a result, saving money, budgeting and retirement become a lower priority. “That can be pretty detrimental for meeting long-term goals,” says Cantrell. “If you go years without saving, you may not have enough money set aside when you need it.”
Kids have fewer learning opportunities.
“There’s definitely a lack of financial education out there to teach children about finances,” says Cantrell. “Our school systems often don’t have personal finance as part of their required curriculum. And it’s still considered a bit of a taboo subject in many families.”
Wallace, 36, from Vacaville, California, grew up not really being aware of her family’s financial situation. She always felt like she had what she needed, and her parents didn’t talk about money with her. She assumed they were financially secure. So when her parents divorced when Wallace was a teenager, she was surprised to discover they hadn’t planned at all for the future. That was a defining moment for Wallace.
“I had no idea that my parents actually had substantial debt and almost no savings,” she says. “After they divorced, my mother took on sending my brother and me to college with no savings or plan of how to pay for it. Seeing that really motivated me to be knowledgeable and think about finances, and not just brush it under the rug.”
My best financial advice came from observing my dad. He never talked about money publicly. And as a dairy farmer, there wasn’t much wealth. We had as many cows as could feed a family with five kids. My dad also taught me that I couldn’t take it with me. So it wasn’t about accumulation, but rather it was about using money and what I was blessed with to do good for others.
Steps to empowerment
The challenges may seem daunting, but they also should inspire action. These are some steps you can take to put you on the path to financial clarity and empowerment.
Take an interest in your finances.
The only way to start getting comfortable with financial matters is to get involved. If you have a partner, commit to learning and working on your finances together. If you’re single, pull all of your financial information together so you can get a full picture of where things stand.
Do you want to start
Wallace and her husband set goals with deadlines. And they’ve stuck to them. “We’ve already paid off our house and have saved enough for college for our two kids,” she says.
“Setting goals is important, but it’s equally important to be willing to make adjustments when necessary. It’s really about managing life events around the plans you have in place,” says Jackson. “Then when changes occur, like you want to work longer or retire early, you can adjust your strategy.”
Moniz and her husband lost everything when their home was destroyed by fire 15 years ago. That was devastating enough, but then they discovered their homeowner’s insurance wasn’t going to replace all that they had lost. Their goals suddenly shifted as they had to focus on rebuilding their home. “It set us back financially,” said Moniz, “and took us about 12 years to get back on track financially, but we did.”
Information on finances is widely available, and it can be overwhelming. “Start by getting some basic information,” says Cantrell. “Pick up a book on finances or listen to a podcast in order to start familiarizing yourself with basic financial terms.”
If you prefer a more structured setting, take a class or a workshop on budgeting, saving for college or another subject that interests you. Then take action and seek financial guidance in order to develop a strategy specific to you, Cantrell adds.
Wallace is always in learning mode when it comes to finances. She reads books about managing money as well as blogs and articles. The knowledge she’s accumulated doesn’t just help her family. Her friends now often seek out her advice.
Make a commitment to communicate.
When it comes to finances, give yourself the same advice a teacher might give a child: No question is a bad question. Ask your partner or a financial advisor for clarification when there’s something you don’t understand. If you and your partner are working together on finances, discuss your goals individually and as a couple. And make a commitment to each other that you’ll be good listeners and will keep the conversation going.
Ask for help.
This is not something you have to do alone. A financial advisor can help you prioritize and strategize as you go, so that you can set goals that reflect what matters most to you but also change course, if needed, as life circumstances shift.
Becoming an active participant in your finances doesn’t happen overnight. You have to start with the basics and go from there. But as you’re building your knowledge and comfort level, you’re also building toward financial empowerment so you can make the most of all you’ve been given.
I was a recently divorced single mom just starting out in my career when a financial advisor told me to consider buying life insurance. I only had a small amount through my employer. I always knew my big, loving, Italian family would take care of my young daughter if something happened to me, but I hadn’t considered whether they would have enough resources to give her the life I dreamed about for her.
6 things you can do right now
Ricky Jackson, regional development director for Thrivent in Lexington, South Carolina, suggests six tasks to help get your finances on track.
- Create a budget and stick to it to ensure that you have a purpose for every dollar.
- Open an account and save three to six months of expenses for the unexpected.
- Contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement account. If your employer doesn’t offer this, look into options where you can automate monthly contributions.
- Review all of your insurance contracts to make sure you have the correct coverage at an appropriate cost to protect you and your family. Also, make sure your beneficiaries are up-to-date.
- Write down your goals and put strategies into place to reach them.
- Review your status regularly, at least once each year, and make any necessary adjustments.
How Thrivent can help
Kathleen Childers is a writer in Minnesota.