Financial Empowerment: Becoming Financially Literate

I’ll be honest. I think a lot about money. In fact, I think about money more than anyone else I know. This isn’t a new phenomenon for me. It’s just the way I’ve always been. Many of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories involve rolling coins, keeping my brother away from my stash of cash or feeling inadequate and disappointed by a lack of money.

As a woman who has been interested in the finer points of finances for my entire life I am intensely saddened by my married female friends and family members who claim to know little to nothing about their finances.

I feel downright sick to my stomach when I read stories about women who scramble to learn about their finances after an unexpected death in the family. These stories are all so eerily similar. A few weeks after laying her husband to rest a grieving wife finds unpaid debts or finds out that her husband never applied for life insurance. As bills pile up this poor woman cannot find the checkbook or log in to her husband’s bank account to pay them.

No one should be thrust into the world of money management this way! No one should receive their first money lesson while staggering through a crisis!

So why does this happen time and time again? Why don’t women know the basics about their own personal finances? I really don’t know the answer to this question, but I’ve gathered a few ideas after polling many friends, family members and coworkers over the years. (If you have other thoughts please provide them in the comments below.)

Some women tell me they don’t have a knack for numbers. They tell me their husbands are simply better at math. Better at math?, but managing your personal finances requires little more than addition and subtraction. I promise! You don’t need to understand algebra and calculus to project your income and expenses. Please don’t let the fear of math prevent you from learning about personal finance or anything else for that matter. I swear the math is simple and there are plenty of online calculators available to help you.

Some women believe they don’t earn enough to justify a seat at the financial table. This is pure hogwash. Just because you stay-at-home with your children or earn less than your spouse does not mean you should have less say in your overall financial picture. As a married couple both spouses need to be on the same page to succeed financially. After all, even if only one spouse earns an income, both will need to manage their expenses and spending. Both will also need to make investing decisions so the money they save can grow. Don’t allow your lack of income to make you feel inferior and don’t discount the important non-financial roles you play in your household.

A number of women told me their husbands prefer to manage their household finances and that one person should be in charge of the day-to-day money management tasks. I’m not going to argue with this notion as long as it isn’t a reflection of the “I’m not good at math” mantra or that you live in a patriarchal marriage where the man controls the money solely because he was born with an extra “Y” chromosome.

I think it’s perfectly fine for one spouse to handle the majority of household transactions and your husband can certainly choose to accept those duties. One person can be in charge of paying the bills, deciding when to refinance the mortgage and ensuring that your income covers your expenses. One person can also be in charge of buying stocks, bonds and mutual funds, although I will point out that choosing investments is a very slim piece of your overall personal finance picture.

I’m not arguing that your husband cannot be in charge of putting your financial decisions into action. What I’m saying is that you don’t have to manage your finances in order to understand them. You don’t have to push any buttons or make any phone calls right now, but if the need arises you should know how to perform all necessary actions.

Take a deep breath in. Now breathe out slowly. Listen carefully to my words. I’ll repeat them again. You don’t need to act now. You just need to know how to act if the need arises. Does that help eliminate the stress of it all? Does it help at least a little?

You won’t be pressured to pay bills, choose insurance options or move money between savings and checking accounts. Right now you just have to focus on learning how to do these things and why they should be done.

So what can you do to learn more about your money?

First, ask your husband to sit down with you to review your finances. (If you are a married man offer to review your finances with your wife.) Ask to see an overview of your net worth as well as a breakdown of your accounts and statements. Find out which financial institutions hold your money. Many of us have retirement accounts like 401ks in a completely separate bank than our checking and savings accounts. Know where your checkbook is stored inside the house.

Make sure you understand how to log into your bank accounts to view your current balances. Try logging into websites to view your credit card bills and mortgage details.  Know which bills are paid directly through ACH withdrawals and which you need to physically pay via bill pay or check. Learn how to pay your bills.

Other facts you should know. How much life insurance would you receive if your spouse died? Where can you find the policy numbers and contact information?

Write down all of this information and keep it somewhere safe.

Understand your basic household figures. How much is your average credit card bill? How much do you spend on housing? How much do you and your husband earn? Does your income cover your expenses? These are numbers and facts you should be able to recite without more than a second’s pause. Heck you may find that your husband doesn’t even know the answers to these questions. You may need to investigate together.

Once you gather the basics move on to other topics. Review your paystubs and your bi-weekly deductions. Figure out how much you spend on medical insurance and dental insurance. Do you or your husband have access to life or disability insurance policies through your employer? If so, do you take advantage of them? If not, why not? Make sure you understand the implications of these decisions.

Set aside time each month, quarter or at a minimum a couple times a year to review statements, plan for short and long term financial goals and discuss all money matters and concerns. I find a lot of women are concerned about their financial picture, but fail to voice their concerns. Simple, straight forward conversations could alleviate those fears. Speak up and ask questions. Ask lots of questions and don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask them.

Some women find it easier to talk to other women about serious topics like finances and money. Try starting simple conversations with other women or research books written by female authors. Search online for blogs about personal finance and contact the bloggers who write about money if you have questions. Don’t pay anything to gain an understanding of your money. All of the information is available for free now. Search for a mentor who can guide you.

I was blessed with an amazing money mentor: my grandmother. She was born in the early 1920s but she controlled the finances in her home. She taught me the importance of saving up enough money to buy the items I coveted, to think carefully before spending, to bargain shop and to wait patiently for sales and deals before spending my hard earned money. My grandmother focused on the importance of education. She knew it was important to maximum income while simultaneously decreasing expenses and living within your means. When she died at the age of 94 she left a small inheritance for her children. She lived frugally throughout her lifetime to ensure her financial legacy could be passed on. I feel eternally grateful for the wisdom and strength my grandmother instilled in me. She was an incredible female role model for me.

If you have young girls talk to them about money and let them see you speaking to your spouse about money too. Let them know that money conversations don’t have to take place behind closed doors and that women can be a powerful force in the household even if they don’t earn money on their own. Money management should not be solely controlled by the spouse earning the highest income. Highlight the ways in which mindful spending can make a difference in your spending and saving.

If you are knowledge about your finances speak out loudly and clearly to the next generation of women. Let them heed your words so they can gain confidence with their money.

What are your thoughts? If you aren’t knowledgable about your finances what is holding you back? If you are knowledgable do you have any ideas on how we can come together to create a community of confident, financially savvy women?

Note: This post is about inspiring confidence in women. Having said that I believe men should be equally knowledgeable about their finances. This post is not meant to exclude them. In fact, married men play a pivotal role in helping their spouses gain knowledge. Couples are often more successful when they forge a path together. Fathers can also teach and inspire the next generation of financially competent women.

4 thoughts on “Financial Empowerment: Becoming Financially Literate”

  1. I am always amazed at how very little most of my female friends know about financial matters. Even the ones that are single and have financial planners for they are the ones that just hand money over to the planner without any idea of what is being done with it. There is a lot of solid simple advice out there for free. You are right, it is only adding and subtracting with a little multiplication thrown in if one wants to look at the future. Thank heaves for my mother who taught me to budget and both of my parents who taught me to save for my future wants and needs.

    • I think a lot of women are afraid of the math, which is so unfortunate. You don’t need to be a spreadsheet wiz to work out the numbers. I spent most of my life with a calculator and a college-ruled paper. Now a lot of online calculators make it even easier! Thanks for your comment.

  2. There is a common saying, “No one cares as much about your money as you yourself do.” I am a single 69 year old woman who started investing in dividend stocks eight years ago. But I have women friends who just turn their retirement savings over to a financial planner without a thought of how it is invested. “I am just no interested in finance” is the common refrain. Women tend to live longer lifespans than men and typically marry a man a few years older. So women should expect to be alone late in life due to death or divorce, and it is imperative to understand finances to have a comfortable retirement. Sit down with your husband and get a big picture understanding of your financial situation along with a closer more detailed look. Investing in stocks is actually quite simple and in the long run, the best way to build retirement savings. My portfolio now throws off dividends almost equal to my Social Security check, and my goal is to reach that or surpass by the time I am 70.

    • Congratulations on creating a dividend portfolio that nearly outpaces your social security check. I forgot to mention those women who hand their investments over to financial planners. For many women that’s worse than putting your head in the sand because those planners often charge hefty fees. Thank you for pointing out that women can easily manage their own investments and for being an amazing role model to those women who want to secure their futures.


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