If you think about just how far women have come in the last half century, it’s pretty astounding. It was just 50 years ago that many women couldn’t dream of pursuing a career they loved. If they worked outside the home, it was assumed they would get paid a fraction of what a male colleague got. And the home front was considered their domain—and responsibility.
Today, women make up 47% of the workforce. They dominate the ranks of college and post-secondary graduates. Almost half of women are their family’s primary breadwinners, and they are increasingly occupants of corner offices.
Women now have the independence and resources to make decisions for their financial futures on their own terms.
Even so, there’s still work to do. Women face unique financial challenges. Though they won’t stop you from making progress, you need to pay attention and make sure you’re doing all you can to make them work in your favor.
1. Plan for a long life
Lucky you! Women’s life expectancies continue to increase, now clocking in at 81 years. And women who live to at least age 65, can expect at least another 20 years of life. That’s more time to enjoy your family, your career, and your passions. The challenge is that a long life means more years of retirement to plan for, with higher medical bills and special consideration for long-term care.
As you’re preparing for retirement, remember to…
Save early, save often: There is no substitute for early savings when it comes to retirement readiness. But when you’ve got so many demands on your resources, it can be hard to make savings a priority. Bear in mind that even a modest amount of savings can turn into a substantial amount in 30 or 40 years’ time. At the very minimum, set aside enough of your pay to get your employer match
Be a savvy investor: Over the long run, stocks have proven to have higher returns than fixed income or cash—but they carry more risk. Understand that you’ll have to accept a reasonable amount of risk in order to grow your savings and outpace inflation.
Dream big: Who says retirement means downsizing and winding down? For some, it’s time to launch an encore career, start a business, volunteer, or travel. Since retirement planning is a marathon and not a sprint, keep these goals in the foreground as you save and invest for the future.
2. Mind the gap
Despite all the progress that women have made, the pay gap is alive and well. Overall, women earn 80 cents for each dollar a man earns.
The good news is that companies are taking note and implementing policies that help to shrink the pay gap. New laws are also taking aim at the pay disparity.
For the time being, though, it’s still up to individuals to confront and combat pay inequity. Arm yourself with the tools you need to get paid what you’re worth.
Negotiate like a boss: Men are four times more likely to negotiate a salary offer, which has a snowball effect. You won’t get a higher paycheck if you don’t ask—so ask! Research prevailing salaries for your industry and years of experience. Then lay out the business case for your salary.
Prepare for pushback: Bear in mind that employers judge men and women differently. Asking for a higher salary might get you labeled as “pushy” or “selfish” by employers. That’s why it’s important to strike the right balance between assertive and being a team player.
Bring your A-game: Work with a career coach to help you learn the most effective techniques for successful negotiations.
3. Rule the roost
For many American women half a century ago, life followed a predictable path: go to school, meet a partner, settle down, have a family, retire. It doesn’t work that way anymore. Now women are marrying later—or not at all. About half of marriages end in divorce. Women are having children on their own. And there are more single-sex relationships than before.
Given this reality, the old financial planning playbook needs an update.
Get time on your side: If you choose to stay single throughout your 20s, 30s and beyond, use it to your advantage. You may have a greater ability to focus on your career and create more opportunities to create wealth.
Don’t shy away from hard conversations: Women tend to take more breaks from work to raise a family, and it can negatively impact their lifetime earnings. If you want to avoid that fate, talk to your partner about how you’ll equitably take on childcare duties or pay for care.
Make it a family affair: Long before your parents experience a health crisis and you must make decisions in the heat of the moment, decide as a family what kind of care they want and how it will be paid for. Enlist all siblings so responsibility doesn’t fall to just one person.
Line up long-term care: Given the longevity trends, women will likely face old age alone. How will you get when you are no longer able to care for yourself? Decide whether you’ll buy insurance or set funds aside to self-insure.
4. Win the confidence game
True, women have a lot of financial challenges. Rather than hiding from them, face them with confidence and determination. No one is born a financial wiz. It takes knowledge and practice to get good at managing your money and making wise financial decisions.
You can do this.
Read just one thing: If your eyes glaze over and your heart starts beating faster at the mere mention of financial planning, take baby steps. Each week, read one blog post on a financial topic that interests you or watch a short video from a financial guru. As your knowledge grows, so too will your confidence.
Be proactive: If your partner loves spreadsheets and reading financial statements, you might be inclined to take a backseat on the family finances. That’s a mistake. Each partner needs to know what’s going on. You never know when you’ll have to step in and take over. Be prepared.
Don’t go it alone: You don’t have to dive into financial planning on your own. Seek out experienced wealth managers who make education a central feature of their service offerings and will answer all your questions—no matter how basic.