Nearly 4 in 10 women say choices such as starting a family or buying a home are more difficult because they lack confidence in their financial knowledge, according to a 2018 survey conducted by CreditKarma.com of 1,048 adults.
This can translate to larger disparities in the workplace and have a negative impact on women's overall financial health. In 2019, women earn 79 cents on the dollar, on average, and are twice as likely as men to live below the poverty line during retirement, especially if they are single or minorities.
"We have the power to control our money today and grow our money tomorrow," says Kemberli Stephenson, financial coach at Sparkhustleflow.com. "It's important to use our power and be prepared."
Here are a few smart money moves experts suggest women make in order to secure their financial futures.
Whether you're taking parental leave or leave to care for an older parent, stepping away from a career — even for a brief period — can affect your earning potential, decrease retirement savings, and reduce Social Security benefits.
Mothers typically are paid only 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, and it ends up costing them $16,000 a year in lost wages on average, according to an 2018 analysis of Census data by the nonprofit advocacy organization National Women's Law Center.
There are steps you can take to minimize the financial impact of taking time off, though.
- Take a look at your employee benefits to see if paid leave is available, and if so, how much time off you're eligible for.
- Ask your employer upfront about the kinds of policies in place for family leave to give you a better idea of what your overall financial picture could look like.
- Seek out information from online and government resources about job-protected leave, whether paid or unpaid, and make sure your employer is abiding by the rules.
"Set your focus specifically on what your financial priorities are. If you know you have something really big coming down the pipe, whether it's a baby or you're getting married or whether it's retirement, it's important to plan ahead," says Stephenson.
If you want to make sure you're not being underpaid, "tell everybody how much money you're making," says Suze Orman, financial expert, bestselling author of "Women & Money" and host of the "Women & Money" podcast.
"I know you're told, 'Don't tell anybody how much money you're making,'" Orman says, "but your salary shouldn't be a secret."
One way to level the playing field is by being transparent with your employer about your expectations and having candid conversations with your coworkers about how much you're earning.
"If you go to HR, you can ask a very simple question: 'Have we done a recent salary analysis for my role?' They may be required to tell you and show you the range in which you fall," says Stephenson. "It won't be specific, but they may be able to give you some more generalized information that can help you make some better decisions."
Discussing your salary with coworkers and having a general idea of what they're being paid and how you fare compared to those around you will give you some leverage when negotiating your own salary or a raise.
"It is not taboo to ask another woman how much she makes," says Stephenson. "I wish more people would be open enough and comfortable enough having those conversations, because that [discomfort] sums up why it's so easy for us to only make 79 cents on the dollar."
Women tend to live longer than men, and they also receive lower pensions and Social Security benefits in retirement. That puts them in a position where they could potentially outlive their savings.
In 2017, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was $14,353, compared to $18,041 for men. This is largely due to the fact that, on average, women will earn less over the course of their lifetimes than their male counterparts, according to the Social Security Administration.
So the earlier you start putting away money for retirement, the better.
A 2017 Fidelity study found that about 80% of single women keep most of their savings in cash and are twice as likely as men to say that's because they don't know where to invest it.
Sallie Krawcheck, cofounder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, cites this as the biggest financial mistake women make. "We certainly don't invest as much as men do," Krawcheck told CNBC Make It. "We tend to leave more than 70% of our wealth in cash as opposed to investing it. For the typical professional woman, that can cost her hundreds of thousands — for some women, millions — of dollars over the course of their lives."
A 25-year-old who invested $5,000 per year until the age of 35, assuming an 8% annual return, would amass around $787,000 by the age of 65. Someone who started investing $5,000 per year at the age of 35 and continued until they were 65, with the same annual return, would only amass around $612,000.
Stephenson also suggests inquiring about potential employee assistance programs (EAP), which often offer free financial tools or counseling for employees.
Making use of the free resources available to you can demystify some of the more complex financial topics like learning how to invest, or paying down massive debt that can pull you into a downward spiral and keep you from growing your knowledge and wealth.
"Things can change at the drop of a dime," says Stephenson. "You could have a death in the family, a weather-related disaster, or good change like having a baby unexpectedly. Things change, and it's important that we're prepared in those situations and that we're capable of being self-sufficient."
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