Women, listen up

This is just between me and the girls, er, women – so all you men can just turn the page. Listen carefully. Does any of this describe you? Many 50-plus women face a serious handicap when it comes to looking after their own financial futures. Kept busy juggling career, home and family (often both children and aging parents), far too many women don’t even try tossing the ball labelled “money matters” into the air. They often leave financial decisions to a spouse or others and learn little about personal investment or retirement planning. Money doesn’t know or care who it’s owner is – man or woman – but there are tremendous differences between the sexes when it comes to earning and dealing with money.

Just look at some of the statistics: 90 per cent of Canadian women will be entirely responsible for their own financial affairs at some point in their lives – most often through divorce or death of a partner. Yet women are paid only about two-thirds of what men make, and one out of three retiring today lives at or below the poverty line!

Women are living longer then men, on average six years, so those who are divorced or widowed can find themselves in a terrible cash crunch becau they’re not informed and haven’t arranged their own access to money and/or credit.

But women often have to take financial control because they’re forced to by one disaster or another. Don’t wait until you’re in emergency mode. Make sure you know about money and have credit under your own name.

Here are my recommendations as to what you should do, starting today:

  • Make it an absolute priority to know what’s happening with your family’s finances. At the very least, find out where everything is located – bank accounts, power of attorney, wills/living wills, insurance policies, debts and assets.

  • Always keep a portion of capital completely liquid. While everyone should have an emergency fund equal to three months of living expenses, it’s especially crucial for women to do so in the event of separation or the sudden death of a spouse.

  • Set up your own investment plan. While couples should coordinate their finances, women should have separate investment plans, bank accounts and RRSPs. Joint assets can be tied up or frozen pending court settlement due to death or divorce.

  • Establish your own credit rating. Set up a line of credit and at least one credit card in your own name. Not that long ago women were often turned down for credit on the basis of their gender. Today, while it’s illegal to discriminate because of gender, marital status, race, religion or age, you may still encounter difficulties. Do this now, just in case.

  • Consider more aggressive investments, such as mutual funds, compatible with your own risk tolerance. Because you live longer, you need to make your money work harder. Women have traditionally shied away from making investments they perceive to be risky. The irony is that you need the growth potential of equities. Historically, far more women than men have spent their later years in poverty.

  • Go back to “school” in your own way. Many well-known authors have written excellent personal finance and retirement planning books. Read as many as you can. Attend seminars, financial trade shows and exhibitions and get referrals from friends about reliable financial planners.