International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th around the world, seeks to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also acts as a catalyst for change when it comes to gender equality. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Each for Equal”. While the general equality for women is making slow, steady progress, we remain a long way from financial equality.
For a variety of reasons, women have generally not been as successful as their male counterparts in terms of earnings and even in our general attitude to money. Whilst the general principles of personal financial planning are universal and apply to both genders, women face unique challenges that translate to distinct concerns regarding their earning potential, roles and responsibilities.
Wealth accumulation for women is often slowed due to career breaks and the lack of flexible work options; the care of dependents, children and aged parents, usually falls on women. These issues often steer women into roles that do not advance their careers.
Whatever your age, or stage and whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, here are some proactive steps to take for greater financial equality:
Build your knowledge—
Whilst it is important to seek professional advice, you owe it to yourself to build your knowledge; ultimately, you are responsible for your finances. There is no excuse for being totally ignorant about your finances with the plethora of information around you.
With some knowledge of the principles and the options available, you are in a better position to take advantage of them and build financial security and bridge the gap towards financial equality.
Establish a budget—
Budgeting is one of the most important tools for financial security and equality. Where does your money go? Track your expenses for a month; it will highlight where your money is going. A good budget will help you to monitor your expenses so you have a clearer idea of where you can cut back and begin to save and invest.
Build an emergency fund—
It is important to have an emergency fund, a financial cushion that you can fall back on in difficult times, such as job loss. Six to twelve months’ worth of living expenses set aside in a safe, accessible interest-bearing account is usually recommended. Beyond that and money for your daily expenses, explore other high-yielding investments.
One of the most effective ways to increase savings is to automate the process by having the funds deducted via a direct debit into a savings, money market or mutual fund account.
Reduce your debt—
Don’t ignore your debt or it will just mount. Getting out of debt or at least reducing it is a key step to taking control of your finances. List all your debt, and prioritize by focusing on the debt that is the most urgent or most expensive.
Debt needn’t be negative; indeed, credit can be a most effective tool in the journey to financial equality and security, through well-planned long-term investments such as funding real estate, financing education or a business.
Invest in yourself—
Are you growing? Constantly improve your skills through reading and learning. Have you identified, nurtured and embraced your passions and talents? Are you utilizing them for growth, fulfillment and earning?
The healthier you are, the more productive you will be. In good health, you will have brighter prospects in all aspects of your life. Do you need to lose weight, eat more healthily, or exercise more regularly? Make healthy-living a way of life for you and your family.
Protect yourself and your assets with insurance—
You are your greatest asset. Do you have adequate cover for your health and your life, particularly if you are the primary breadwinner? Are your assets, including your car and home adequately insured? You’ve worked so hard to build assets so be sure to protect them. Don’t neglect this most important part of your financial plan.
Invest consistently for the long term—
Risk is a fundamental part of investing. But with savings rates at an all-time low and high inflation, you need to make your money work for you. If you are totally risk-averse, there is very little prospect of achieving those great goals. Women can be somewhat conservative and tentative about their finances. You do need investments that give you a higher return than traditional money market instruments, which hardly keep apace with inflation.
With knowledge and experience as well as a clear objective, you will build confidence and can take carefully considered, calculated risk that is likely to give you better returns.
The key is to build a diversified portfolio with both local and offshore assets. Spreading your investments across asset classes including property, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and business interests, will mitigate some of the risk; where one asset class is not performing optimally, you may still earn from others.
Retirement is sooner than you think—
Make your retirement plan a priority; just imagine that you might well spend a third of your life in retirement. Your retirement years should be a time for new and exciting opportunities that keep you productive, mentally stimulated and fulfilled. Those who start planning early have a much better chance of retiring in comfort.
Do you have an estate plan?
No one wants to think about death, but you owe it to your family particularly if you have children, to put something in place should something untoward happen to you. Meet with a lawyer who will put you through a relatively simple process. If you already have a will, review and update it to make sure you have included any new assets or beneficiaries.
You are responsible for your personal finances—
Whilst delegating some responsibility for your finances might be important for the dynamics of your relationship, having little or no involvement can put you at risk and render you ill equipped to handle unfortunate life events such as sudden job loss, divorce, serious illness or the death of a spouse.
A marriage should be a partnership; don’t become an unequal financial partner. As a full-time homemaker, do show interest and be involved in the family finances.
The Gender Pay Gap—
It is true that the gender pay gap is slowly closing, but it is still far from where it ought to be. What can you do? Have you ever thought of asking for a pay rise? It is a sad fact that women are much less likely to ask for a pay rise than their male counterparts.
It takes courage to ask for a pay rise but it is a conversation that you should have if you deserve it; if you are outstanding at your job, and show commitment and reliability in your performance, it may be considered. There is no harm in trying. At all times you should be proactive about developing yourself and the skills that you need to advance in your career and gain financial independence!
The Glass Ceiling—
It is great to observe the strides being made with women on boards; yet the numbers are minute when you consider the number of positions. Do you put yourself forward for advertised promotions and positions or do you shy away and even feel inadequate?
There is significant evidence that companies that promote women to management roles and higher, have better results. It has also been proven that gender diversity at board level translates into better performing companies.
Do you have a mentor?
Are you a member of a women’s network that provides wonderful opportunities for growth, and for you to network and learn from other women who have made considerable progress in their careers, in business and in government? Be proactive about self-development.
Therefore, financial literacy is essential if women are to close the gender gap of attaining financial equality. There has been so much done to reach, indeed, smash the glass ceiling, but let us not be complacent and end up hitting a financial brick wall and jeopardizing our financial wellbeing and future security.
Nimi Akinkugbe has extensive experience in private wealth management. She seeks to empower people regarding their finances and offers frank; practical insights to create greater awareness and understanding of personal finance.
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