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Two words for women daunted by finance: "Take control"

September 05, 2013

Amanda SteinbergIn many ways, women have never been more financially independent—earning the majority of college and advanced degrees, managing careers, and opening businesses. But when it comes to being financially prepared for the future, many women still take a hands-off approach, according to Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth, a personal finance website for women.

The only remedy, Ms. Steinberg said, is for women to start taking ownership of their financial future. Women can lay the groundwork for a more secure retirement if they take an active interest in personal finance, she said.

Take charge

Whether it's a result of getting divorced, losing a spouse or partner, or staying single, an estimated nine out of ten women in the United States will have sole responsibility for their finances at some point.

"We've had many women tell us that their husbands didn't let them get involved with the finances," said Ms. Steinberg. "They were kept in the dark for years. Now they're in the midst of a divorce and suddenly forced to figure it all out on their own."

If you know little about your family finances, don't wait until you're forced to find out. "It's important for women to learn where they stand financially," Ms. Steinberg said. "Even if you don't like what you see, at least you're aware of the situation. And that's a huge step in the right direction."

Ask for help

DailyWorth, which Ms. Steinberg started in 2009, promotes the importance of financial literacy for women. Based on the site's loyal following—it's on pace to reach one million e-mail subscribers by the end of 2013—such financial literacy is definitely needed.

To be sure, significant numbers of women know a lot about personal finance, but others aren't even sure where to begin. "We've worked with women who want to start saving but don't know how to go about it," said Ms. Steinberg. "And I'm talking about educated, successful women."

She recalled one client who had been saving for a while but wasn't paying much attention to what her money was earning. "She was making an effort, but it turned out she had thousands of dollars sitting" in a low-interest cash account, Ms. Steinberg said.

She acknowledged that the mere mention of the word investing can be intimidating for some women. But, she said, it doesn't have to be if you ask for help.

Don't panic

Although starting to save as early as possible for retirement is ideal, starting later is better than not saving at all.

"Women who start saving later in life sometimes get discouraged when they hear how much they'll need for retirement," Ms. Steinberg said. "They think, ‘How will I ever save $2 million?'" But don't panic, she said. Save as much as you can and, if need be, look for creative ways to navigate retirement, such as living with family members or working part time.

The bottom line, Ms. Steinberg said, is that your retirement need not look like anyone else's.

"At DailyWorth, we like to remind women that retirement is really a made-up concept. Not everyone retires at 65 and moves to Florida," she said. "And if that's not your reality, it doesn't mean you're a failure."

Note:

  • Opinions expressed by Ms. Steinberg are not necessarily those of Vanguard.
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