As a mother of two daughters who love all things Disney, we were excited to see the new Cinderella movie. The girls loved it, and I appreciated the opportunity to have the “Prince Charming” discussion with them. Like most fairy tales of good and evil, the lead female or princess is always a damsel in distress who needs to be saved. Only after Prince Charming rescues her, is she able to find true happiness as they live … well, you know how the story ends. It is a very familiar and appealing storyline to women of all ages!
But it can also be a dangerous one, especially for young, impressionable girls, if left unchecked. As I shared in my Mom’s story, many women dedicate their lives to finding Prince Charming and relinquish all their financial power once they find him. Best case scenario is your partner has no intentions of taking advantage of you but is unfairly burdened with all the financial responsibility and decisions. Worst case scenario, you end up in debt and betrayed by the person who you thought was your Prince Charming. Your happily ever after no longer exists.
In my conversation with my girls, we shared our favorite parts of the movie but also discussed how Hollywood’s version of relationships differ from real life. How women should not seek a savior in their significant other but a partnership, like what I have with their father. Real women do not wait hidden away, waiting for their Prince to find and save them, but become the best they can be first. To understand, your significant other’s job isn’t to “save” you, but to be your partner in life and love. I want Lauren and Taylor to understand that being financially able to stand on their own two feet puts them in the best possible position to live their best life, single and in a relationship.
5 Steps for Women to Own their Financial Lives
The steps I am about to share are relevant to both sexes, but I am specifically focusing on women because they have a great tendency to wait until in a relationship to start planning or feel less confident about managing their financial lives on their own.
1. Set Specific Goals, Both Short-and-Long-Term
As Tanya shared in her post on breaking financial gender expectations, she didn’t want to set goals as a single person because she felt it wasn’t worth the effort. This happens more than you realize. Many successful, modern woman I meet struggle with this, often times unconsciously as Tanya did. This happens for a variety of reasons, including gender expectations and I also find people tend to have very rigid view of goals. They are not set in stone and meant to be fluid.
It is absolutely okay to change goals, whether single or as a couple, when you realize your desires have changed. Your goals should motivate you. If they don’t, then it’s definitely time reevaluate and adjust goals.
A Happily Ever After Tip: Give yourself permission to live now. A partner does not make your life more valuable. You are valuable on your own. Take the time to figure out what you want to do with your life, both now and in the future. Learn to use your goals as a barometer for your money decisions by asking yourself, “Will this bring me closer or further away from my goals?”. Being able to confidently make good financial decisions is key to creating the life you want, whether single or in a relationship. Start now and you will be a pro by the time you find your Prince Charming.
2. Budget, Eliminate Debt and Build a Cash Reserve
If you want to own your financial power, you have to understand your current financial reality and see where you stand. Don’t dig yourself into a hole, expecting Prince Charming to save you. He may not come around for years or deem you worthy of being rescued when he sees how little you valued your financial power.
Track Your Spending and Create a Budget You Will Follow
Start by tracking every penny you spend and be sure to spend as normal. You want an accurate picture of where your money goes. This is typically an eye-opening experience as we tend to forget about all those $5 purchases, but they add up quickly. Once you see how you spend your money, you’re ready to create a budget. Don’t view your budget as a restrictive enemy but a tool to help you spend your money on what matters most.
Create a Plan to Eliminate Debt
Money is emotional and woman are particularly good at using emotions to justify splurges, sometimes spending more money than they should. If you have consumer debt, don’t ignore it. Figure out what emotional triggers cause you to spend, so you can better manage those emotions and begin aggressively paying down your debt. Debt not only robs you of choice and freedom, it is also very unattractive baggage.
Be Prepared for Emergencies and Opportunities
Some women are also guilty of relying on their credit cards to cover emergencies and opportunities because they lack an adequate cash reserve. It’s important to build an appropriate emergency fund — 3-12 months of expenses — so you don’t add unnecessary debt.
3. Save, Save, Save
I have noticed a trend where single women are conservative savers. I’m not referring to risk tolerance, but how much money they set aside to save and/or invest. They assume once they find their Prince Charming that they will make plans together and then adjust their savings/investment amounts. The danger of that plan is twofold:
- You may not find your significant others for many years, thus putting you behind financially when you do.
- You may not have the savings/investments to do the things you want now or in the future, including being able to retire.
The question women need to ask themselves is — do we want to depend on someone else for our financial future? I vote no. Put yourself in the driver’s seat and figure out how much money you need to save/invest to create the life you want. Investing intimidates many women, but you still need to have a baseline understanding of how investing works, even if you work with a professional. This is where you can really put your money to work for you, so educate yourself and make informed decisions.
4. Create a Plan for Your Financial Goals and Review Often
One common mistake women make is not taking time to prepare for their own retirement. A good plan considers your living expenses, inflation, investments and income sources as they exist today. Don’t wait to create a retirement plan until you’re married.
The two top mistakes women make are not creating a retirement income plan and not considering the need for long-term care. The first is simply making sure you have a plan as to what assets you are going to use while considering taxes and risk exposure. The second involves planning for the day when we can no longer care for ourselves, regardless of how difficult it is to think about. Some of us are already experiencing this with our parents and know the costs are high.
Life moves fast as we care for those around us, but we have to slow down to make sure we remain financially strong as we age.
5. Protect Your Dreams
Women are natural protectors, but we often short-change ourselves when it comes to protecting ourselves. Single woman without children often believe they don’t need life insurance, which is not always true. Find out whether life insurance makes sense for you. One insurance that you definitely want to consider is disability. Your financial well-being is fully dependent on your ability to earn an income, so you need to protect yourself against disability, both short-term and permanent.
Many women (and men too) put their financial lives at risk by not having appropriate disability coverage. We may want to avoid thinking about this, but disability, especially short-term, happens more regularly than most realize. 64% of wage earners believe they have a 2% or less chance of being disabled for 3 months or more during their working career while the actual odds for a worker entering the workforce today are about 25% according to the Council for Disability Awareness. Even a short-term disability, can cause significant financial stress.
Long-term care needs must also be evaluated as you may not have a spouse and/or children to care or assist you when you need help, both physically and financially.
Create Your Own Happily Ever After
Women hold more financial power than ever, but many relinquish their financial decision-making power to their husbands, boyfriends or the person yelling the loudest. Women too often underestimate their own ability to manage their financial life and overestimate their partner’s ability to do it right. You are in charge of creating your own happily ever after, which means owning your financial life with pride and confidence.