“If I had my life to live over again, I would ask that not a thing be changed, but that my eyes be opened wider.” — Jules Renard
When I decided on a career as a financial planner, I did so with a commitment to help women build confidence and a sense of independence. I did not choose this path casually. My decision to concentrate on the unique financial needs of women came from personal experience, professional observation, and the desire to empower women to own their financial futures.
Some of life’s most important lessons are learned from mistakes made along the way. That was true for me. I always intended to take control of my life, but I was naive enough to think that I could do so without asking for help. My first job out of college offered an annual salary of $15,000. It was a struggle to pay my bills and maintain the fun lifestyle of a young, single woman. Still, I moved forward with my goal to own a condominium by the age of 30. While that was a worthy objective — and I did achieve it, at age 29 — I was unaware of the financial ramifications of my decision. I needed parental help to buy the condo and ended up with more debt than I could comfortably shoulder.
I married my husband when I was 32. We lived in my condo and shared expenses, which provided some critical financial relief, and as far as I could tell, we were fine when it came to money. In fact, we were living the dream: We had two flourishing businesses, two wonderful children, and a beautiful new home we purchased together. Things were so good that I decided to sideline my career in order to fully focus on raising our children. And so, while I was busy with the often hectic schedules of two kids, taking care of the house, and social commitments, my husband became the primary wage earner and handled all of the financial decisions. Our system worked so well, it almost seemed too good to be true! Well, turns out it was.
I was surprised to learn that our spending outpaced our savings. I was alarmed when I saw that we had no "safety net" for even the smallest unplanned life event or expense. And what I was not prepared to acknowledge was that we were headed for a major life event that would have devastating financial consequences: Cinderella and Prince Charming were getting a divorce.
To say that I was unprepared is an understatement. I had no concept of how much we had been spending and saving over the years, and no accurate picture of what life as a single mother would look like financially. By delegating all financial matters to my husband during our marriage, I left myself ill-equipped for the challenging road ahead. I was a passenger in my life and not a driver. I had not owned my life choices.
My story is not unique. I work with single women, married women, divorced women, and women in challenging transitions. A common thread in their lives is that they let someone else handle their money, investing, and budgeting. And equally common is their regret that they had not been more involved in the financial matters that determined their future options. Stories like mine can be compelling reasons for women to take charge of their financial choices, and statistics substantiate the need for women to do so. The study “Women: Investing With a Purpose,” released by Pershing, brings to light a few:
- As consumers, women account for two-thirds of yearly spending in the United States.
- Seventy-five percent of women feel responsible for daily household spending.
- A woman’s income is estimated to be 33 percent less than a man’s in the lifetime of their careers.
- A woman is likely to choose a career interruption to care for her family.
- On average, women live longer than men, and are expected to spend approximately 15 percent more time in retirement than men — but, on average, have lower lifetime savings and higher chance of being financially impacted by illness.
- Forty-eight percent of women characterize their investing strategy as conservative, compared to 36 percent of men. This difference in strategy is typically generated by a lack of confidence and a doubt about their ability to build wealth.
Women and men have different work experiences and respond differently when it comes to the financial choices in their lives. Women have historically been at a disadvantage, but that no longer needs to be the case.
There is good news on the horizon, especially for younger women. Women are getting their degrees in increasing numbers. According to the “Women: Investing With A Purpose” study, 93 percent of women who have household incomes in excess of $200,000 are college educated. There is greater equality in the workplace. Women run almost 33 percent of businesses in the United States. And, per the study, in 2014, there were 9.1 million female-owned businesses in the country, employing 7.9 million workers and generating $1.4 trillion in revenue. Today, women have tremendous opportunities and available resources to secure financial independence. Knowledge, opportunity, and hard work are critical factors to a successful career. In order to truly have a sense of financial confidence and freedom, however, we women must own our choices. And if we want all the options we deserve in our lives, we need to own them now.
Elisabeth Cullington is a Founder of the Women’s Practice at HoyleCohen and a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.