It's not so black and white.
Is it more important to grow your savings or increase your income?
The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask. Generally, women are more focused on growing their savings while men are more focused on increasing their income, a recent LendingTree study found.
And while both of those goals are important, men and women could learn something from each other about where to place their financial priorities. In fact, experts say that a balance of the two is most beneficial to building net worth and meeting your financial goals.
“Women tend to have a longer-term focus and feel that if they can save today, they will have the funds when needed in the future,” says Gretchen Cliburn, CFP®, director at BKD Wealth Advisors in Springfield, Mo. “Men tend to be more competitive, and income is one way for them to measure their success. However, growing savings and increasing income are both beneficial in creating wealth.”
The Case for Increasing Income
Because men are no longer necessarily the primary breadwinners, many women need to set their sights on increasing their earnings, as well. But this entails taking risks, experts say.
“Women are more timid about standing up to a boss and asking for a raise. And they tend to be afraid to shop the job market, so they will stay in a lower paying job longer,” says Nancy Coutu, CFP®, co-founder of Money Managers Financial Group in Oak Brook, Ill. “Women need to stand up for themselves and ask for more money. If they don’t get it, find another job. Never settle. I know it is not easy, but this is what men do.”
Kathleen Hastings, CFP®, a portfolio manager with FBB Capital Partners in Bethesda, Md., echoes this thought, noting that taking risks is key. To do that, women must value their fiscal self-worth. They need to be willing to ask for a raise, and if they don’t receive one, they should look for a better job, start a business, or take advantage of a side gig, she says.
Although the refusal to settle for a lower salary can help generate wealth, what you do with your money matters, too.
“Increasing your income has the potential to increase your wealth,” Cliburn says. “However, saving those increased dollars must be intentional. One thing to watch out for when increasing income is the risk of increasing lifestyle expenses. If your lifestyle costs tend to grow at the same rate as your income, then increasing savings would be a better focus.”
A Savings Mindset
Increasing income is beneficial only when it co-exists with growing savings — especially since most people spend more once they start earning more. “You could make a lot of money, but if you do not save any of it, it makes no difference for your future,” Coutu says. “So it is important to save.”
“Growing your savings will help build a greater net worth,” she continues. “Regardless of income, the ability to live beneath your means is part of being disciplined.”
For instance, Cliburn has worked with school teachers who are worth millions and with corporate executives who earn more than $500,000 per year who have less than one year’s salary saved. It all depends on how you prioritize. The key is to not allow your lifestyle expenses to exponentially increase right along with your income.
Another potential issue? Even when women are committed to saving, they often limit their wealth by putting most of their money in “safe” investments — or by simply leaving extra funds in a savings account.
“Women tend to be more conservative, and men are more willing to take risks,” says Katharine Perry, an associate financial consultant at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Investing does have associated risk, and women tend to look at the worst-case scenario. They often want to make sure everyone is provided for ahead of taking risks, so they are accepting lower returns or no returns at all in order to have what they believe is a more secure bucket of money [in their] savings account.”
Perry recommends determining your “cash comfort” level — usually three to six months’ worth of expenses — and investing any extra cash beyond that. “It’s important to look at what you could be making in the market versus what you are saving,” she says.
Essentially, it’s important to balance both earning more and saving more in order to meet your financial goals. Not sure where to start? Develop a written plan for your finances, Coutu says. Most women will live longer than men “and will probably need more money,” she says. “Commit to your financial independence and well-being with an integrated and customized life plan.”
Make sure that the plan accounts for both creating and preserving wealth.
“If you are focused on increasing your income with little thought as to how to save and invest those additional dollars, then you will simply continue to run on the hamster wheel, making no progress whatsoever,” Cliburn says.
“If you identify your goals, determine what is needed to achieve them, and then focus on increasing your income, you will be successful in running the marathon of life by passing one milestone after another.”