Sometimes little lessons can still make a big difference.
Whether you are single or married, raising kids or childfree, chances are, you spend a lot of time making financial decisions. In fact, one recent study from Prudential found that 95 percent of women are the financial decision-makers in their families. Considering that 40 years ago many women couldn’t even get a credit card in their names, the financial strides women have made are incredible.
Along the way, many of us have learned great lessons about finances. For me, it was facing my fear of finances. Whenever I felt that dread about my accounts I forced myself to check them. Eventually, that helped me feel like I was in control of my financial situation, rather than being controlled by it.
We asked 10 women about the financial lesson that they’re most grateful for. Whether about investment, saving, or security, these tips can be applied to a variety of situations. Here’s what they had to say.
Never Get Stuck
“Always make sure you have three months of your bills saved in a private place,” says Dawn Zombeck, 49, who learned this important lesson at 24 years old. “This way you know you can always leave a situation if need be. You are not stuck and unsafe or unhappy.”
Start a Collection
When Patricia Borris was 31 with three young kids, she felt that her debt was unmanageable. A manager at work told her to start paying off one debt at a time and begin a collection of the receipts.
“He said start with one card. Pay it off however long it takes you. Be aggressive on payments. Then when it is paid off, that is the first of your collection,” says Borris, now 59. She took the advice to heart.
“My collection became paid off credit card receipts. It sounds silly, but for me it worked. I still use it to motivate me to live within my means,” she says.
It's OK to Start Slow
Katriel Paige, 31, found herself getting overwhelmed by her financial situation until she realized she can’t change her situation overnight.
“I can be knee-deep in debt and there’s a lot of pressure. Even if you work out doable budget changes, there’s the impulse to do everything right now, or the idea that the minute you make any little mistake the whole effort is wasted,” she says. “But that sort of reaction is harmful as well. Take steps, sure, but you don’t need to start off at a run. You’ll just be more apt to trip or get burned out.”
Always Keep Some Control
Felicia Hall’s father always controlled the finances in his household. When he died, Hall’s mother had no idea about her financial situation or even how to access her accounts. That was an important lesson for Hall, 54.
“He left my mom completely in the dark on everything related to money, right down to how to pay the mortgage. She had to go to the bank, crying, asking them how to go about it,” Hall says. “I learned that as much as I hate everything related to finances, I could never just hand over control of my money to a spouse.”
Keep Credit and Family Separate
When Sheryl Henderson divorced at 40 she had to rebuild her credit from scratch. That’s when she vowed not to mix family and finances again, even for the sake of her kids’ education.
“Keep your credit separate from your kids: do not co-sign their college loans,” says Henderson, now 57. “Same as when you’re married: as a couple you each need to maintain separate accounts and credit.”
Don’t Wait to Get Started
Lidiya Dergacheva, 27, recently read Broke Millennial and says the book helped her better understand how personal finance works. She used it as motivation to start organizing her finances now, even if she’s still struggling a bit.
“The best advice from all this? Never too late to start getting a handle on your finances, better sooner than later,” she says.
Think Before You Swipe
Lauren Hartmann, 33, learned an important lesson about credit when she was just 13. Her parents’ credit union had a program where teens could get a credit card with a $300 limit. Hartmann’s parents signed her up and explained how credit works: that she would have to pay back anything she spent, plus interest.
“I then proceeded to do what most irresponsible 13 year olds might do and maxed it out as quickly as possible. I learned a life lesson as I had to spend my entire summer babysitting to pay it off. At the end of the summer I had nothing to show for all my hard work aside from some clothes and makeup I no longer really cared about,” she says. “Ever since I’ve never bought anything on a credit card that I couldn’t afford to pay back in a timely manner.”
Listen to Your Gut
When Kim Bongiorno was a single 21 year old contributing to a 401(k), everyone told her she could be risky with her investments, but she listened to her intuition to be more cautious.
“I set everything up fairly conservatively and continued doing so over the years, even when more financially savvy people in my life laughed at me for maintaining the portfolio of a retiree,” says Bongiorno, now 41. “Then when the bubble burst that caused the great recession, I barely lost anything. I was safe, unlike so many others, all because I listened to my gut.”
Choose a Partner Who is Responsible With Money
When Michelle Grewe got married at 27, she liked that her husband let her control their finances, until she realized that he was still spending recklessly, overdrawing their accounts and not sticking to her budget.
Now 39 and getting divorced, Grewe wishes that she had paid more attention to the financial warning signs even through the whirlwind of new love. “When you marry someone, you are giving them a key to every cent you have,” she says. “Every mistake they make with money becomes yours to share some way.”
Don’t be Afraid to Negotiate
Pam Moore, 38, learned how to make quick money when her dad taught her about negotiation in her 20s.
“My dad told me when buying a car making a lowball offer may feel uncomfortable but it could be the easiest thousand dollars you ever earn,” Moore says. “I was too afraid to take his advice at the time, but recently I bought a minivan… I embraced my dad’s advice and got a great price on the car I wanted.”
What’s the financial lesson you’re most grateful for? Tell us in the comments below.