6 Steps for a Woman's Financial Self-Defense

Women account for over 80% of consumer spending, and at the same time elderly women make up over 80% of this country's impoverished. How can that be possible?

As a consumer buyer, it appears as though women are spending their money to satisfy the immediate needs of the household. According to Mindshare/Ogilvy & Mather, women's spending accounts for:

  • 91% of new homes
  • 92% of vacations
  • 93% of food
  • 80% of healthcare
  • 93% of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals

Looking at the above categories, women aren't saving for themselves to ensure their financial survival down the road; they are spending for the present, for their families. And all of this household money that's being spent isn't coming from an overall increase in women's earnings. In terms of employment income, women are still at a disadvantage. On average, women make .78 for every $1 earned by a man.

There was a report out recently from the Pew Research Center proclaiming that over the last forty years women have made great strides in their careers and employment income. In 2009, women were the major breadwinners in 22% of all married couples. Well, it may be true that women are the major breadwinners in more marriages today than in 1970, and that women have made progress in the workplace; however, a significant portion of unemployment over the last 3 years has occurred in the manufacturing and construction sectors — which traditionally have been male-dominated. Yes, a woman may be making more money relative to her spouse, but it's probably because he has lost his job or received a pay cut.

Women make up the majority of the so-called "pink collar" workforce, with jobs that don't have high salaries and frequently little or no benefits, and they are still leaving their jobs and careers during prime wage-earning years to raise children. So women aren't dominating consumer spending because they have a ton of extra dough to spread around. They're taking care of the household and doing the bulk of the family shopping for basic goods. Since most people can't afford to buy luxury or expensive items these days, spending on basics makes up a bigger percentage of overall spending.

The key question is, how can we get you, a woman, to refocus some of this spending power toward your own long-term financial survival? Here are 6 ways to financially defend and save yourself.

1. Change your mindset and realize what's at stake.

Understand that only you are responsible for saving for your own retirement, and recognize that using your money to save for your financial future is just as important as paying for other priority expenses or large household purchases.

2. Take an active role in overseeing the household's monthly budget and cash flow.

Make sure that your financial needs are met, as well as your family's.

3. Create a priority expense line in the monthly budget for "My Retirement Savings."

Have that amount automatically transferred into a retirement savings account.

4. Set up a Non Wage-Earning Spousal IRA.

If you are a stay-at-home mom, your husband has earned income, and he is eligible to set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) for himself, he can set up a Non Wage-Earning Spousal IRA for you, up to the qualified amount ($5000 per person this year and an additional $1000 if you are over 50).

5. Know what you are worth individually.

Have an annual financial check-up: make a list of all assets, including cash, investment, retirement accounts, valuables, real estate, and all debts, individual and joint and keep a file of all monthly account statements as well as IRS returns.

6. Do a yearly review of your progress.

Keep track of your progress toward your long-term goal of financial security. Make adjustments in your big ticket spending and monthly budget to keep up savings and harness the power of compounding. (Use a retirement calculator or compounding chart at Bankrate to see how your savings can grow.)

The three biggest long-term financial goals are buying a home, saving for college tuition, and saving for retirement. You can put off buying a home and rent until you have saved enough to afford it; there is no timetable. A college education can be funded in a variety of ways: grants, scholarships, loans, work-study programs; the money doesn't have to come from you. But, there is only one way to pay for your retirement — you must save for yourself. The clock is definitely ticking, and your long-term financial survival depends on it.

This is a guest post by Hollis Colquhoun. Hollis has over twenty years experience in the financial industry, is an Accredited Financial Counselor and co-author of Women Empowering Themselves: A Financial Survival Guide. Read more articles by Hollis:

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Guest's picture

Are we to believe that men are not spending money on their families? Are the men working, putting the money into a savings account, and telling their spouses to pay for food, clothing, and housing? Are the men mooching off their spouses?

Or are we talking about single women, most of whom have no family (kids) to support? Or are we talking about single women with kids who someone can't get child support from the former spouse/lover?

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

One thing to remember is that women live longer than men on average, so women need to plan for a longer retirement.  Many married women also need to prepare for the case where their husbands die before them. 

Guest's picture

This rings to me as a husband because I want my wife prepared for the future and be knowledgeable about our financial situation. She has a relative that just lost her husband and was totally uninvolved in the finances.

Guest's picture

If anyone else's household is like ours, these women just happen to be the ones spending money on what the whole family is using, including the men. (Mom shops for groceries, Mom takes kids to the doctor and buys prescriptions) Is this adjusted to account for that?

Guest's picture

The statistic that women control over 80% of U.S. consumer spending doesn't say anything about where the income comes from. In most cases, women and men or whoever has the paycheck contributes part or all of the money to a household account to pay for basic expenses. As you mentioned, women are usually the ones buying food, medicines, clothing for children, household goods, etc. That is certainly a big reason for the all of the above statistics.

Guest's picture

Here's a quickie example from my own life that I think illustrates what happens on a small scale. If I have extra money, my money to spend as I wish, probably about 50% of it is actually spent on my kids, my family and my husband. My husband on the other hand will spend his extra money on "his" stuff. Sometimes it becomes community/family used items, but usually not.

Now, that's not to say my husband is selfish or only thinks of himself. Our own extra money is just that, our own fund to spend. It's more that I like to spend money on others and it comes more naturally. Maybe it's part of my nurturing tendencies as a woman. Of course, the issue is if this consistently happens, I sometimes find I don't have enough money to meet some minor "needs" for myself. Sure, my husband will say "Well, you didn't have to buy x, y, or z for so-and-so." And that is true. So I have to decided more consciously what I'm giving up for myself to get something for someone else.

Money to live on in the future, during retirement or if God forbid a divorce, is NOT something I want to give up! So, yes, we (as a couple) have had to make sure that we're feeding into our own separate retirement accounts, especially as neither of us have employer sponsored plans.

Guest's picture

It's so incredibly important to have savings in your own name. Even if you wind up inheriting your spouse's savings, or winning part of them in a divorce settlement, those legal processes take time. In the mean time, what will you live off of if you can't work, need to re-locate, etc?

Guest's picture
Bobby M

Great read…..the information is poignant very interesting please keep them coming !!