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Remember Helen Reddy’s pop hit in the early ‘70s, “I Am Woman”? It’s apparent that in the 40 years since that song topped the Billboard charts, many women have found not only their “roar,” but their roles in forging their own financial destinies.
A recent Prudential study, Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women, found that 95% of women are involved in their households’ decision-making about investment and financial-related matters. In fact, almost a quarter of women say they’re the primary decision-makers in these areas.
Women take control
Fueled most recently by economic events—the recession and market plunge, for example—many women have reflected on their need to be proactive, and have seized control of everyday financial decisions. The study found that the vast majority of women own and understand such products as savings and checking accounts, workplace retirement accounts like 401(k)s, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), and life insurance. While the economic difficulties of the past few years caused many women to be more cautious and conservative with their money, over half are still optimistic about their economic outlook and their ability to recover from recent setbacks such as the loss in value of their retirement savings.
Knowledge and confidence still lacking
Still, while their involvement in everyday financial decision-making has increased, the study also revealed that women felt they lacked knowledge about sophisticated financial products, such as mutual funds, annuities, and individual securities, causing a decided lack of confidence in making sound financial choices about those products independently. In fact, half of all respondents said they needed help, and a third said they needed “a lot of help,” in choosing the financial products that will meet their needs.
In addition, while many women recognize the need for a financial plan to meet goals such as saving for retirement and their kids’ education, the truth is that few have one. Only a third of all women—and 10% of younger women age 25 to 34—have a detailed financial plan. According to the study, many women cited as reasons: a lack of time, the pull to meet shorter-term financial obligations, a lack of knowledge, and an unmet desire for assistance and help.
All of that hasn’t squashed women’s desire for education and guidance, however. And it’s clear that in the 10 years since the study was first conducted, women have made great strides in a number of areas. Clearly, their long-term financial health has become a top priority, and women are resolute in their desire to learn more, understand more, and control more when it comes to their finances.
To read the results of the Prudential study in their entirety, visit Prudential.com/Women.
Women and Money
These startling statistics demonstrate the need for women to take an active role in managing the money they earn. And apparently, they’re beginning to do so. A recent study showed that for the first time, a majority of women manages the checkbook, pays the bills, develops the family budget, and decides where the family banks.
So where do women still need to make strides? The women of Millbury Savings Bank have some advice.
If you don’t already, make sure you know how to balance your checkbook, make contributions to your IRA, and locate important bills and financial records. “Many women—particularly older women—have let their husbands take care of such things all their lives,” says Joanne Ryan, Millbury Savings’ mortgage officer. “Unfortunately, when something tragic happens to their husbands, these women find themselves bewildered and vulnerable.”
Take control and then take responsibility. “Taking care of your financial health is a lot like taking care of your physical health,” says Robin Boucher, the bank’s information technology officer. “Ignore it, and sooner or later it’ll catch up with you.” Even when women have the knowledge, many lack the confidence or determination to seize control of their financial destiny now, hurting them in the long run. But developing that strength and sense of personal accountability is critical.
Set goals and have a plan. Take the time to think about and write down what your financial goals are—for example, how much you want to save for a down payment on a home or for your retirement—and put together a step-by-step plan and timeframe for meeting them. “For example, make up a monthly bill, payable to yourself, so that you’re requiring yourself to put money in your savings account every month,” suggests Kristin McCarthy, the bank’s customer service representative. “Even a little at a time will help you reach your goals.”