Statistically, women tend to outlive men. Women also tend to marry men who are older than they are. This sets up a situation where women can end up living on their own for quite a few years. As such, women need to acquire the tools to be able to lead a financially independent life and know how to avoid common mistakes that can jettison any financial plan. Not all of these mistakes only affect women; many men should take these tips to heart as well.
A recent survey presented by Money magazine showed that husbands and wives divvy up money-related tasks along very traditional lines, with men doing most of the big-picture, long-term planning and women managing the day-to-day budgeting and spending.
By distancing themselves from the "big-picture," women struggle understanding what assets they own and, in many cases, where those assets are located.
I spend a lot of time with widows and divorced women, trying to piece together their financial situations. They may bring an old brokerage statement or insurance policy, and we have to try and see if those accounts or policies still exist. Then we have to do some investigative work to see if there is anything else outstanding that the woman may own but is unaware of.
Make sure you know where your family's money is: know where investment and retirement plans are held, and know how much they are worth. It's also important to have the contact information of the family accountant and lawyer handy just in case you need them.
In addition, make sure your name appears on all of your family accounts and investments, either solely or as a joint owner. This establishes your legal right to at least part of these assets if your partner becomes ill or incapacitated, or if your marriage ends.
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
While you want to buy gifts and give financial help to your children and grandchildren, make sure that these financial outlays are consistent with your budget. Make sure that the first "bill" you pay each month is to yourself.
Try and fund your savings by taking 10 percent of your income and investing that amount. Only after you have added to savings and then met your other obligations should you start to spend money on family members.
STICK TO YOUR GUNS
Many women forgo investing because they feel intimidated by financial advisers who won't take the time to explain investing concepts in detail. "Women need to stop believing that investing is too hard or too complicated," says Prof. Sandra Claflin-Chalton, who teaches economics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. "My experience has been that once women learn the basics, they have excellent instincts and are much better at finance than most men."
While you don't have to become a do-it-yourself investor, take the time to learn the basics of investing so that you can be sure your adviser is really doing what's best for your portfolio.
Make sure you understand not only your investments but also what fees you are paying your adviser. Are you paying on a "per transaction" basis or are you paying an annual fee? If you are paying an annual fee, is it all inclusive or do you still have to pay for transactions?
To my chagrin, there are many advisers who push the envelope and attempt to charge unusually high fees. Unless the client pushes back, they succeed. As they used to say, "A good consumer is an educated consumer." Stick to your guns and make sure your adviser is charging you standard market rates for the service you are getting.
Avoiding these financial pitfalls will put you on the path to financial independence and security.
Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial adviser in the United States and Israel and helps people who open investment accounts in the US.