Women have long been depicted in society as spendthrifts, with the image of a woman who is “born to shop” permeating modern culture. Just think of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, strolling down New York’s Fifth Avenue, laden with shopping bags.
While women have long contributed to our economy as spenders, a more obscure reality is that their role as economic drivers goes beyond pulling purse strings.
Case in point: The share of breadwinning mothers — or co-breadwinning mothers —has doubled since 1967, and is starting to be more of the norm, according to The Center for American Progress. In the realm of homeownership, women outpace their male counterparts.
And while women have been hit hard financially due to the pandemic, they’re still predicted to take the reins on more than $30 trillion in household assets by 2030. And if it weren’t for the increase in working women, which accounted for 91% of the grand sum of income gain for their families, middle-class incomes would’ve remained flat for the last few decades.
What’s working against women’s finances
While women have contributed in a number of ways economically to society and their households, there’s a lot stacked against them to ensure their own financial stability. In short, women are still tasked with the majority of childcare and household duties. This can make it harder for them to have time to increase their earning potential.
Further, the gender wage and wealth gaps persist. Women earn 82 cents to every dollar a man makes. And the wealth gap is even wider: Women have only 32% of the wealth of their male equivalents.
Women in the U.S. tend to be more educated than men. In turn, they have greater student loan debt. They’re burdened with two-thirds of the U.S.’s $1.54 trillion debt. While women’s income and net worth is lower, they also live longer.
While there are certainly a lot of hurdles, women can take small steps to improve their economic well-being. Here are a few:
Be more proactive with your money decisions. Women may be more anxious about their finances and might feel less confident about making money decisions, says financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podkin, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Women may want to ‘do money right’ and feel like they will make a money mistake,” she says. “In turn, they may procrastinate when taking necessary financial steps.”
Prioritize your financial needs. As financial experts and popular personal finance say: Put on your financial oxygen mask first. Bryan-Podkin points out that women are typically socialized to be givers, caretakers, and to put our needs last.
“That’s a hard message to undo when it comes to our finances,” says Bryan-Podkin, who is the founder of financial blog Mind Money Balance. “Often, we are thinking about paying our bills, sending our pets to the vet, or buying our children new clothes before we consider what we need to thrive financially.”
Bolster your emergency fund. Women are likely to say they have a harder time than men making ends meet, according to some studies. Further, the fact that the pandemic has hit women harder financially means that they are more vulnerable.
The first place to take control of your situation is an emergency fund, says Marie Thomasson, a certified financial planner and founder of Modern Assets, a financial planning firm for progressive women, based in Culver City, California. “That might be $500 or $50,000, but that’s the first tool in your financial safety kit,” Thomasson says. “Set a number that is meaningful to you, and do whatever it takes to have that money set aside for true emergencies.”
Start investing. Along the same lines, consider investing. If you stick with investing over time time, the average rate of “real” returns (or returns after inflation has been factored in) is 6% to 7%1. If you don’t have a ton to start, you can open an account with Stash with as little as $5.
Consider asking for more child support. If you’re divorced with kids, and your situation has changed, you can potentially ask for more child support. You can typically change an existing court-mandated child support order in one of two ways: by a verbal agreement, or by going to court and requesting changes.
Usually the amount of child support one can receive depends on several factors: how much income from the parent is available for child support, childcare and healthcare costs, and how much time each parent spends with the child. You might be able to request a change to either the amount of child support you receive or how much time you have the kids if you’ve suffered a loss of income due to the pandemic, or you’ve taken more time off in recent months to care for children. Note: The rules largely depend on the state in which you live, according to legal sources.
Explore ways to increase your income potential. Thomasson recommends assessing your skills and to start planning for your education. Ask yourself questions like: What skills can I pick up from online courses that will enable me to create more flexible, higher paid work? What are my soft skills and how does that translate into resume bullet points?
Depending on your role at your job or your industry, learning a new skill or pursuing a certification could lead to higher income. The top certifications with potential for boosting your salary include the following professions: actuary, school psychologist, logistics coordinator, and lab supervisor, according to the career website Monster. And if you’re considering a professional change to earn more money, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the fastest-growing occupations in the next decade include nurse practitioners, occupational therapy assistants, and data scientists.
But you can also grow in your current job. Consider having a talk with your higher-up and pinpointing new skills you can learn to add value to your existing role, or that could lead to greater opportunities within the company.
Seek additional help. Women are more often tasked with childcare and housework, which in turn can limit the time they spend earning an income. And that’s especially true with pandemic-related lockdowns. If you’re a working mother, think of ways you can enlist the help of those you interact with on a regular basis, suggests Thomasson. By getting help with childcare or house chores, that could alleviate stress, and can free up more time for you to work more, and in turn make more money, or invest in your career.
For instance, you may be around other overworked mothers who might like to participate in an outdoor playdate or homeschool pod. By sharing kid-watching duties, you might be able to carve out some more time for yourself. You may also have a single relative who might be willing to carve out time for a virtual babysitting session on the weekends.
Educate yourself in a way that works for you. Consider seeking insights and pointers from a financial expert who speaks to you, and absorb money-related content in a format you prefer, suggests Bryan-Podkin.
“Like taking in info passively? Following folks on social media could be a good choice,” she says. “Enjoy learning through podcasts? Subscribe to some money-minded podcasts. Prefer a more standardized approach to a money topic? Register for an online course about money.”
While there’s a lot that stacked up against women achieving financial wellness, there are small steps they can take to work toward that goal. In turn, that could lead to less stress and greater security in the future.