When I was a teenager in the 1980s, “pay at the pump” was not yet an option – drivers had to walk up to the register and prepay for gas. As a teenager, I had to pay for my own gas, and I often paid with the only money I could spare – a $5 bill.
Over two decades and a law degree later, I found myself at a gas station once again looking down at a $5 bill in my hand. It was 2010 and my first week back at work practicing law after having taken the last 10 years off to raise my children.
I was at the start of a divorce and had no confidence that the credit cards in my wallet would work. So in my business suit and high heels, I walked to the attendant and prepaid for gas with a $5 bill – enough to get myself home for dinner with my daughters.
In that humbling moment, I realized I had come full circle.
As I drove home, I felt overwhelmed by how little clarity, confidence, and control I had over my financial life. Then and there, I resolved to do whatever I could to remove that awful weight of uncertainty.
I began studying personal finance at night and on the weekends. Over the course of a few years, I ultimately changed careers to become a financial advisor.
While going through this personal period of transition, I knew I was not alone.
From my experience, I’ve learned that many women go through similar life transitions – times of great change – feeling the same sense of uncertainty as I did. And this is how I discovered my passion in helping women towards achieving financial certainty in their own lives.
Financial uncertainty in times of transition
For many of us, our financial life tends to come into greater focus during a time of transition. For women, there are a multitude of life changes that can create a call to action.
Some examples include:
- Rejoining the workforce after an extended absence
- Divorce or remarriage
- Debilitating or life-changing illness
- Death of a parent, spouse or child
Going through any of these major life changes is incredibly stressful, and that stress can often be compounded by financial uncertainty.
But I strongly believe that women who work to get ahead of the financial literacy curve will be better positioned to navigate these transitions.
The financial literacy gap
Financial literacy is especially important as women begin to accumulate an increasing share of global wealth.
Consider the following statistics:
• Women control approximately 32% of global wealth, according to a 2020 study by the Boston Consulting Group. An earlier study from 2018 by the Credit Suisse Research Institute puts that figure at approximately at 40%.
• Yet, in both advanced and emerging economies, only 30% of women were deemed financially literate, according to a report by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC). Moreover, when presented with a series of financial literacy questions, women were disproportionately more likely than men to select “do not know” rather than taking a risk to answer the question (see p. 5 of report).
• Only 39% of women polled by Willis Towers Watson believe they will have enough money to last 25 years into retirement, as compared to 54% of men.
These findings point to a general lack of confidence among women when it comes to their financial lives.
What are some ways to build financial confidence?
If you’re just starting out in your financial planning journey, the learning curve can seem steep and intimidating (I’ve been there). But don’t let this discourage you!
It’s important to understand that financial literacy isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. It’s an ongoing process, and it’s perfectly fine to start where you are. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become.
I’d like to offer three suggestions to help you get started.
1. Look for ways to tap resources already in your life that you may not have fully utilized
For instance, reach out to your benefits department at work, your insurance agent, and your tax preparer to gain a better understanding of your financial life. If you are married and your spouse is the financial partner, engage your spouse and get involved.
2. Take advantage of financial literacy resources online
There are many ways you can begin the process of educating yourself, seeking information in the format that best suits your learning style. These days, our ability to access information is almost instant. Books, podcasts, websites, social media, TV shows – you name it. A good place to start is the GFLEC website, which has a variety of educational content: https://gflec.org/education/
3. Consider working with a financial advisor
It should come as no surprise that as a Certified Financial Planner™, I believe that working with a financial advisor is the best route to achieving a comprehensive understanding of how the pieces of your financial life fit together.
At Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management, our FinLife® process is designed to provide a 360° experience that starts with identifying your priorities and goals, so we can help you live the life you want. Once you have a financial plan in place, you’ll have a financial quarterback in your corner to help navigate the difficult transitions that life throws at all of us.
As a financial advisor, I’ve spent countless hours with women who are going through major changes in their lives – whether they’re in the midst of a divorce, grieving the loss of a spouse, or struggling to provide care for their elderly parents.
Their stories are many, but those hours are filled with meaning for me. I consider it a privilege to be present during these challenging transitions for my clients.
I encourage every woman reading this article not to wait for a $5-bill moment in your own lives. Instead, begin taking proactive steps to improve your financial literacy as soon as possible. Your future self will thank you.