In a recent Inc. meeting of women business owners in New York, the participants deflected any attempt to get them to say that a woman’s way of running a business was better or worse than a man’s way. But there was one subject on which they didn’t mind admitting they felt a bit behind their male counterparts: Money.
That’s a surprising thing for accomplished women to say, because studies tell us that women actually do better than men (especially single men) at investing, which is among the most complicated money decisions anyone faces. But when you dig deeper, it all ties together. The research, led by two University of California professors Terrance Odean and Brad Barber (you can look it up), found that the reason women did better was that they traded less. And they trade less because they are less confident (or, more precisely, less overconfident) about their investing skills.
But a lack of confidence that is prudent in one aspect of your money life can create problems in others, if it leads you to be passive or paralyzed. So here are five tips to help you run your money with the same authority with which you run your business.
1. Set specific financial goals (use numbers!) and write them down. Whether it is getting to zero debt by 2013, or building a $1million house by 2015, setting written goals is the first step in getting there. Only when you know the number you’re aiming for can you calculating the saving required. Odds are, you have more goals than you can afford all at once, so you have to set priorities, based on how much time you have to reach the goal and how important it is to you.
2a. Don’t get divorced. 2b. Don’t raise slackers. Families can be black holes for money. After many years of helping people manage their money, I’ve come to accept one unhappy truth: Everyone has hang-ups about money. You may not have a clear idea how your husband or partner feels about money, and the ignorance is likely mutual. Talk to your spouse—and to your kids—about money decisions and the money mistakes you made. Don’t let money drive you into those two most expensive of family financial disasters: divorce and financial dependent children.
3. Save like a man. Or better than a man. Statistics show that women save only half of what men save toward retirement. However since you’re likely to live longer than the average man, you actually need to save more, approximately 20% more. A good rule-of-thumb saving target is 12% of a woman’s income vs. 10% for men.
4. Loathe debt. The women (and men) who have paid off all their liabilities by the time they call it quits are the ones who can retire early and enjoy it the most. Calculate how much extra you need to apply monthly to pay off your debt by a specific date such as target retirement age, the year kids go to college, etc. The nut might be less than you think. And if you haven’t refinanced your mortgage in the past few years, what are you waiting for? These are historically low interest rates.
5. In this economy, save for two rainy days. In good economic times, we advise clients keep three to six months’ worth of expenses in safe and secure holdings like CDs or money market funds as an emergency fund. Given today’s crummy economy and tight credit, a more appropriate cushion is double that—six to twelve months.
While all the bad economic news in the media may seem overwhelming, take a deep breath and focus on what you can control. Keep your spending in line with your values and reduce the rest. Following the five steps above will improve your bottom line in 2012 regardless of what happens.
Heather Locus, CPA, CFP contributed to this article