If you’re a woman and have been worried about finances lately, you’re not alone.
More than 60% of working women said they had to make changes due to a financial strain related to the pandemic, according to a 2021 survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
Combine that with the fact that women are more likely to take time out of the workforce to shoulder caregiver responsibilities — plus that little matter of equal pay — and it’s clear why your personal money struggles as a woman may seem more daunting.
The fact is, taking care of your own financial house can end up on the bottom of multiple to-do lists. And the consequences become apparent at stressful times — if you’re about to have a child, you’re getting a divorce or you’re ready to retire.
But today is going to be different — we’re going to set our course and take control of our financial destiny. Here’s how to get started.
Women and Money: Four Smart Moves to Make Today
Regardless of your age, employment or relationship status, making time to prioritize your own finances is essential to your future. Here are four smart money moves you can make today.
1. Know Your Credit Score (or How to Get One)
Knowledge is power, right? So finding out your credit score can strengthen your ability to take control of your finances.
The score is an indicator to lenders of how good you are at managing money and repaying debt. If your score is low, you’ll pay higher interest rates and may have difficulty obtaining credit and loans.
Your credit score is based on credit bureau reports, so you should check yours for errors — you can get the reports for free at annualcreditreport.com. Ordinarily, you’re only entitled to one free report per year from each bureau, but due to the pandemic, you can receive a free credit report every week through April.
There are actually a few credit score models, but FICO is the most common. You can find out your FICO Score for free at freecreditscore.com, and many banks and credit card companies offer this service to its customers.
If your score is lower than you’d like it to be, we have plenty of tips for improving your credit score.
But if you’ve never opened a line of credit — or let your better half open all accounts in their name — you may have no credit score at all.
Even if you’ve never considered yourself “good with money,” Certified Financial Planner Hali Browne London emphasized that it’s important to establish your own credit history.
“Sometimes people say, ‘I don’t have a credit card because I don’t want to put myself in that situation’,” she said. “And while that’s a very admirable approach to it, it can come back to bite you because having a credit history is important.”
Establishing a credit history doesn’t necessarily require big changes in your life. London suggested taking the following first steps if you don’t have a credit score:
- Apply for a secured credit card in your name — you’ll need to put a cash deposit down, which will essentially act as your credit limit.
- Put one monthly subscription service, like Netflix, on the card that you know you can cover every month.
- Set yourself a reminder to pay off the balance in full every month.
If you’re part of a couple, London suggested also transferring at least one monthly bill — such as the electricity or internet — to your name to further establish a history of on-time payments.
2. Negotiate Your Salary and Your Benefits
If you heard anything in the news about women and money, it’s probably that we don’t earn as much as our male counterparts.
In fact, for every dollar a male full-time wage or salary worker earned in 2020, women made 82 cents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are plenty of contributing factors to this phenomenon, but don’t let one of them be that you never asked.
Negotiating your salary can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it. Following these four steps is a good start:
- Research salaries for your role. You can look up salary information on websites like Dice, Robert Half and Payscale.
- Know your work’s worth. To figure this number, keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments and contributions, then quantify them.
- Plan your thresholds. Set your aspirational salary, the amount you foresee agreeing to and the minimum amount you’ll accept.
- Practice the negotiation conversation. Ask a trusted friend or family member to rehearse the conversation, and let them make it difficult by challenging your assertions.
Sometimes, though, it’s about more than money. If you’re a younger worker who’d prefer professional development opportunities or a mom who needs a flexible schedule, you can negotiate benefits, too.
Benefits are more than just add-ons and fun perks — they account for more than 30% of an employee’s total compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Negotiating benefits includes a lot of the same tactics that are required for salary, so go in armed with facts. That’s what this woman did when she negotiated for nine additional vacation days, plus her birthday off, plus work-from-home flexibility.
3. Tackle Your Student Loans
If you’ve enjoyed the break from student loan payments thanks to the CARES Act, reconsider this as an opportunity to get ahead on your loans instead.
The administrative forbearance period is set to end May 1, but you can still take advantage of this 0% interest payment suspension to put a dent in your student loan balance.
Women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States, according to the American Association of University Women. And it takes women about two years longer to repay their student loans.
Why? For one, see that whole gender pay gap in the previous section. But women also often take on caregiver roles — whether it’s staying home with an infant or caring for family members, which can negatively affect their earnings.
If you’re prepared to start tackling your debt, we have strategies for paying off student loans this year.
4. Save for Your Retirement
Want to know one area where women have an advantage over men? Life expectancy.
Don’t break out the champagne just yet — that means we also need more money to cover those additional years of retirement.
Unfortunately, we aren’t saving nearly enough. In fact, women report having less than half of the total household retirement savings compared to men, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
That discrepancy, again, is partially attributable to the pay gap, but women who are out of the workforce or only working part time to care for family members typically lose out on benefits like investing in an employee-sponsored 401(k).
If you do work for an employer who offers a 401(k), now would be a good time to check if you could start contributing more to the account — even a percentage or two can make a big difference when you figure the compound interest you’ll earn on those savings.
Don’t have an employer-sponsored plan? Take control of your retirement planning by opening an Individual Retirement Account or IRA. The most popular types are the traditional IRA and Roth IRA — both shelter you from certain kinds of taxes to help you hold onto more of your money for retirement.
Additionally, if you’re on a high-deductible health care plan with a Health Savings Account, consider upping your pre-tax contribution. The money you invest in an HSA can be used to cover medical expenses even if you switch to another health care plan later — and throughout your retirement.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.