Financial Literacy and a Woman’s Financial Stability

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Can you name all the bank accounts and credit card accounts you and your husband/partner own jointly and individually?

Do you know how much you owe on your mortgage?

Can you say with certainty how much your partner earns, including base salary, bonuses, pension contributions, benefits? Or what your monthly expenses are?

In other words, can you list all of your income, expenses, assets and liabilities?

Unfortunately, far too many women can’t make that kind of list. Many women are less confident than men about their ability to manage their cash flow and debt, their investments and prepare for their retirement. Many simply are not familiar with even the basics of their family finances.

I struggle to understand this, but then I am single, my affairs are relatively simple and as I get older the more resolutely independent I get…. I’ve never understood friends who have to ask their partner for cash for a night out or the pin number for their joint account.

Why do women struggle? Is it because women have been socialised to think they are bad with money, that it’s unfeminine or not our “job”?

I think the issues probably start long before any mutually financially dependent relationships you may get into – and it’s really all to do with learning to be financially literate.

In 2008, President George W. Bush created the first ever President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. That Council defined financial literacy as “the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being.”

“Financial Literacy” – It’s not about luck or about being in the right place at the right time. Instead, it’s about educating yourself and learning how to manage your financial resources.

But how can we do this? It’s not taught in school and it’s not something any teenager is probably that interested in – I certainly didn’t!

I don’t mind admitting its taken some time for me to obtain this ‘financial literacy’ and understanding. Clearly, my training and job has helped… but for the early years of work I still had very little real awareness about money and its impact on my financial well-being.

A lot of this is about your relationship with money. It’s about asking questions and coming up with your own ‘financial plan’ – no matter how simple or complex.

My experience with friends and clients has also shown me that your own financial education must start by being open and honest with your partner and addressing heavy topics, like family history of money and imbalances such as debt, emotional spending, and under-earning.

We need to change the attitude of “my partner sorts all that” or “I’m not interested as long as I have enough to buy my shoes and go on holiday”. Or worst still “I earn less so I can’t ask for that”.

Why? Because it’s just too dangerous to ignore it. We all need our own pension / savings and a level of independence – even of you are in a wonderful loving and ‘equal’ relationship.

As a financial planner I see two scenarios regularly that prove why this is vitally important for women.

  1. A very happy relationship – The relationship is wonderful and you spend many happy years together until the husband/male partner dies (or becomes incapacitated). Then the woman realises she is completely uninformed about any details of her family’s financial affairs. As a result, she feels overwhelmed and emotional and can become an easy mark for unscrupulous con artists/scams – or it’s quite likely she will simply make devastating financial mistakes on her own.
  2. A very unhappy relationship – The marriage / relationship ends and leads to divorce / break up. This is when a woman who has not been involved the family finances finds she is forced into constant catch-up mode, she likely has no idea where to begin, what to look for, what to do. Meanwhile, her husband/partner knows everything and could be hiding assets and setting things up to his advantage. (And who knows? He could have been doing just that for years!)

So, it may be daunting, but it’s really important to have the often daunting “money talk”…. Be this with just yourself so you know where you are and where you want to be; at the start of a relationship or define your mutual goals and ambitions; or even into a well-established marriage, so that you both know you are financially aware of your mutual situation and family finances.

After all, matters of the wallet can be just as important as matters of the heart.

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The importance of downtime (and in my case, naps)

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Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks – ‘downtime’ – increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.

Most working people are preoccupied about their work, tasks, or future to do’s, most of the time they are awake.

Getting enough downtime is even an essential element to maintaining good mental health and ensuring your make the most of you working hours and productivity.

Everyone has different ways of getting ‘downtime’.  It doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, it may be chilling with a film, doing some craft, reading, having a nap, going for a run, having a holiday. Any way you manage to shut off from the everyday ‘noise’ and relax.

I find more and more now I suddenly “blow up” – my brain just can’t take any more in and just need quiet, alone time. This morning I’ve had a lovely day with my parents, Geraldine and Jackson. We’ve been for a walk, had a nice lunch and goooed and gaaaaahed at Jackson. It was lovely and I miss it when I can’t do it, but now, I need some time out and probably a nap!

I am in the privileged position that I can take that time out…. do what I want most of the time. I believe it helps me to be more productive, happy and positive.

I know how much my friend Cerian misses her daytime naps now she has two little girls. I know how much Geraldine and Steve miss watching an entire film without interruption. But they do have little people reliant on them, and who give them great joy and maybe that outweighs the joy of a daytime nap!…

I certainly work much better when I manage to achieve regular breaks and downtime. It’s not so much for me about having several weeks off for long holidays, it’s about getting out in the fresh air, exercise, naps, doing stuff I like that’s not work related and chilling with Basil in front of the TV.

Here’s what I think are the key 3 types of downtime:

Sleep – Solid, good quality sleep gives your brain the possibility to revive itself and the body. It’s an opportunity to incorporate everything you’ve experienced during the day. Some people I know say they can do with only a couple of hours of sleep per night, but I’m most productive, creative and happy when I sleep a solid 7-8 hours’ sleep.

Holiday – A longer period (at least three to five days) of being away from work is a great way to reenergise. By being away from your normal routine, you get the chance to look at your life from a different perspective.

Regular breaks – this is both the smallest and the hardest challenge I think for people day-to-day. It’s those little nuggets of emptiness in your head that come from meditation, a walk in nature, doing some sports or just having a few hours quiet after work at the end of your working day. They sound easy enough, as they are relatively short, but the challenge is in the continuity. Our brain needs this type of downtime several times during the day and this helps us process everything we absorb.

So, I am signing off for some downtime….(or naptime!)