Susan Edmunds is driven by a desire to boost financial literacy, and help people realise that managing money is not nearly as hard or intimidating as it appears. In her new book ‘Starting Out, Starting Over’ she discusses everything from ditching debt to building savings: from investing to insurance – and all in a language that is easy to understand. And we’ve got an exclusive sneak peek just for you…
Society seems to have a running joke about women and money. Whole movie franchises owe their existence to the stereotype of a young shopaholic maxing out her credit cards before getting bailed out (if she’s lucky) by her indulgent boyfriend. Businesses advertise doormats that say things like “please don’t leave the packages where husband can see them”.
British researched showed that 65 per cent of finance articles in that country defined women as “splurgers” with poor financial judgement, who needed to rein in their spending. For male readers, finance was described as an arena in which they could fight to win, take a punt or “play the game”.
Whether it’s subtle messaging or in-your-face campaigning, society constantly reminds women that they could not possibly actually be good with money.
Let’s start with a reality check
There’s no evidence that women waste more money than men. The bulk of online shopping is now done by men. Sure, they may be buying gadgets and convoluted kitchen implements – if those I know are anything to go by – but that’s not inherently worthier than spending on clothes, shoes or make up.
Women do tend to be more conservative investors than men. But what’s interesting is that when you adjust for the factors that could understandably make people less willing to lose money – things like earning less and having more concerns about future employment prospects – those differences diminish.
What is true is that women face more challenges.
We are paid less on average, tend to take more time out of the workforce to look after other people (family, primarily) and our careers are often the ones that take a back seat when we have children.
We also tend to be left worse-off after a marriage break-up, regardless of how the income was distributed during the relationship and then, to top it all off, we live longer than men, so we have a longer retirement to prepare for.
All these challenges make it that extra bit more important that we know what we are doing when it comes to dealing with our money.
Switch up your thinking
I’m not going to tell you to sit around visualising money in your hand or telling yourself that it loves you, or even that you deserve it. To put it politely, I don’t think that works.
But how you think about money more generally can make a huge difference. Research by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission found more than half of women under 25 thought dealing with money was stressful and overwhelming.
The first thing to do is ditch your negative thought patterns.
Stop telling yourself you’re not good with money and realise that you can be good at managing your finances in the same way that you can learn to be good at pretty much anything else.
Being good with money is not a type of secret club that only people with expensive degrees who got good marks in maths can enter. I failed secondary school maths when I was 15 and haven’t done a single class in it since. I can still hold my own working as a personal finance journalist – I get the concepts and I understand how it works. I just make sure I have my calculator handy at all times.
The secret is this: no matter how difficult some people make money and investing sound, the concepts are all relatively simple once you get the hang of them. But as long as you have decided you sit firmly in the “not good with money” camp, you will be stuck there.
What’s stopping you?
If you’re like a lot of women, you might arrive at this point in the book and think something like: “Sure, other women can sort themselves out, but that’ll never work for me. I’ve got this to worry about or that commitment to deal with. Or I’m stuck in a job that’s not paying a lot of money.”
Women are particularly good at throwing out little mental anchors that slow them down on the way to success.
What stops you from embracing it? Women often want to be seen to be doing good in the world, or aspiring to great acts of charity, rather than to be doing well in terms of money.
Realise it’s not an either/or situation. You have a right to be concerned with your own circumstances, and getting them under control will enable you to better help others, too, if that’s what you want to do.
Lots of women think the only way to make more money is to work more and longer hours. For lots of reasons, including the fact we often take on the bulk of the care in society, this doesn’t work for lots of us. Don’t worry. You can better your situation without pulling 80-hour work weeks and never seeing your friends and family again.
If you’re uncomfortable with the concept of money it can be hard to have the conversations you need to. Many women work for nothing – or earn far less than they deserve – because they find it too awkward to bring up the subject.
Start talking about financial concepts with your friends and family. You can do this in the abstract at first, about other people and broad concepts, so that when it comes down to having to talk about your own finances in a higher-pressure situation, you’re comfortable with the words and phrases you’ll need.
There a lot of common excuses that women roll out about why our finances are in a mess.
I don’t have a “money brain”: I’m pretty sure I don’t have a “vacuuming brain” or a “cleaning the bathroom brain”, but I’ve had to learn (sort of).
I’ve left it too late: Starting to get sorted later in life comes with some challenges but no matter how old you are, the person that you’ll be in 10 years’ time will thank you for starting now.
I don’t earn enough: It’s not how much you earn that matters, but how much you spend.
I don’t have time in the day-to-day grind: After the initial work involved in getting organised, it requires less time and effort to operate your finances well than it does to leave them in disarray.
What’s your money type?
Type A: Money is boring, and I can’t be bothered.
You think of money as numbers on a page and bills to be paid. You cannot muster enough enthusiasm for your finances to care whether you have the best interest rate possible on your mortgages or whether you are saving enough to reach a goal. Provided you have enough to cover the rent and food, and the occasional thing that takes your fancy at the shops, you are happy.
Type B: Spending money is too much fun.
Some are hooked on retail therapy in a way that is pretty hard to shake. You assume getting your finances in order would mean giving that up – and that’s just not a prospect that is worth considering. What good is money if you can’t enjoy it, anyway? This can particularly be a problem when you fall into a pattern of spending a certain amount of money and are used to being able to buy what you want, but then something happens to make your income drop. Invariably, your spending does not. It can also be an issue if you spend a lot of time with people who have more money to throw around than you do – especially if they expose you to lots of expensive, tempting things.
Type C: I don’t know enough about money to be good at it.
Sometimes, people who work in fields such as investment, property and banking talk in a language that is confusing – and sometimes just nonsensical – to everyone else. This leads many to the mistaken belief that you cannot be “good with money” because it’s a specialist topic that few people are smart enough to understand. Sometimes this belief is handed down from parents to their kids so entire families think that they cannot possibly come to grips with their finances.
Type D: My goals are so impossible to achieve that it’s not worth even trying.
If you are trying to buy a house, or have dreams of retiring at 35, you may fall into this camp. The things you want to save for seem so out of reach that it is almost pointless putting any effort in. But even if you do not achieve your big goal in the short-term, getting better at managing your money will give you a lot of other benefits virtually immediately, and will help you get a lot closer to your biggest ambitions.
Type E: It just always seems to leak away.
You earn a decent salary but still find it hard to make your money last from one payday to the next. Even if on paper it seems as if you should be quite comfortable, over the course of a month, the cash just gets swallowed up by a lot of little purchases. Often you have savings goals but end up having to put the big expenses on a credit card, or hire purchase, which is expensive. Although this is a common problem, it is probably the easiest to fix.
Whatever type you are, the good news is that you can get out of it – and it won’t mean sacrificing your takeaway coffees or retail therapy. If you’re not sure, take this quiz to start thinking about your own financial personality – get those in your household to do it, too. You might be surprised at their results.
When you have money in the bank, how does that make you feel?
A. Don’t care – I don’t check my balance regularly, anyway
B. Keen to go shopping
D. Wistful – it’s still never enough to get what I want
E. Happy – there’s a lot of automatic payments due to come out this week
If you won $100,000 tomorrow, what would you do?
A. Buy things for others, splash out on having fun
B. Go shopping
C. Freak out – what am I meant to do with that?
D. Put it towards a big goal
E. Have ambitions of doing something great but find it spends itself
When you spend money on yourself, how does it make you feel?
A. Fine – that’s what it’s there for, right?
D. Resigned – I was never going to get the house deposit together, so why not buy a few coffees and enjoy it?
E. I don’t even notice
What do you think the primary purpose of money is?
B. To enjoy
C. To make some people rich and keep others poor
D. To get ahead
E. To pay for the necessities of daily life
Tally up your answers to see whether you’re more type A, B, C, D or E.
Get going for your goals
There’s no point just deciding that you’d like to get a bit better at this whole money thing. But as with any goal-setting, the key is not just to make any old goals. You must make goals that you can actually achieve.
Save more money? No. Not a good goal.
Save $100 a month? Yes.
Spend less? No. Try again.
Take a coffee from home each morning instead of buying it on the way to work? Yes.
What do you really want to spend your money on? A holiday, a home? Do you feel you waste too much money, or you have debt that is weighing you down? Or do you just want to set up better habits so that your kids grow up seeing their mother in control and not worried about living payday to payday?
For tangible tips and advice on how to achieve your money goals, pick up a copy of Starting Out Starting Over, New Holland Publishers RRP $29.99 – available from all good book retailers or online