In her 1983 song of the same name, Donna Summer said, “She works hard for the money.”
While singing with Donna and dancing awkwardly, I thought about this statement and asked myself: if I work hard for money, does my money work hard for me?
This question has been on my mind recently, and it’s a question that I hope all women will ask themselves.
Now in my forties, I’m more money savvy; however, as a kid of the 80s, my early ideas about money were influenced by the excess and materialism that defined the decade.
In other words, I loved buying stuff. In college and in my early twenties, I lived from paycheck to paycheck. I was focusing on what I wanted right now instead of saving for the future, which seemed so far away. I took a few financial missteps and learned valuable lessons from having to pull myself out of a financial hole or two.
Then I met my husband, Roger, and noticed that he was more focused on saving and less on spending. I watched, learned, and worked to change my financial habits – borrowing money management strategies from Roger, as well as my mom and girlfriends.
I always like to buy things – clothes, shoes, jewelry, books, etc.
Yes, I have worked hard for the money – and continue to do so – but I have also worked hard to identify ways to manage my money and make it work harder for me.
Keep it separate
Roger and I chose not to mix up all of our money when we got married. I learned this system from my mom and stepfather – and it works for us.
We have a common checking account that we use to cover household expenses and into which we both pay 50% of our monthly paychecks. Any excess is transferred to our joint savings account.
In addition, we have our own individual checking, savings, retirement and investment accounts, and we are responsible for our individual bills – student loans, car payments, medical bills, etc. This ensures that we don’t have to ask for permission before making any purchases and neither of us has to take on the other’s debt.
Use credit wisely
Roger and I manage most of our household expenses with a cash back credit card to maximize returns. This only works if you pay the entire balance each month, which we do.
We also earn rewards with our personal credit cards. Because we love to travel, we each have a Marriott credit card that earns points for hotel stays. I saved my points and was able to cover our entire hotel stay for an upcoming 10 day trip to Portugal.
But, again, this only works if you pay off the entire balance each month. I cannot stress this enough.
Start a sinking fund
A sinking fund is a strategic way to save for future expenses. I first got the idea from my friend, Rebecca Arthur, who mentioned that once she paid for her car, she would start paying for a car to save for the next car.
I thought it was a new idea and followed suit. I use my sinking fund to save for specific categories – car, travel, clothing, hair and skin care, gifts, and medical care – and have a set amount automatically transferred to the fund each month. This way I have money set aside for things I know how to buy and / or just for surprises.
Increase your savings over time
When I first opened my Roth IRA, I was only able to deposit about $ 10 per month. The amount seemed insignificant; however, I knew I had to start somewhere. Plus, saving even a little made me think about my long-term financial goals.
Over the years, I have worked to increase this amount by paying off my debts and increasing my salary. I used this same strategy – start small and grow as much as you can – with my emergency savings account, my sinking fund, and now my investment account.
Earlier this year, I started investing with Ellevest (ellevest.com), an online investment company created by women for women. Ellevest also offers financial wellness resources, coaching and more. My monthly contribution is not very large, but I intend to double it next year.
Let’s talk money
A 2015 Fidelity Investments study found that:
- 92% of women want to know more about financial planning.
- 75% want to know more about money and investing.
- 83% want to get more involved in their finances over the next year.
And yet, the majority of respondents feel uncomfortable talking about money with friends or family, as well as with a financial professional.
I understand this reluctance, as I felt embarrassed by my perceived lack of financial literacy. That being said, I think it’s important and empowering for women to talk about money. I’m not suggesting that you spread your account balances or bank account numbers to the world – I’m suggesting that you talk to your savvy friends and family and borrow all the tips and tricks that are right for you.
I wish I had done this more in my youth. If I had, I might already have retired somewhere on a beach!