You've seen the statistics on Americans' financial health. The average American is not in great shape: $6,000 per person in credit card debt, $4,900 per person in student loan debt, and 51 percent of all workers who feel they aren't saving enough for retirement.
You also probably know about two other trends: women are living longer than men and divorcing at higher rates. What you may not know is that in 2019, most married women still say their husbands manage their finances. Even more surprisingly, millennial women have their husbands manage their financial futures at higher rates than their mothers. According to a 2017 UBS survey, 61 percent of millennial married women say their husbands manage their finances versus 54 percent of boomers. How do these trends come together?
Each year, there are two million American women who get divorced or widowed. These women grapple with a traumatic life event while trying to figure out the passwords to their investment accounts. In addition, married women are waking up to discover their retirement savings are short of their expectations. In a world of women's marches and the "Future is Female" t-shirts, women should be stepping up to shape their financial futures. For that reason, women should take a financial health day.
What's a financial health day? It's 24-hours where you take the day off work or dedicate a Sunday to writing down the balances of your investment accounts, renegotiating your auto insurance, and deciding if you should roll over that old 401K. A financial health day is not going to magically wipe away your student loans or solve your spending problem, but it can give you a plan for paying off debt or your mortgage three years early.
There is growing consensus on what being financially healthy means: you should maintain a four to six-month emergency fund, carry zero credit card debt, and contribute 10 to 20 percent of your monthly income to a retirement fund. Additional goals, like buying a house or paying for your kids' college, don't come until you have achieved a stable foundation.
Along with knowing what "financial health" means, there is also general agreement among financial experts on the best ways to achieve it:
- Know your money situation. Physically write out your loans (credit cards, auto loans) with their interest rates, and all of your savings (including retirement). Seeing it all in one place will help you figure out your priorities.
- Create money goals. Set multiple goals and prioritize them (you can also fund more than one goal at once). Is it saving for the down payment on a house or becoming debt free?
- Track your spending. Where is your money going? There are budgeting apps from Mint or YNAB to help you keep track. Are there places where you can tweak your spending habits to fund your savings goal? Can you cancel a recurring expense you aren't using? Could you negotiate a better rate on your phone bill?
- Automate to achieve your goals. Set up recurring payments to your debt and savings. Automated monthly transfers from your checking account to your savings goals make sure you aren't as tempted to spend that money. Schedule monthly and yearly calendar alerts to check your spending, rebalance your portfolio, etc. One advanced tip is to enroll in your 401K plan's "save more later" option. This will increase the percentage of your paycheck you put into your 401K annually.
These items seem simple. Yet, why are so few people doing them? It takes a LOT of work to get this money infrastructure set up. At the end of a long day of client meetings, chasing a toddler, or some combo of the two, it's difficult to muster the mental energy to address your finances – especially if you have the option of outsourcing this responsibility to a capable partner. That's where a day dedicated to your financial to-dos will help. You don't need to be solely in charge of your money, but you definitely need to understand the plan.
While we feel that everyone can benefit from a financial health day, the first pHERsonal Finance Day targeted to millennial women is scheduled for August 23. Check out our schedule if you want to get started. If taking a whole day off feels like a long-shot, take this quiz here to help you prioritize your financial to-dos. Whether it's a daily money minute or an appointment with a financial adviser (pick one who is a fiduciary), what are you doing to own your financial future?
Eryn Schultz is the co-founder of pHERsonal Finance Day.