Personal Finance for Women

Women face some unique personal finance challenges -- here's how to manage your money, survive divorce or widowhood, and plan for retirement.

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Though men and women are more similar than different when it comes to managing money, there are a handful of personal finance challenges that are unique to women. From staying on top of your personal finance situation (whether you are single or partnered) to surviving a divorce or the death of your spouse to planning for a longer life, women should learn how to prepare for a financially secure future.

Be Actively Involved in Your Finances

Studies reveal that many women are insecure about managing money. Many others are too willing to take a backseat approach to their finances, allowing someone else -- a husband, partner, or parent -- to take control. Whatever your age, marital status, or level of financial knowledge, you can't afford to remain in the dark about your money. Here's how to take charge.

Take a Hands-on Approach

One of the greatest threats to your financial well being, particularly when you're part of a couple, is not being directly involved in financial tasks and the decision-making process. Some of the things that can happen when a woman is uninvolved in the couple's finances include finding out after her partner leaves or dies that she is deeply in debt or that savings are inadequate to sustain her in retirement. In an acrimonious split, an estranged spouse or partner could drain accounts before you could find them.

It's crucial that all women who are part of a couple know at least:

  • what your joint assets are and where you have accounts
  • what your joint debts are
  • whether or not bills are current (being paid on time)
  • whether or not you are behind on filing your tax returns or paying taxes
  • what insurance policies you have
  • where important financial records are kept
  • where your safe deposit box and key are, and
  • the user names and passwords for online or phone access to your accounts.

If someone is currently managing your money, insist on being included in all financial activities and decisions.

Expand Your Knowledge

If you're avoiding the things you should be doing -- budgeting, shopping for better interest rates, and investing, for example -- because you don't feel like you know how to manage your money, make it your goal to learn.

Here are some ways to gain financial planning knowledge:

Read articles and books. There are enough books on personal finance to fill a small library. Make your first books ones that give a broad overview of personal finance, such as Personal Finance for Dummies, by Eric Tyson (Wiley), and The Busy Family's Guide to Money, by Sandra Block, Kathy Chu, and John Waggoner (Nolo).

Include in your reading list some books that are both informative and inspirational, such as Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny, by Suze Orman (Spiegel & Grau). Once you have an understanding of the basics of personal finance, move on to books devoted to a single topic, such as insurance, investing, or retirement planning.

Visit websites. Reputable personal finance and investing sites typically provide free information. Sites such as www.Bankrate.com and The Motley Fool, at www.fool.com, offer visitors a huge collection of information, much of it geared toward those new to personal finance and investing. MyMoney.gov, at www.mymoney.gov, links visitors to hundreds of finance-related sites. There are also a number of personal finance blogs, whose authors give the subject a personal touch. Find them by doing an online search for "personal finance blogs."

Request free information. All or most credit unions and investment companies offer members and prospective investors educational materials. Nonprofit credit counseling services also provide materials on budgeting, debt management, and saving. (Counseling is typically free. Visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, at www.nfcc.org, to find a counseling agency.) If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, the plan administrator should be able to provide you with information on investing and retirement planning.

Take a class. Community colleges and university extensions sometimes offer personal finance classes. Credit counseling agencies typically offer free money management classes; if the agency is also a HUD-certified housing counseling agency, they are likely to offer first-time home buyer classes, too.

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