March 8, 2013 marks International Women’s Day when the economic, political and social achievements of women will be celebrated all over the world. Traditional gender roles have presented household income from a perspective where women were expected to stay at home and look after children. Economic reality today means that most families must rely on more than one income to achieve even the most basic family goals of educating children, modest living, and planning for ones retirement and estate.
At the 2010 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. where he honoured accomplished women, Barack Obama stated that women, half of America’s workforce, are primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American families. One wonders what Nigerian statistics reveal.
Indeed, women in Nigeria are earning and contributing a significant part of the household income, sometimes even assuming the role of primary earner. This social phenomenon has financial, emotional and psychological implications for both men and women particularly in a patriarchal society with its traditional views.
Traditional role reversals can be disconcerting, and can lead to frustration or resentment as an increased financial burden is placed on women on the one hand and potentially bruised male egos on the other if such issues are not addressed as a partnership in the family setting.
Whilst the general principles of personal financial planning are universal and apply to both genders, women face unique challenges that translate to distinct concerns regarding their earning potential, roles and responsibilities. Women generally have a longer life expectancy and are more likely to live alone for significant periods of time. Workforce participation can be intermittent, and the care of dependents, children and aged parents, usually falls on women.
Suze Orman in “Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny,” illustrated what she termed “dysfunctional scenarios” thus:
– A successful working woman who contributes a sizeable portion – in many cases the majority – of family income, but delegates all financial responsibility and decision-making to her spouse or partner.
– A stay-at-home mum or nonworking spouse who relies on an “allowance” from her husband who controls all money matters.
– A wife, sister, who is talented and accomplished in her career, but is constantly frustrated at being passed over for a promotion or not earning what her male counterparts are earning.
– A grandmother or aunt who doesn’t know much about money or about the family finances. If anything happens to her husband she could be in dire straights.
Whatever your age, or stage and whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, consider the following issues:
Whilst delegating responsibility might be important for the dynamics of your relationship, having little or no involvement can put you at risk and render you ill equipped to handle unfortunate life events such as sudden job loss, divorce, serious illness or death of a spouse. Many women have no idea where financial records are, or find that they are broke or deeply in debt.
Prioritize short, medium and long-term goals assigning them values and target dates. These may include, reducing debt, purchasing a car, a new home, building a educational trust, or funding your retirement.
Create a budget and try to stick to it; this will help you to monitor your expenses so you have a clearer idea of where you can cut back and begin to save.
Be in control of your debt particularly the most expensive debt. Avoid debt that is incurred purely for consumption; for clothing, jewelry, or holidays. Debt needn’t be negative; indeed credit can be a most effective tool that helps one create value through well-planned long-term investments such as to fund real estate, finance education or for a business.
Build an emergency fund, a financial cushion to fall back on in difficult times. Six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in a safe, accessible interest bearing account is usually recommended.
Consider investing in stocks through mutual funds. Bear in mind that stock market investments, whilst they have provided higher returns over the long term than the money market, come with greater risk. Spreading your investments across asset classes to mitigate some of the risk.
Your retirement years should be a time for new and exciting opportunities that keep you productive, mentally stimulated and fulfilled. Those who start planning early have a much better chance of retiring in comfort.
Whilst estate planning can be an emotive subject in Nigeria, by considering your own mortality and getting your affairs in order, you have peace of mind and protect your loved ones should anything happen to you. Joint accounts, wills, trusts, gifts and life insurance where your family depends heavily on your income, are some of the available tools.
Reduce the risk of loss using appropriate insurance to protect your assets, your health and your life. Without adequate insurance, an accident, a medical emergency or other disasters could seriously undermine your financial security.
There is no excuse for being totally ignorant about your finances with the plethora of information around you. At a minimum you should have some basic knowledge of the principles and the options available. Seek guidance from an experienced, qualified professional, but remember that ultimately, you are responsible for your finances.