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Top advice for women - Take control of your finances!

3 August 2017
4 minute read

Woman sitting with partner

I convinced myself that my husband knew better when it came to our finances

Picture this. I held three post-graduate financial qualifications, had over a decade of work experience in insurance, stockbroking and investments and had advised some of the wealthiest families on their investments. Yet I somehow convinced myself that I could not read a bank statement and that my husband knew better when it came to our finances. I had all the theoretical knowledge but could not put it into practise for myself. I am not alone:

  • Almost 1 in 3 women believe that men are better at handling financial matters than women are.
  • 65% of men agreed with the statement!
    (Source: The Old Mutual Savings Monitor (2012) - one of the few surveys that have studied the attitudes of South African women towards money).

You might be wondering, if a financial guru cannot get this right, how on earth can I? However, I am proof that it is not only about financial knowledge as much as it is about our relationship with money and our attitudes towards it.

What is it about our relationship with money that stumps us? Consider these three points:

1. How we were raised mattersI grew up in a very traditional home. My mom ran the home and took care of us. My dad was the breadwinner and took care of all the financial matters. I was looking for a partner to take care of me in the same way. Many women have this picture – a sort of ‘Cinderella’ idyll. You want to feel safe and secure - taken care of. You want someone else to take the responsibility for the hard stuff. You want the prince on the horse to make it all happen.

You may think that we have come a long way, that women now take care of themselves. However, I find that even professional women and self-made entrepreneurs have little appetite for taking care of their personal finances. In so many cases, they still outsource it to their spouses or financial advisors. I see them in my office regularly - the self-made millionaire shifting all their financial matters across the table to make it all happen and be taken care of by someone else.

A good exercise is to write down all the money messages you’ve received over time. If you think about how you manage your money now, you’ll notice that many of those messages stuck. If so, are they helpful, and should you

2. Get familiar with your moneyWhy is it that we women do not, in general, talk about money or learn about the world of money? We don’t discuss the stock market at braais or have a natural curiosity about financial matters. I blame the financial industry for talking to women in ways that simply alienate us. Putting pink branding on products designed primarily for men, and then marketing them to women, also does not help.

However, we cannot shift the blame. It’s time that our attitudes to our personal finances match our attitudes towards our careers and the rest of our lives. Just as we need to learn about our bodies, we need to learn about and take control of our money.

There is another element to our distant relationships with money. It feeds our insecurity. A 2006 survey by Alliance Capital found that nine out of ten women felt financially insecure. This insecurity seemed uncorrelated to the level of income or total wealth of the women surveyed. It seems like a primal fear.

One proven way to overcome this insecurity is to get clarity around the facts. When you know your situation, even if it is bad, at least you can make a plan. If you do not know, you just continue to fear!

Research indicates that women find it difficult to make time to look after their money. Women still spend more time organising their households and caring for their families, despite the majority of us who now work outside the home. We leave very little time for ourselves and even less time for our money.

It’s not easy, even for me, even now, to sit down and familiarise myself with my personal finances. It’s the last thing I feel like when I have worked hard and taken care of my family. However, it’s the first step to being responsible for my own finances, and not relying on others to manage my money and my future.

3. What is your money for?If those numbers on your investment report leave you cold, you are not alone. As women, we tend to see our money not as the object, but as a tool to reach the goals of our lives – the means by which we attain education for our kids, health care for our families, the retirement we dream of, or the security we need.

This can work to your advantage. If you can think about your money in these terms, it may spur you on to do something about it. I grew up on a farm in the Karoo where I watched the gardener water the vegetable and fruit garden. Around the garden, there were little cement channels separated by small sluice gates. He would channel the water to the dry areas by opening and closing the sluice gates. Years ago, when I first started planning my own business, I put a plan together to channel money into my dream project. Every month before anything else was paid, I put money into an investment account for this purpose. Now I look back and I know that if it had not been for that fund, I would never have been able to start my business.

If you are avoiding looking at your bank statement, or reviewing your investments, ask yourself the question. “What is the money for?” Perhaps the answer will inspire you to get stuck into your money matters.

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