For those of us who remember Leave It To Beaver, the old American stereotype was that men controlled the money. Well, the new stereotype may be the exact opposite.
In fact, by 2030, women are slated to control a full two-thirds of America’s wealth. That’s why Jean Chatzky, longtime Today Show financial expert, has written her new book Women With Money. Its core message: Get used to it, and fast.
Because with great financial power comes great responsibility: how to manage money, save it, deploy it, and create a lasting legacy for you and your family. We sat down with Chatzky to talk about how women can navigate the bumpy road to retirement.
It’s been more than 10 years since your book Make Money, Not Excuses. Why this approach, and why now?
The balance of power is shifting. Because of demographic changes, education, inheritances, and longevity, we are heading towards more and more financial power in the hands of women. But we still do not feel comfortable and in control when it comes to managing it. So with this book I try to figure out what we really want from this money, and how to make the most of this opportunity.
Can people still rewrite their “money story,” even in middle age?
Yes, but you have to know what your money story is. You can’t rewrite your history; it is what it is. But you can understand why you react in certain ways, and then when you see that and understand your feelings a little better, you can change it. But when your behavior is unconscious, it’s hard to change anything.
Do younger and older women differ, in how they understand and handle money?
I find that younger women are more open and transparent about it. They have to deal with a lot of issues as young adults, like student debt, and they talk about it as a way to find solutions.
Older women are not as open, because they have accumulated years of baggage, and have been told their whole lives not to talk about it.
But the script starts to flip when you start earning significant money for yourselves and your family. By that point a lot of us are handling our own investments, and you start to feel more empowered.
After you get a grip on your own money story, how do you understand a partner’s?
That’s almost as important as understanding your own. It is easy to get frustrated with your partner’s behavior—maybe they are fearful about money, or maybe they take too many risks. Both of you have to take a step back, and see that you are probably behaving like that for a number of different reasons.
Then things can start to shift, and you can reach your joint goals less emotionally. But one thing that is crucial, is that you have to give each other some autonomy. If you are constantly asking each other for permission to handle small amounts of money, it starts to feel parental. And that’s not good for the relationship.
By their 50s many people have adult children, so what money advice do you have for them?
Transparency is key. Providing financial help for adult kids is something many of us do, but there should be a map laid out. You should be trying to get your kids to the point where they can handle everything on their own.
That might mean sitting down and helping them with budgeting, or it might mean charting a path towards pulling back support. But there shouldn’t be any surprises, because that’s how relationships get messed up.
At the same time, people are often supporting elderly parents. How can you juggle all that successfully?
Here we are trying to save and invest for our own retirement, and getting our kids through college, and then our parents may start struggling with health or finances. It’s problematic, because by that point they can’t earn any more money, so you have to step up. So talk to your parents and your siblings, and understand what they’ve really got, because all of us are living so much longer.
Women have a harder road to retirement than men, because of the pay gap and longer lifespans. How do you help women cope with that reality?
There is nothing fair about it, so we just have to tackle the pay gap one woman at a time. Be your own best advocate, understand what you are worth, go after higher salaries, and be willing to change jobs in order to get a pay boost.
And then if you are successful, don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. Getting paid is good—and getting paid more is even better.
People in midlife start thinking seriously about their legacy. What tips do you have for them?
If I die in my 80s, and I just leave everything in my will, my kids would be in their 60s before they get any money. Would they even need it at that point? Maybe it would be better to help my kids launch a business, or with a down payment for a house. A lot of people give posthumously, but doing it while you’re alive can have a big impact, and feels much more meaningful to me.
What do you want women to take away from this book?
If you ask women what they want, they always say: Safety, security, stability. As a result, we tend to keep way too much cash in the bank. The irony is that your need for safety gets in the way of true financial security, because that money needs to be in the stock market. It’s earning almost nothing in the bank, so it needs to be invested for the long term, or it’s just not doing you any good.