International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th around the world, seeks to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also acts as a catalyst for change when it comes to gender equality. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Each for Equal”.

While the general equality for women is making slow, steady progress, we remain a long way from financial equality. For a variety of reasons, women have generally not been as successful as their male counterparts in terms of earnings and even in our general attitude to money.

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, workforce participation can be intermittent, and the care of dependents, children and aged parents, usually falls on women.

Whatever your age, or stage and whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, here are some steps to take for greater financial equality:

The Gender Pay Gap

It is true that the gender pay gap is slowly closing, but it is still far from where it ought to be. What can you do? Have you ever thought of asking for a pay rise? It is a sad fact that women are much less likely to ask for a pay rise than their male counterparts. It takes courage to ask for a pay rise but it is a conversation that you can and should have; if you are outstanding at your job, and show commitment and reliability in your performance, it may be considered. There is no harm in trying.

The Glass Ceiling

It is great to observe the strides being made with women on boards, yet the numbers are tiny when you consider the number of board positions. Do you put yourself forward for advertised promotions and positions or do you shy away and even feel inadequate? Are you being proactive about developing yourself and the skills that you need to advance in your career? Do you have a mentor? Are you part of a women’s organisation such as WIMBIZ or WISCAR, Professional Women’s Roundtable and others that provide wonderful opportunities for growth, and for you to network and learn from other women who have made considerable progress in their careers, in business and in government? There is significant evidence that companies that promote women to management roles and higher have better results. It has also been proven that gender diversity at the board level translates into better-performing companies.

Establish a budget

Budgeting is one of the most important tools for financial security and equality. Where does your money go? Track your expenses for a month; it will highlight where your money is going. A good budget will help you to monitor your expenses so you have a clearer idea of where you can cut back and begin to save and invest.

Build an emergency fund

It is important to have an emergency fund, a financial cushion that you can fall back on in difficult times, such as job loss. Six to twelve months’ worth of living expenses set aside in a safe, accessible interest-bearing account is usually recommended. Beyond that and money for your daily expenses, explore other high- yielding investments. One of the most effective ways to increase savings is to automate the process by having the funds deducted via a direct debit into a savings, money market or mutual fund account.

Reduce your debt

Don’t ignore your debt or it will just mount. Getting out of debt or at least reducing it is a key step to taking control of your finances. List all your debt, and prioritize by focusing on the debt that is the most urgent or most expensive. If your debt has become overwhelming, contact your creditors to discuss the possibility of coming up with more palatable repayment arrangements. Avoid debt that is incurred purely for consumption; don’t borrow to buy clothes, 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.

Invest in yourself

Constantly improve your skills through reading and learning. Have you embraced your passions and talents? Are you utilizing them for growth, fulfillment and earing? Identify and nurture your passion and talent and begin to leverage it to earn. The healthier you are, the more productive you will be. In good health, you will have brighter prospects in all aspects of your life. Do you need to lose weight, eat more healthily, or exercise more regularly? Make healthy living a way of life for you and your family.

Protect yourself and your assets with insurance

You are your greatest asset. Do you have adequate cover for your health and your life, particularly if you are the primary breadwinner? Is your property including your car and home adequately insured? You’ve worked so hard to build assets so be sure to protect them. Don’t neglect this most important part of your financial plan.

Invest consistently for the long term

Women tend to be more conservative and tentative about their finances. Risk is a fundamental part of investing. If you are totally risk-averse, there is very little prospect of achieving those great goals. But with savings rates at an all-time low and high inflation, you need to make your money work for you. With knowledge and experience as well as a clear objective, you build confidence and can take carefully considered, a calculated risk that is likely to give you better returns. You do need investments that give you a higher return than traditional money market instruments which hardly keep pace with inflation. Consider investing in stocks through mutual funds or directly in individual stocks. Bear in mind that stock market investments have outperformed other asset classes over the long term but they do come with greater risk. Property is a tried and tested investment class when acquired with care, and professional advice. The key is to build a diversified portfolio and across borders. Spreading your investments across asset classes including property, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and business interests, will mitigate some of the risk. Where one asset class is not performing optimally, you may still earn from others.

Retirement is sooner than you think

Make your retirement plan a priority; just imagine that you might well spend a third of your life in retirement. 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. It would be nice if your children are willing and able to support you because they wish to, and not because you are broke. Plan and prepare for your retirement.

Do you have an estate plan?

No one wants to think about death, but you owe it to your family particularly if you have children, to put something in place should something untoward happen to you. Meet with a lawyer who will put you through a relatively simple process. If you already have a will, review and update it to make sure you have included any new assets or beneficiaries.

You are responsible for your personal finances

Whilst delegating some responsibility for your finances 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 the death of a spouse. A marriage is an equal partnership; don’t become an unequal financial partner. Even as a full-time homemaker, show some interest and be involved in the family finances.

Build your knowledge

Whilst it is important to seek professional advice and guidance, you owe it to yourself to build your knowledge; ultimately, you are responsible for your finances. There is no excuse for being totally ignorant about your finances with the plethora of information around you. With some knowledge of the principles and the options available, you are in a better position to take advantage of them.

Financial literacy is essential if women are to close the gender gap. There has been so much done to reach, indeed smash the glass ceiling, but let us not be complacent and end up hitting a financial brick wall and jeopardizing our financial wellbeing and future security.

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