In her 1983 song of the same name, Donna Summer said, “She works hard for the money.”
While singing along to Donna and dancing awkwardly, I pondered this statement and wondered: if I work hard for the money, does my money work hard for me?
This question has been on my mind recently, and it’s one I hope all women will ask themselves.
Now in my 40s, I’m more money savvy; however, as a child of the 80s, my early ideas about money were influenced by the excess and materialism that defined the decade.
In other words, I liked to buy stuff. During college and in my early twenties, I Iived paycheck to paycheck. My focus was on what I wanted right then instead of saving for the future, which felt so far away. I made a few money missteps and learned valuable lessons from having to dig myself out of a financial hole or two.
Then, I met my husband, Roger, and I noticed how he focused more on saving and less on spending. I watched, learned and worked to change my financial habits — borrowing money management strategies from Roger, as well as my mother and girlfriends.
I still like to buy stuff — clothes, shoes, jewelry, books, etc. — so I’ve had to train myself to be more mindful about my purchases and to prioritize paying off debt, saving for emergencies and retirement and investing.
Yes, I’ve worked hard for the money — and continue to do so — but I’ve also worked hard to identify ways to manage my money and make it work harder for me.
Keep it Separate
Roger and I chose not to co-mingle all of our money when we married. I learned this system from my mother and step-father — and it works for us.
We have a joint checking account we use to cover household expenses and into which we both deposit 50% of our monthly paychecks. Any excess gets moved to our joint savings account.
In addition, we have our own individual checking, savings, retirement and investment accounts, and we are responsible for our individual bills — student loans, car payments, medical bills, etc. This ensures that we do not have to ask permission before making purchases and neither has to take on the other’s debt.
Use Credit Wisely
Roger and I run most of our household expenses through a cash back credit card to maximize the return. This only works if you pay the entire balance each month, which we do.
We also earn rewards with our personal credit cards. Because we enjoy travel, we each have a Marriott credit card that earns points for hotel stays. I’ve been saving my points and was able to cover our entire hotel stay for an upcoming 10-day trip to Portugal.
But, again, this only works if you pay the entire balance each month. I really can’t stress that enough.
Start a Sinking Fund
A sinking fund is a strategic way to save for future expenses. I first got the idea from my friend, Rebecca Arthur, who mentioned that once she paid off her car, she would begin making a car payment to herself to save for the next car.
I thought it was a novel idea and followed suit. I use my sinking fund to save for specific categories — car, travel, clothing, hair and skin care, gifts, and medical — and I have a set amount automatically moved into the fund each month. This way, I have money set aside for things I know I will purchase and/or just in case of surprises.
Grow Savings Over Time
When I first opened my Roth IRA, I was only able to deposit around $10 per month. The amount felt insignificant; however, I knew I had to start somewhere. Additionally, the act of saving, even a little, trained me to think about my long-term money goals.
Over the years, I’ve worked to grow this amount as I paid off debt and increased my salary. I’ve used this same strategy — start small and increase as you can — with my emergency savings account, my sinking fund and, now, my investment account.
Earlier this year, I started investing with Ellevest (ellevest.com), a web-based investment company created by women for women. Ellevest also offers financial wellness resources, coaching and more. My monthly contribution is not very large, but I have plans to double it next year.
Let’s Talk About Money
A 2015 Fidelity Investments study found that:
- 92% of women want to learn more about financial planning.
- 75% want to learn more about money and investing.
- 83% want to get more involved in their finances within the next year.
And, yet, the majority of respondents feel uncomfortable talking about money with friends or family, as well as with a financial professional.
I understand this hesitancy, because I’ve felt embarrassed by my perceived lack of financial knowledge. That being said, I feel it’s important and empowering for women to talk about money. I’m not suggesting that you broadcast your account balances or bank account numbers with the world — I’m suggesting that you talk with your money-savvy friends and family and borrow any tips and tricks that work for you.
I wish I’d done this more in my youth. If I had, I might be retired somewhere on a beach by now!