Megan Harrison, Executive Head of Transactional Banking at Multiply Money, writes about how women can take back financial power on their journey to success.
When we think of gender inequality in the realm of money, the perennial pay gap springs to mind. It remains a problem. The 2020 Momentum/UNISA Household Financial Wellness Insights report estimates that, on average, women earn around 30% less than men in similar jobs in South Africa.
While raising awareness and putting the right structures in place at work to shrink the gap is admirable, there’s another issue that needs to be addressed; if we continue to defer to men in matters of money – believing them more capable – we won’t ever know our true worth.
Other research shows that while women demonstrate better budgeting than men, they tend to shy away from other areas of personal finance. To be sure, there are longstanding gender-based roles at play here. But with South African women now accounting for two-thirds of higher learning graduates, it’s clear that the rules of old need no longer apply. We are more than capable of managing our money across all aspects of our financial life; what we need to work on is our financial confidence.
If your spouse has historically managed your household finances, start by getting them to fill in the gaps in your understanding. Alternatively, lean on a knowledgeable parent, colleague, or friend. There’s a universal truth working in your favour here; people familiar with the nuances of money love sharing what they know.
If your questions lead to more difficult questions – expect that they will – then engaging a financial professional is often the next logical step.
Their value proposition is worth understanding: the role of a financial adviser is to help you define your financial goals, develop a plan that’ll give you the best chance of achieving them, and keep you on track. While there’s much you can learn about personal finance under your own sail, putting all the pieces together coherently to achieve your goals is a refined skill.
Read, listen, watch
The beauty of living today is that you have frictionless access to the best thinking on any given topic. And when it comes to the field of finance, there’s no shortage of such content.
At this point, it’s important to address the prevalent myth that finance is boring and tedious. There now exists excellent financial content for every personality type. Whether you like to read, listen, or watch, here are a few examples to get you started:
Podcast: Maya on Money by Maya Fisher-French
Podcast: The Woman & Finance Podcast platform created by Mapalo Makhu
Another approach to empowering yourself is to connect with people on social media who are experts in their money-related fields; just by having their thoughts in your feed, you’ll learn.
The magnitude of available personal finance content is bottomless. Experiment until you find the experts and mediums that you most enjoy, then make use of these resources. If you make a habit of learning about money, just something small each day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly things start to make sense.
Build your budget
From the outside, managing your personal finances can look daunting; there seem to be so many moving parts. That perceived complexity creates the apathy that often keeps women from taking full control of their money.
But once you’re on the inside, it can look quite different. All money is earned and then spent, saved, or invested. Once you can visualise how your finances flow between those centres, you’ll get a better understanding of how everything fits together.
The best way to achieve this is to build a budget, preferably from scratch. The process will instil a heightened awareness of where your money goes each month. You might not like what you see at the end (no money left to save and invest?), but you can’t fix something until you know it’s broken.
Know the secret to wealth
There’s no shortage of superfluous jargon and complexity in the world of finance; smart people like to sound smart. But again, the recipe for financial success is not as unattainable as portrayed.
In the famous bestseller, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyoski and Sharon Lechter explain that understanding the difference between an asset and a liability is the single most powerful tool in creating wealth. Their definition? The former puts money in your pocket, the latter takes money out of it.
To achieve financial success and freedom, they say, spend the money you earn on assets (stocks, bonds, real estate) and not liabilities (cars, non-asset-related debt).
There’s an important distinction to make here in terms of what constitutes an asset. Many research studies have found that women have a high aversion to risk. As a result, they often prefer to save money in a bank account (where its value is all but guaranteed) rather than invest it (where losses can occur).
The problem is that if inflation is equal to or higher than the interest rate on your deposit, a paradigm common in South Africa, saving doesn’t ‘put money in your pocket.’ In that context, savings should not be considered an asset. That said, there is a place for savings, particularly for unexpected expenses or job loss.
To build real wealth, we need to get comfortable with investing in assets. Self-education will help, but the best way to overcome the fear of investing is to use the power of diversification, spreading your money between a variety of assets, to reduce the risk of loss.
Target small wins, celebrate
Momentum is a powerful force. The secret to reaching that state where progress begets progress is to start small. For women at the beginning of their journey to success, the goal is not to be a personal finance expert before the week is out.
Instead, arrange that coffee with your friend who knows about short-term insurance; download that audiobook about investing in property; start listing your monthly expenses for your budget; or set a financial goal and open an online investment account to achieve it.
It’s important to share and celebrate your progress. Not only will this help to keep you motivated in your pursuit of financial confidence, but also inspire other women to do the same.
As we work to dissolve our insecurities around money, our confidence in our ability to build wealth will rise in parallel. That is one clear path to earning what we deserve.