Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Taking charge of your financial security

I can understand why women are reacting angrily to The Feminine Mistake. There are valid criticisms about structural change and individual choice. If quality childcare were readily available and affordable, for example, we'd have much less of a caregiving conundrum. (By the way, if I were President I'd launch a public Montessori School initiative, starting with primary education at age 3.)

But, we should not overlook the fact that Leslie Bennetts does raise valid points about the financial risk incurred by women leaving the workforce. I have seen this time after time in my own family, in the elder generations. Divorce, widowhood, disability, unemployment, and worst of all, being trapped in an unhealthy marriage because of financial dependence. (The dark side of Ozzie and Harriet.) None of these were expected situations, but each of us needs to foresee that at some point in our lives we will need to be financially self-sufficent, or the primary breadwinner for our entire family.

My parents separated and then divorced after 18 years of marriage, and the split was tough on both of them. Running two independent households is expensive for everyone. My Mom faced the additional obstacle of presenting a work resume that had little paid employment. She had finished most of a Masters' degree when our family lived in Michigan, but when we moved to Pennsylvania for my Dad's new job, several years before they separated, she was not accepted at the program in Philadelphia. This degree could have greatly enhanced her employability, but she was not able to finish the credential. So she worked at hourly jobs that never provided much interest or financial reward. She was lucky to have other resources and we all got by just fine, but I wish she had found a career she loved. Now in "retirement" she is busier than ever (in a good way), managing the family business, and spending lots of time with our family including providing back-up childcare for my daughter.

I have addressed financial realities and strategies issues head-on in my work. In Mojo Mom, I devote a chapter to "Keeping Your Resume Fresh and Your Financial Future Secure." I believe that every stay-at-home Mom should have a Plan A and Plan B.

Plan A begins with staying at home with your kids as long as you want. Remember that no matter what, the phase of intense mothering won't last forever! The at-home years can be a time of continuing education, updating your professional credentials, developing a network that includes professional contacts as well as friendships, and planning your ideal return to the workforce some time in the future. I do believe that with 80 year lifespans to deal with, every woman should have a plan to return to paid work eventually, even if it isn't for 20 years. There is joy and value in a profession you care about and work well done. When I say that motherhood is a catalyst for transformation, that can be a great opportunity to explore a new passion. I only began to take my writing seriously after becoming a mother.

Plan B is an evolving strategy that answers the question, "What would I do if I had to support my family tomorrow?" This covers a lot of ground including, "What savings and insurance do I have?" "Is my family in debt?" "What would I do if my husband died or left suddenly?" "Do I have an emergency fund in my name only that I could access within a day if I needed to?"

Each of us needs to look at our worst-case scenario and figure out what we would do. The first time you look at your Plan B you may feel like you don't have much to work with at the moment. This plan changes as your credentials change--if you are in the process of completing a degree, your Plan B will get more lucrative after you have graduated, or you may be able to realize your long-term Plan A. You can leverage your community and network connections into potential business relationships. Through my community volunteering relationships, I can name a handful of people I could talk to about paid employment if I suddenly needed a job.

It is vital that you know and understand your family's financial picture. DO NOT let your husband take this function over himself. You can't formulate your Plan A or B if you don't know how much money or debt your family has. Nightmare scenarios arise when a spouse hides debt or investment losses.

Here are a few resources I can recommend to help you get started with your financial education: is a comprehensive website I highly recommend. The founders wrote a book called It's More Than Your Money--It's Your Life! and they feature many other resources on their site.

Suze Orman has written a good book to get you going, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny

I also like Jean Chatzky's straightforward advice, particularly in The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness: Feel Richer with What You've Got.

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke by mother-daughter team Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi discusses the structural issues within our economy that create increased financial vulnerability. An eye-opening read.


Blogger Sarah said...

I always say "A Woman Should Always Have a Plan B" and I love how you have expanded on that idea.

In addition to insurance and money in my name, I've also been working on creating an internet business for myself. I couldn't support myself & my children from it alone right now, but I've planted the seed for future stability. If I absolutely had to take care of the family right away (G-d Forbid), I could live off insurance money & savings while "ramping up" the profitabilty of what I've already created.

The internet can be a stay-at-home-mom's best friend, in terms of creating a "Plan B."

Creating a profitable internet business rarely ever "quick and easy," (there can be a big learning curve) but it is fun, flexible, and gives women an opportunity to set up multiple streams of largely passive income. The streams of income often start as a mere trickle, but with work and persistance can become a steady stream.

I recommend the Work-At-Home-Mom talk radio podcast "For moms who are working from home, or would like to" as a good place to start.

And here's an article I wrote about how to pick the right home business for you:

9:02 AM  
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10:39 AM  

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