Women Need Financial Equality Too


Feb 7, 2013

Written by Mary Buffett

Why are so many women deferential to their husbands when it comes to investment decisions? I don’t recall the wedding vow that says we’ll be there for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part, except for our 401K investment selections.

Couples will agree on what they’re having for dinner or what movie they’ll see. They’ll find consensus on life’s big questions like how to raise their children or where they’ll call home but for some reason, financial equality within our marriages remains a blind spot.

Why is this? Was it something we inherited from our mothers who deferred life’s “big issues” to our fathers? Women earned the right to vote 80 years ago. During the 1970s, we were able to gain our financial independence and get our own credit cards without any husbandry permission. There has been all sorts of legislation that has brought us up to par with men but when it comes to our financial equality, don’t expect the Supreme Court (especially this one) to ride to our rescue.

We have got to grab it ourselves. Too often, we sisters discover the sorry nature of our financial well being in some windowless legal conference room when assets are being divided with a combination of anger and embarrassment.

There are two strikes against us. First, 50 percent of all marriages will be touched by divorce. Second, we’ll outlive our spouses by an average of nearly five years and since there are reams of information about the feminization of poverty, our longevity shouldn’t be the third strike.

So let’s go a little deeper. It’s not that men will hide financial information from us; the statements arrive each month and we won’t be electrocuted if we open the envelopes. Guys simply don’t want to look stupid in this department. They may be great providers, aces with the kids and step-kids, gracious with your extended family, and unbelievably generous where it really counts but this is different.

The sad fact is that when it comes to investment choices, most men are equally confused but terrified they’ll make the wrong move. Most guys are fumbling in the dark and it’s like watching him fail to ask for directions when you know he’s lost. Maybe he’s afraid you’ll ask too many questions and he’ll have no answers. However, the big difference is we’re talking about your financial lives, not a drive in the country. You’re planning a life together that should end like one of those Cialis commercials where you’re both facing the ocean, holding hands in two old-style bathtubs.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the only person who can make us feel like second-class citizens is ourselves. Her thinking should also extend itself to our strategic family investments because we have just as much skin in the game as our financial partner on the other side of the bed. We should be asking the right questions and partnering in all of the decisions.

Whole forests have been cut down to publish books for novice investing and I have written a few myself. As we emerge from the wreckage of The Great Recession I have heard story after story of how people who were ready to retire postpone it for years because as Jay Leno once quipped, “their 401ks were reduced to 201ks” or worse.

Don’t wait to take control of your part of the financial future. Like our wedding vows, if we want to live in more good times than bad, then we need to insist that we are central to this conversation or else we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Today’s question: When you last sat down with your husband, what financial surprises were uncovered? Email me here.

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