No one seems to have all their financial ducks in a row, not even personal finance expert Janet Bodnar. She writes a weekly column on kids and money for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and The New York Times (she's known as Dr. Tightwad) but in preparing a finance book geared to women, she realized she hadn't updated her own will or put her kids on her insurance policy. "I would have sworn I had done that!" she says. Writing her new book, Think $ingle, which addresses specific money issues facing women, opened the eyes of this wife, mother and household manager. "I was the audience for the book as well as the author of the book, so every step along the way I was comparing what I was writing with what I was doing myself. Sometimes I could say, OK, I'm up to speed, and sometimes I wasn't." BookPage recently talked to Bodnar about the advantages of "thinking single."What does "thinking single" mean for women?You always have to be financially independent in your own mind, no matter what your marital status is, no matter what your stage of life is. Even if you have a loving husband who handles the finances, you need to know his bookkeeping system, have enough life insurance to cover you and the kids if something were to happen to him, and have your own retirement plan, even if you don't have a job. That's what thinking single means: You always have to ask, what would I do if I were on my own tomorrow? Would I be up to speed on everything?You say that 90% of women will manage their money on their own at some point in life, either because they're divorced, widowed or never married. Did that surprise you?All women start out on their own when they're in their 20s, but what really shocked me was when you add in the number of divorces [just under 50%] and [realize] that the average age of widowhood is 58. Some women never marry, but the majority will, and yet of those women, the majority will end up on their own at some point in the future. I found that to be shocking. I think it's in the back of every woman's mind, but you think it's always far in the future, so when you see that statistic, it brings you up short.
Women investors tend to earn better returns than men. What are they doing differently?Men tend to be overconfident with their money. Even when they don't know diddly about money, they act like they do and bluff their way through. But confidence isn't the same thing as competence. Women tend to be underconfident and underestimate what they know about money, so they tend to be less aggressive and take fewer risks. Because women go out and do the research, they feel pretty good about what they're doing when they plunk down their money. Then they leave their money alone and don't trade all the time.
Are women too averse to risk?I think they are because of the underconfidence thing. They worry about the future, and in the back of their mind is the bag lady fear "I'm not going to have any money" so they tend to be conservative with their money, probably too conservative, at least when they're younger. Women need to be a little more aggressive, especially if they're looking at long-term goals.
After reading the book, what's a good first step for women who want to start tackling their finances? I would take stock of where I am. Don't try to do everything at once because you can get overwhelmed with all this financial stuff. I would sit down and say, what is my number one worry? That can be a lot of different things for different people, and hopefully, they'll find material in the book to speak to any of those issues, whether it's dealing with your spouse, budgeting or saving for retirement. Once you get a handle on that, you can move on down your list. You need a feeling of accomplishment.