How Women Can Improve Their Financial Optimism Despite Growing Anxieties
This past spring, two different studies were released that delve into financial anxiety and optimism; the Spring 2019 Merrill Edge Report and Allianz Life’s 2019 Women, Money and Power Study. Both studies found that women have become more financially influential and have taken more control over the finances in their own lives. However, despite these findings, many women are still struggling from a lack of confidence and growing anxiety when it comes to money.
The Merrill Edge report found that women feel fairly confident about their futures, as they are taking deliberate steps towards financial security, such as improving their credit scores, paying down debt, and building up their emergency funds. However, the report also found that 64 percent of women say their finances have impacted their mental health. The Allianz report had similar findings, saying that 57 percent of women say they wish they were more confident in their financial decision making.
I spoke to Anna Colton, Merrill’s Northeast Consumer Banking & Investments Strategic Planning and Division Executive, and Aimee Johnson, Allianz’s Vice President of Advanced Markets, about these two studies.
There are several things that contribute to women’s anxiety and lack of confidence, and some of them are out of women’s control completely. But regardless who whether or not they have control over the situation, these concerns can lead to women delaying or foregoing life milestones. In fact, according to the Merrill Edge report, 71 percent of women have delayed a milestone due to financial uncertainty like going on vacation, buying a car, buying a home, having kids or getting married.
So what are some of these worries that are impacting women so deeply?
Competing Financial Priorities
It turns out, maybe not surprisingly, that women have lots of financial goals at once. According to Anna Colton, “while women are confident that their finances will work out in the long term, they’re stressed about competing financial priorities, like saving for retirement and saving for a down payment. Additionally, 73 percent of women are carrying some form of debt, which could be adding to this stress.” It can be difficult to prioritize one of these goals over another, which can make it hard to get started at all.
Market Volatility and Recessions
Both studies found that women are worried about market volatility and a looming recession. These are things that none of us as individuals can actually control, so worrying about them doesn’t get anyone very far. Market volatility is also one of those things that happens over and over and eventually normalizes over time. So if there’s nothing anyone can actually do about this, why can’t we just let it go instead of letting it stress us out all the time? Aimee Johnson pointed to “not understanding how to mitigate the risks” as the main driver for this concern. It turns out that there are ways to protect ourselves from these sort of risks, but we just aren’t adequately educated about that.
Fun fact: Millennial women are less worried about the market, according to the Allianz study. Specifically, 49 percent say they are comfortable with current market conditions, and are ready to invest now (compared with 29 percent of Gen Xers and 37 percent of baby boomers).
Thinking About the Future
Many women interviewed in these studies are later on in life, so they are thinking about things like looming retirement, losing a spouse, or facing an illness. These big life changes can make women feel uncertain and fearful. But being anxious about these big changes doesn’t make them go away. It’s important to face them head on and prepare.
Regardless of this trend of increasing anxiety, both Colton and Johnson believe that there are things that can be done to improve women’s financial confidence.
“Take time to manage the money that you’ve worked so hard to earn,” says Johnson. Women spend so much of their time working and earning their money but not necessarily much time on managing that money. Johnson urges women to become more involved with their financial life because that will lead them to feeling more empowered and able to advocate for themselves. Part of this means being informed about where the money is and how to access it, especially if your partner is the one who takes the lead on money. It’s okay to not be the money manager in your household, but you should always be involved and informed in case you have to take over someday.
Talk About Money
The less we all talk about money, the more alone we feel. It also makes it so that we aren’t learning from others or sharing our own lessons. This isolation can fuel anxiety and pessimism. Talking about money with others will help us learn and show us that we are not alone in the things we struggle with. Talk to your friends, colleagues, and family members about money.
Women need to educate themselves about how to mitigate things like market volatility, illness, the loss of a spouse, and more. The more informed and prepared women are for these things, the better they will feel, and the more protected they will actually be. According to Johnson, women should be learning about things like: estate planning, life insurance, investing, and retirement planning. You can educate yourself on these topics by reading books, attending events, taking classes, or hiring an expert.
Get Professional Help
Sometimes, the key to feeling better about your money is getting help from the experts. Colton says, “There is a wealth of information to help women develop their confidence when it comes to managing money, investing in the market and saving for the future. Our report found that 54 percent of women are turning to professional financial advice and 64 percent plan to in the future.” This kind of support can look like hiring a coach who will help you learn how to manage your money everyday or hiring a financial advisor who will give you guidance on investing and planning for your future. Not only will this support help you put your money in the right place, but according to Johnson, women who work with financial professionals are actually more confident about their money.
So if you’re feeling anxious about money, even while you’re earning more and taking the lead, you’re in good company. But just because you’re scared doesn’t mean that you have no power over your situation. Take initiative and get the assistance that you need.
This article was originally published on my ForbesWomen column.