How to Build Your Financial Power and Take Your Seat at the Table:
A financial toolkit for young women who want to embrace the power of money and grow their social impact
We are living in an age of female empowerment where young women have access to the knowledge and skills to become fearless leaders -- in their communities, professions and families -- like never before. While young women should use their voices to speak up about causes they care about most, nothing quite fuels the capacity to change our world like financial power. When women are financially healthy and strong, they can be equally represented as decision makers in the most pressing issues of our time. Money can be the tool that amplifies their existing passions and advocacy. By unlocking their financial power, women have a greater ability to create the world they want to live in.
Yet, for young women, this goal can feel daunting.
Your attention revolves around more immediate concerns like paying back student loans and the distant prospect of saving for retirement. To begin saving and investing as early as college, young women need actionable tips to help them get the ball rolling when it comes to managing their finances. As these steps become second nature, young women will start to understand the implications of their personal influence, their economic power.
The following toolkit provides steps that can catalyze a young woman’s financial journey and equip her with the tools needed to live her best life. For many, talking about money can feel overwhelming, confusing and provoke real emotion. This guide cuts through the clutter and offers women of all backgrounds a place to start.
For those on the go, here are your marching orders:
Step 1: Embrace your student loans as a milestone in your financial journey.
Step 2: Plan your budget and financial roadmap ASAP - creating these financial boundaries will help you feel grounded and make reaching your financial goals possible.
Step 3: Start saving, even just $10/month
Step 4: Invest your money in companies that you care about and watch your money grow as you make an impact.
Step 5: Take stock of your current and future life goals, and start making your dreams come true.
STEP 1: MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR DEBTWhen you are barely making ends meet, financial advice may seem irrelevant and unattainable. Yet the opposite is true: your student loans or debt enhances the applicability of the following financial advice. Instead of viewing loans as a weight on our shoulders, we need to reshape the narrative of debt repayment and view loans -- especially student loans -- as a natural part of one’s financial journey.
With sound financial habits and a grasp on the different options available, women can pay back their loans faster and deepen their financial independence. Education and proactive planning are key to effective repayment. For some personal context, The Cut shares stories of real women and their loan journey: “once I finished, I was so proud. I’ve been shouting it from the rooftops. I think it’s an important message to spread — that it’s possible, and we can help each other by talking about it. People have more agency than they think.”
STEP 2: CREATE A BUDGET AND A FINANCIAL ROADMAPIf you’ve never created a budget before, now’s the time to start. Track the fixed monthly expenses you can expect each month like rent, a gym membership or your Spotify subscription. Then, estimate additional monthly costs like groceries, eating out, leisure, etc. Take a good, hard look at your spending from previous months. Make sure that when you create estimations, they reflect your actual spending habits. If last month’s totals alarm you (like the amount you spent on takeout in a week) then it’s time to craft a budget that will help you plan, as well as keep spending realistic for your income.
Many rules of thumb exist for how to categorize your budget. Nerdwallet breaks down the 50/30/20 budget guide where “you spend roughly 50% of your after-tax dollars on necessities, no more than 30% on wants, and at least 20% on savings and debt repayment.”
After you’ve created a budget, it’s just as important to measure its effectiveness. There are many ways to monitor and track your monthly budget, including building a spreadsheet and using real-time apps.
STEP 3: START SAVING, EVENT JUST $10/MONTHAs a young professional, chances are you grew up watching the realities of an economic recession unfold. Without realizing it, some of your fears and anxiety around money might be tied to both the anecdotal and very real accounts of 2008.
Saving proactively is a great way to prepare for the future’s unknowns. Establishing a nest of money is key to releasing some of the unease related to money and feeling more comfortable making financial decisions.
It’s especially important for young people to prioritize creating an emergency fund -- a certain amount of money that is not used except in cases of a true emergency. If you’re just starting out, Money Under 30 suggests creating a minimum emergency fund of $1,000 or two week’s pay, whichever is greater: “this will help you pay for a minor unexpected expense such as a car repair, broken appliance or veterinary emergency—without needing to go into debt.”
Here’s the rule of thumb: for professionals entering the workforce, aim to set aside three months worth your monthly expenses at a pace that makes sense for your current income. For a less predictable income source, like freelancing, consider saving six to nine months of your expenses. The sooner you start saving, the sooner you will reach these goals. But don’t despair if you haven’t reached this goal within your first year in the workforce. Saving is a priority, but so is paying your bills on time.
STEP 4: MAKE THAT MONEY GROW!As a young woman, you benefit from an advantage that can’t be taught, paid for or gained later in life: TIME. Investing for your future and retirement does not have to be a mountainous task. Despite money seeming more scarce, the small contributions you can make now will have a much higher payout in the future.
As Investopedia explains, using a 5% rate of annual growth as an example, “a single $10,000 investment at age 20 would grow to over $70,000 by the time the investor was 60 years old (based on a 5% interest rate). That same $10,000 investment made at age 30 would yield about $43,000 by age 60, and made at age 40 would yield only $26,000.” Imagine how much your money can grow by making consistent, manageable investments each year -- such is the beauty of compound interest.
STEP 5: CONNECT YOUR LIFE DREAMS TO A SUSTAINABLE FINANCIAL SOURCEManaging your finances is an opportunity to connect your dreams to a reality. It’s also an opportunity to be direct about your goals. Planning for your financial future requires taking stock of your plans for both the present and future. Want to travel the world? Attend grad school? Start a business? Money is a place where you can (and should!) speak up for the things you care about.
Meeting with a trusted friend, informed family member or a professional is a great way to organize your various financial goals and receive advice. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask questions. If you don’t know the different between a 401(k) and IRA, ask someone who does! While “financial planner” and “investment portfolio” might sound like features only wealthy executives get to experience -- understand that financial tools are available to everyone.
Services like the XY Planning Network are financial advisors paid on a flat fee alone. They are designed to help young professionals with identity-specific, tailored advice. All XY advisors are fiduciaries, meaning they legally must act in your best interests.
TAKE YOUR SEAT AT THE TABLE
When your bills are paid on time and money is saved, the final stage of your journey is to explore investment options. Learning how to generate a return on your money is the next step to growing your money’s power. It’s also an avenue to deepen your impact in the world.
As Investopedia explains, “women investors in general, and Generation X and Millennial women in particular, tend to take a more holistic approach to investing, concerned about investments that support their values as much as they are about financial returns. They're looking for investment options that make an impact on what they believe in.”
The more you ask questions, do research and manage your finances, the more your money and, in turn, power grows. As future leaders, your financial influence can considerably shape the type of world you want to inhabit. Taking control of your finances is not only a source of personal empowerment, but a multiplier to positively impact the world.
Note: All opinions expressed by Linda Davis Taylor are solely her opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Ms. Taylor as a specific recommendation to make a particular investment. Ms. Taylors’s opinions are based upon information she considers reliable.