- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

Women are buying houses at record numbers and making more of the financial decisions for their households, but they are clueless about taking care of their own money matters, says a female financier from Los Angeles.
Jennifer Openshaw, founder of the Women's Financial Network and the writer of the newly released book "What's Your Net Worth?" says it's time women managed their own finances.
Quoting census figures that say 42 percent of all women older than 18 are single, 21 percent of whom have never married, she says women must manage their own finances whether they want to or not.
"Early money," the 36-year-old says, "grows the longest. The time that we spend as single women is prime time to establish our own financial base. This is the time to pay off all college debts and start a retirement fund."
Other voices, including syndicated columnist Brenda Nestor, are telling women to get with it.
"They say women are from Venus, but when it comes to investing, it's time for us to act like we're from Wall Street," she wrote for the New York Times Syndicate. "Many of us have traditionally relied on our husbands or financial advisers to guide financial planning. But who better to understand a woman's financial needs than herself?"
Women need to aggressively handle many money matters, especially those affecting their own health and security, says the June issue of Working Woman magazine. Even though women need disability insurance more than men, fewer than half of American women between 25 and 55 have it. However, a 35-year-old woman's chances of being disabled for at least three months are five times higher than her odds of dying.
Female retirement savings are not much better, Miss Openshaw explains. Thirty percent of women have yet to save any retirement money, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. More than 40 percent of all women older than 75 must make ends meet with less than $13,000 a year.
"In the past, money was taboo," Miss Openshaw says. "It wasn't something women were taught to talk about. In fact, 67 percent of women did not grow up talking about finances. But when you look back historically as to who could feed a family of four on $25, it was the woman. But they were not taught to think about their larger financial security.
"I know they are hungry for guidance, but they are overwhelmed by all the information that's out there. I think women are great money managers, but I think there are things they can do better," she said.
One is to troll the Internet. Many women do not know when their Social Security benefits kick in. Call up www.ssa.gov, she says, and find out.
"One of the biggest questions I get," she says, "is: 'How can I get paid what I'm worth?' In the past, we were afraid to broach the subject. Now you can anonymously go online, check out a couple of sites, find what that position should be paying, think about any adjustments based on how you're affecting the company's bottom line and go in armed with information."
Quoting a study conducted this year by www.WetFeet.com, she says the undergraduate men expected earnings of $4,000 more than their female counterparts. Men in master's in business administration programs expected to earn $3,000 more. Men also expect larger bonuses and stock grants than women. "Traditionally," she says, "women came into the soft jobs that didn't affect the company's bottom line so much. So if you want to build your wealth through your job, move into a management position where you are responsible for the business."
Even if women are bringing home hefty paychecks, Social Security laws penalize them if they are married, says Meredith Leyva, an economist who wrote the booklet "Women and Retirement" for the Independent Women's Forum. A wife's benefits are based on how much she has earned relative to her husband's income, not according to what she has contributed to the system.
"The fundamental problem is everyone is relying on Social Security to take care of them," she says. "That mentality needs to be changed. There are all kinds of amazing loopholes in the law that affect women — loopholes that when you are planning your retirement, your benefits get knocked down and knocked down again."
Like Miss Openshaw, Mrs. Leyva, 29, acknowledges a perception problem concerning women and money.
"It's not girly to take care of your finances," she says. "Look at the ads in women's magazines and on the TV networks. Their concept of a Renaissance woman is family, athletics and job. Money is still considered the man's job.
"Men do tend to save, but they are not necessarily thinking of their wife's retirement. They think if they are saving for themselves, they are saving for their wives. That is not true with lots of pension benefits. If the husband dies, which he usually does seven years before the wife, she gets a substantially reduced benefit or none at all. It is easy to lose your benefits when you do not read the fine print on your pension plan or you think the government will take care of you," she says.
"What I am trying to tell women is economics is not about mathematics, it is about not burdening your family in your old age and protecting your children from financial catastrophe," Mrs. Leyva adds.
The first step, she says, "is to go to your local bookstore, buy 'Investing For Dummies' and read it. You can invest for nothing these days through a discount broker or online investing. Buyandhold.com only requires $20 per investment and their cost program is designed to reward long-term savers."
Miss Openshaw says women continually tell her they wish they had started saving, instead of spending, earlier in life.
"Every time we spend money that does not add to our net worth, it's ka-ching — out the window and you have to re-earn it to replenish your net worth," she says. "Plus, women are considered the chief caretakers of their parents. But how does she provide for them and take care of her own financial security?"
Miss Openshaw suggests long-term-care insurance.
"It's difficult to broach the subject," she says, "but if your parents become ill, a financial crisis may wipe them out. If your father dies, your mother's monthly living can go in a snap from $2000 a month to $800 a month. And then she'll need care."
In households where the husband manages the finances, the wife still needs to pay attention, she says.
"It affects your credit report and you want to know what assets are there in case something happens to him," she says. "If he has a pension, there are different ways it can be distributed that affect you if he passes on. And there's taxes. If you are going through a divorce and he's not paying them, they'll come after you."

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