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Girls Just Want To Have Fund$

Written by Sheryl Sutherland and reviewed by Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Girls must plan if they want to have funds – that could have been the title of this book. It’s New Zealand author is on a mission to encourage women to take more control of their finances in order to achieve their goals. These might include a comfortable retirement, saving for a house deposit or taking debt firmly in hand. The first part of the book is designed to persuade women that they need to actively consider their attitudes to money, saving and spending. The second moves from the why into the how of personal financial management.

While a quick trawl of Amazon suggests that neither the title nor the concept for this 2005 book is original, it is Sutherland’s explicit, and localised, focus on women that made this introduction to investing enjoyable for me. Her wry tone didn’t hurt either. (On divorce: “nothing helps wounds like that green poultice, money”.) Unlike its American equivalent, it is aimed at women of all ages who want to – need to – know more about this topic and at no time does it take a girly tone.

Women’s Life Patterns

I rate myself as moderately knowledgeable about finance. As such, I didn’t learn a lot on the technical side from this book but I did particularly enjoy the statistics Sutherland marshals to show how challenging women’s life patterns are to the aim of achieving financial independence. Her call to action includes such sobering observations as:

  • Divorce leaves women’s income down 24%. Men’s falls, too, but only by 6%.
  • On average, women take ten years out of the workforce to care for dependents while men take only one.
  • Women still earn less.

Low Involvement

These, and other life patterns, indicate that women should be planning ahead in order to make the most of the income they do generate. Yet, in Sutherland’s 25 years of experience as a financial advisor, they often don’t. The trigger for changing from this passive behaviour tends to be a traumatic event such as the death of a husband.

Why are women typically less involved in financial planning than men? After all, many women take lead responsibility for balancing the family cheque book, paying bills and so on. The author suggests innate traits as well as socially-conditioned responses to money can hold women back from learning more about how to bridge the financial gaps between today’s reality and tomorrow’s desires.

Nice Girls Don’t!

For example, nice girls don’t worry about money because one day, they are implicitly promised, their prince will come. Apparently, parents are much slower, on average, to encourage daughters to save. Sons get the message around 13 but daughters not for about another five years.

Sutherland acknowledges the emotional and societal barriers but systematically addresses them, pointing out how some are myths (yoo-hoo, Sir Galahad, over here…) while others, like the fear of making a mistake, can be managed with straightforward education on the basics of investing, debt management and more.

Test Yourself

The author provides a number of quizzes, exercises and worksheets for readers to complete as she takes them along the path of financial planning. Her years of coaxing information out of clients about their risk tolerance, time frames and money-handling styles no doubt helped her craft many of these. I confess I only filled in the multiple choice ‘quickies’ but was happy to see that the broad direction indicated by my answers on asset allocation pretty well matched the investment profile that my husband and I have.

Financial Advice

Women who complete even some of the exercises may well find they gain new insight into their personal financial situations. This may make for more meaningful discussions with a financial advisor, if they choose this route. The book provides a checklist of questions for shopping around for such advice and also outlines typical fee structures and services offered. Sutherland is at pains to point out that an advisor isn’t mandatory. For readers with time, confidence and especially (author’s emphasis) self-motivation, she says a DIY path is feasible. Having read her chapters on asset classes and the myriad options available within them, however, my sense was that greenhorns would pale at the prospect of going it alone. So would those with limited time.

Can You Afford Not To?

Although no investment return can be guaranteed, and although the past is no accurate guide to the future, the author is unequivocal that having independent financial goals and a plan to reach them is in every woman’s interest. A clear and consistent message throughout is that women who think they haven’t enough money to save and to invest are those who most need to. Short case studies bring these points to life, using vignettes of women spanning a wide range of ages and life situations. These, together with the statistics she quotes on the reality of retirement for many women in New Zealand, would have brought me out in a cold sweat if I didn’t already have some plans running!

I’ll end with one of a number of delightful quotations about money that Sutherland has scattered through the book. This Yiddish proverb made me laugh, so it must contain a large grain of truth…

With money in your pocket, you are wise, and you are handsome, and you sing well, too.

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