Money Management

Financial Planning for Women by Life Stage

By  Katie Oelker

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Learn about financial planning for women at each stage of life and get to know the financial advisors who specialize in serving women.

As women, we have unique needs and challenges when managing our money. 

According to gender pay gap data released in 2022, a working woman earned only 82 cents for every dollar her male counterpart made. Further, the median annual earnings for women were almost $10,000 less than for men. 

Because we typically earn less than our male counterparts, it’s even more important that we understand how to capitalize on our money’s potential to the best of our ability.

Most personal finance information has been tailored to the male demographic, so being confident about your finances, no matter your age, relationship status, or field of work, is vital. Having confidence in your financial situation as a woman will help you stress less and enjoy life more regardless of where life takes you. 

“One of the biggest challenges I see women facing is their own self-judgment,” said Stephanie McCullough, Founder and Financial Planner of Sofia Financial. “So many women feel like they should be “better” about their money…. I think women should approach it holistically – all aspects of their financial lives and how they interact with all the things they hold most dear!  It’s also crucial to recognize that money is emotional. Of course, we’re going to have feelings about something that impacts our personal security, our health, our families, our sense of self-worth, and so much more.”

In this article, we’ll explore financial planning for women throughout the stages of life many of us or our friends may encounter over the course of a lifetime. We’ll also introduce you to financial advisors in the Wealthtender community who specialize in serving women to help them enjoy life with less money stress.

Financial Planning as a Single Woman in Your 20s

If you’re just starting out in your career, there are many ways to set yourself up for financial success in the future. 

The first building block is setting up a budget that fits your needs. A budget doesn’t have to be boring or rigid but instead enables your money to work for you and your short- and long-term goals. 

There are several different budgeting methods, but one of my favorites is the tracking method. 

First, you need to know what income you have coming in (net income, which is after all taxes and deductions) so you can understand how much money you can spend each month. 

Then by syncing your accounts to an online system, you can see what you’ve spent your money on and when. Many of these programs will automatically sort your spending for you, so you just need to sign in to take a peek and ensure it’s categorized correctly. 

Once you’ve linked your accounts to an automated system of your choice, you can start tracking your spending over the next month or two. You’ll have a better idea of where your money is going and if there’s anything wrong. (Often, you’ll discover subscriptions or other expenses you didn’t realize you were still paying for). 

After a few months, determine what needs to be cut down on. Take your net income and subtract your fixed expenses (rent/mortgage, car, student loan payments, etc.) to determine how much you have left over for variable expenses (groceries, alcohol, dining out, and shopping). 

Tools like Mint, Savology, and other automated systems may allow you to set budget limits for categories so you can track your spending progress as the month progresses. From here, you can look at your spending trends as the months go by and adjust your categories accordingly. 

The great thing about budgeting early on in your career is you become capable of setting and reaching goals, staying out of consumer debt, and planning emergencies

Once you have a budget set up, you can start setting money aside in an emergency fund, which is ideally 3-6 months’ worth of expenses (or more) in the event you lose your job or have a large unexpected expense come up. 

After that, set up a sinking fund, which are savings accounts designated just for a specific goal, such as buying a home, taking a vacation, getting a new car, etc. This way, you aren’t dipping into your emergency savings when you need to spend money in one of these other areas. 

Another important piece to consider in your early 20s is setting up a retirement account. 

Once you’ve started working after college, you can set up a Roth IRA and start funneling post-tax money into it. The great thing about Roth IRAs is that they allow you the flexibility to take money out for a first-time home purchase or education costs. It’s easier to automatically have your money sent to investments before you can get your hands on it and spend it, so I recommend doing this as soon as possible before you get too used to extra money in your bank account. 

Roth IRAs can be set up on many different platforms, but Fidelity and Vanguard are very user-friendly, and each has its own low-cost index funds to consider. 

If you’re worried about setting up your own investment account, you can also consider using a robo-advisor platform such as Betterment, Ellevest, or Wealthfront.

In addition, you can choose to hire a financial advisor who can help assess your financial situation and lead you in the right direction. Many financial advisors offer their services at a reasonable cost, and you’ll find several advisors who specialize in working with women below.

Your Career & Financial Planning as a Woman

If you start a job at a company that offers employee benefits, be sure to discover what they mean for your financial future. 

Many companies offer health, dental, and life insurance but also have perks such as counseling, financial coaching, and health coaching. By taking advantage of these benefits, you can save on any money you would have spent out-of-pocket. 

When you sign up for an employer-sponsored health plan, you may also have access to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), or Health Savings Account (HSA), which allows you to nominate dollars pre-tax for qualified medical expenses. Utilizing these accounts will lower your tax liability for the year. 

In addition, your employer will likely offer you an employer-sponsored retirement plan to which you can contribute pre-tax dollars. This money will be withheld from your paycheck and automatically put into your retirement account through work. The great thing about these plans is that they help you automate your savings and reduce your taxable income at year-end tax time. 

Start contributing to your employer’s retirement plan immediately to leverage the power of compound interest. If your employer offers a match, which many do, invest the amount needed to qualify. (A match is free money from your employer that you don’t want to pass up!) 

What about when you earn a raise or get a promotion at work? First off, congratulations! This is a huge accomplishment and one you should celebrate. 

But before you get too carried away, make sure you don’t fall victim to lifestyle creep. Lifestyle creep is when you automatically start upgrading your lifestyle to match your new income. It could be purchasing a new car, buying a nicer or larger home, updating your wardrobe, etc. By falling victim to lifestyle creep, you will reduce your chance to save and invest more money when you get the opportunity. 

How to Have the Money Conversation With Your Partner Before Marriage

So now you’ve gotten engaged. Congratulations are in order! 

Whether you’re already living together, thinking about moving in together, or waiting until you’re married, it’s important to have a money conversation before you get too far down the line. Money is one of the most common reasons why couples argue and is also a main cause of divorce. 

You will want to discuss a few things with your partner about money. The first is whether they tend to be a saver or a spender. If one of you is a spender and the other is a saver, then that will likely be a contention point in your relationship. Understanding each other’s unique money story, including how money was viewed within your family as you grew up and how you tend to handle stressful situations, will help you understand why each of you is the way you are when it comes to saving and spending.

Another important thing to discuss is your short- and long-term goals as a couple and how this will affect your finances. By having these types of conversations before you get married, you’ll be better prepared to handle disagreements about finances as time goes on. Hiring a financial advisor can help you break the ice with your partner to put these questions on the table if you find them difficult to raise otherwise.

Financial Planning When You’re Married

Now that you’ve discussed your money stories and goals for the future, it’s time to determine how you want to manage your finances as a couple.

Do you want to have separate accounts and split bills down the middle? Do you want to have separate accounts plus a joint account to pay bills out of? Do you want to combine your finances fully? 

Whatever you decide, both partners need to be on board to set themselves up for a successful financial future.

Whether you decide to split or combine finances, you may want to use an app such as Ask Zeta, a tool designed specifically for couples and families to link all of your accounts. This way, you’ll have a good overall picture of your finances as well as a micro view of what’s coming in and what’s going out each month.

“(Combining finances) can be a challenge if there is a significant disparity in income levels or asset ownership between the two spouses,” said Becky Neubauer, a millennial money expert and content creator at TwentyFree. “Another financial challenge that women face when they get married is the issue of managing debt. If one or both spouses have a significant amount of debt, it can be difficult to manage this debt in a way that is fair and equitable for both spouses.”

Regardless of what system you choose to pursue, communication is the biggest factor in determining if you’ll be able to keep the peace and meet your financial goals together. Setting up regular money dates and a specific day and time in which you will review your finances will ensure that you are on the same page regarding your goals, budget, bills, debt, and any other financial pieces that need to be discussed. 

“Women have to deal with the issue of combining finances with their new spouse. This can be a challenge if there is a significant disparity in income levels or asset ownership between the two spouses. Another financial challenge that women face when they get married is the issue of managing debt. If one or both spouses have a significant amount of debt, it can be difficult to manage this debt in a way that is fair and equitable for both spouses.

If you plan to take on primary responsibility for managing the family finances, you may want to consider hiring a specialist financial advisor for female-led households who understands the dynamics of your relationship and how to help you and your partner come together to prepare a plan for your savings and retirement.

Regular communication will help you see your finances from the other person’s point of view and ward off disagreements before they have the chance to get out of hand. 

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Financial Planning for Divorcing Women

If you find yourself in the situation of divorce, then your finances become a bit more complicated. 

According to this survey conducted by Worthy in partnership with the Association of Divorce Financial Planners (ADFP), 3 of 10 women were not familiar with retirement savings, and 4 of 10 were not familiar with investments pre-divorce. Now is the time to get educated on your finances and work to maintain a sense of control over your money as much as possible.

“Another challenge women face when they getting divorced is managing their own finances… this can be especially difficult if they were previously relying on their spouse’s income to support them,” said Neubauer. “It is also common for women to face the challenge of balancing their own financial goals and needs with their former spouse’s financial needs and goals. For example, if they have children, they may need to consider their former spouse’s ability to pay child support when making financial decisions.”

It’s as important now to create or keep tabs on your budget as it has ever been, but also know that there will likely be unexpected expenses that come up during the divorce process that you will have little control over. The important thing is to control what you can and not make any major or unnecessary purchases to conserve cash throughout the process.

There are several steps to take through the divorce process to help you maintain financial stability, including: 

  • Figuring out health insurance if you will no longer be covered by your spouse
  • Separating out and closing joint bank accounts
  • Applying for a new credit card only in your name
  • Updating your beneficiary information
  • Creating a new estate plan 

You will also want to take a look at your retirement plan to determine what needs to be updated to meet your retirement goals. Keep in mind if you have been married ten years or more, you will be eligible to collect your spouse’s social security benefits at retirement. 

Going through a divorce can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining and can also drain your bank accounts. If you’re not already working with your own financial coach or financial advisor, now is a great time to seek advice from a trusted professional as you navigate this complex process.

You may want to hire a financial advisor who is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) with the experience to help navigate common and complex financial issues that arise in a divorce. And once you’re through the divorce process, a financial advisor specializing in serving divorced women may be an ideal guide to help you feel confident and optimistic about your future.

Financial Planning for Widowed Women

As of 2019, there were approximately 11.4 million women widowers in America. Although it’s not surprising to most that women tend to outlive men, few may expect that half the widows over 65 will outlive their partner by 15 years or more. 

If you find yourself in this situation, it will undoubtedly be some of your life’s most difficult days, weeks, and months. Losing a partner is incredibly difficult, and facing decisions alone, many of them financially, can seem completely daunting. 

The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your own needs first and take baby steps when it comes to any financial checklists you need to get through to avoid overwhelm. 

When it comes to managing your finances as a widow, there are several things you need to take into account. 

Go through your finances and do an audit of what you’re paying for that you no longer need (subscriptions your spouse you won’t need) and make sure there aren’t any bills you may have missed or coming due that aren’t already on autopay. Evaluate any benefits you’ll be receiving, such as Social Security, and how that factors into the new monthly income you have to live on.

After you have a handle on the day-to-day financial situation, you can then move on to the bigger picture. 

If your spouse racked up any debt, you’ll have to determine if you’re liable for it. If obligations include federal student loans, they are forgiven, but some private loans may not be. If you have co-signed on the debt or are a joint account holder (not an authorized user), you will likely be responsible for any debt your spouse acquired while you were married. 

You’ll also need to figure out what financial accounts your spouse had and how you’ll transfer the assets or close the accounts if applicable. It’s recommended, however, that you keep a joint bank account open for at least a year after your spouse’s passing to be able to deposit any checks in their name that come to you. 

If your spouse had life insurance, you’ll need to decide what to do with the benefit, although you don’t need to decide immediately. In the meantime, you can transfer the benefit to a savings account and then consult with a trusted financial advisor on what makes the most sense when you’re ready to do so. 

Your advisor can also help you evaluate your own retirement plan and what may need to be adjusted as you move forward on potentially less income.

While grieving, you may want to get everything done as quickly as possible or may lack the energy even to open the mail. It’s important to not rush into any financial decisions and consider having a trusted financial professional in your corner who can help you navigate this new and uncertain time.  

Retirement Planning for Women

Because women typically live longer yet earn less over their lifetime, retirement planning for women looks different than it does for men.

Lost wages mean you could have less to put into your retirement account over your working years. This, coupled with fewer Social Security benefits, means you could have less to live off on in retirement. 

“The main challenge I see for women is they simply live longer than men,” said Kevin Lao, Financial Planner at Imagine Financial Security. “If they are married and outlive their spouse, they will inevitably have a reduction of income from Social Security, and likely have increased taxes from switching to a single filer,” he added. 

By taking this into account, women can plan early to set themselves up for a retirement in which they can live comfortably. Although it can be hard to plan for whether you’ll take time off when having children or who will take time off work to care for an elderly family member, it’s important to start thinking about it and plan as soon as possible for your future. 

“If their spouse needs long-term care at the end of their life, this could provide physical and mental exhaustion from being the primary caregiver,” Lao added. “Finally, if they need long-term care later in life, this could provide stress on the kids or other family members to provide care.  Having long-term care insurance can help mitigate that burden on loved ones.”

By meeting with a qualified financial advisor, you can assess where you are financially and where you want to be when you retire. By saving and investing consistently, you can meet your financial goals in the future.

The Bottom Line

Because women tend to earn less over their lifetime and invest more conservatively than men, it’s important to consider our unique needs and challenges when it comes to financial planning. Whether you choose to manage your money on your own or hire a financial advisor, these tips for each stage of life will help you move toward your financial goals.

How to Find a Financial Advisor

Before hiring a financial advisor, here are a few quick tips to help you find the best advisor for you.

1. Decide Which Services You Need

Before hiring an advisor, determine what services you need from them. Whether it’s full-service investment management or a plan focused on a specific area of your finances, put together a list of what you’d like help with before contacting an advisor.

Though most people use a financial planner simply to invest for retirement, this is only a small part of what many advisors offer. Here’s a quick rundown of potential services a financial advisor may offer you:

  • Budgeting and money management
  • Debt management
  • Insurance planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Other investment planning
  • Inheritance planning
  • Estate planning
  • Tax planning

As you can see, financial advisors can help you with your entire financial picture, not just investing. As you start to plan for life’s bigger milestones, you should consider finding a financial advisor that specializes in those areas.

Finding the right advisor can help you minimize risk, maximize gains and take advantage of tax breaks while investing for your future. They can also help you protect your assets with the right kinds of insurance and help you pass on your financial legacy with a proper estate plan.

2. Consider Your Budget and Payment Preferences

Once you have a list of services you would like, review the fee structures financial advisors offer. Finding a balance between the services you need and the cost of those services will help narrow down the field of advisors you may want to work with.

If you are looking for a full-service advisor to manage all of your investments, consider searching among fee-based financial advisors. If you want to manage your money yourself, consider the flat fee and monthly subscription advisors for ongoing support.

3. Interview Multiple Financial Advisors

Once you have chosen the services and fee structure you prefer, it’s time to contact a few advisors and interview them. Here are questions to ask financial advisors:

  • What services do you provide?
  • What are all the ways you get paid? (fee transparency)
  • What is your investment strategy?
  • How do you measure investment performance?
  • How do we communicate about my plan?

Interview multiple advisors to get a feel for who you want to work with. A combination of fees, services, and customer service will help you determine the best fit for your financial advice.

4. Review Financial Advisor Credentials

Once you find an advisor (or two) you feel comfortable with, it’s always a good practice to check their credentials and the firm’s details. You can do this at the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) website

You can check both the individual and the firm to view their background and experience details, as well as any disciplinary action taken against them or their firm.

As licensed financial professionals, there is oversight into how financial advisors conduct business, so running a quick (free) check on them is recommended.

For additional information about advisor credentials, read our article to learn the most popular designations held by financial advisors, as well as specialized credentials which may be important to consider if you have unique financial planning needs.

Find Financial Advisors for Women on Wealthtender

📍 Click on a pin in the map view below for a preview of financial advisors who specialize in serving women and can help you reach your money goals with a personalized plan. Or choose the grid view to search our directory of financial advisors with additional filtering options.

About the Author

Katie Oelker

Katie Oelker is a Financial Coach and Freelance Writer based outside of Minneapolis, MN. She worked as an auditor for a large bank, business education teacher at a local high school, and financial advisor for two firms before deciding to become a full-fledged entrepreneur. When she’s not geeking out on personal finance she’s raising her two daughters full-time. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

To make Wealthtender free for readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and firms that pay to be featured. This creates a conflict of interest when we favor their promotion over others. Learn more. Wealthtender is not a client of these financial services providers.
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