Money books have long targeted women as a prime audience, and a slew of new titles takes that focus a step further with pink covers and images of shoes and purses. Recent entrees into the field include Shoo, Jimmy Choo!; A Purse of Your Own; Love It, Live It, Earn It; and Bitches on a Budget. Oldies but goodies include On My Own Two Feet; Nice Girls Don't Get Rich; Smart Women Finish Rich; and Suze Orman's Women & Money.
The first question these books need to answer, before addressing how to make a budget or save for retirement, is why they should exist at all. In other words, why do women need their own money books? As one skeptical reader from Oregon recently noted after reading an interview with the author of Shoo, Jimmy Choo!, "First paragraph and I'm already embarrassed to be female. I'll take the gender-neutral finance books, thanks."
But the fact is that women are different, at least in some ways, when it comes to money. For starters, they live longer than men, which means they'll likely outlive their spouse and manage their money on their own one day. They also tend to earn less, partly because they are often the primary caregivers for children as well as their own parents. In addition, the stereotype of shopaholics being primarily women appears to be true: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that among single men and women ages 25 to 34, single women tend to spend more on apparel and services. (But men spend twice as much on alcohol and $600 more on car purchases.) Bad habits can have devastating consequences: According to a Government Accountability Office report, 12 percent of women over 65 are living in poverty, compared with only 7 percent of men. For divorced and widowed women, the poverty rate is higher, at 21 and 15 percent, respectively.
Given those differences, these authors say women do, in fact, need their own money books, because the advice they need is different. Here's an overview of some of that advice: nine tips from authors of financial books for women:
1. Make goals. "Everyone should make a list of financial goals, which are any goals that cost money—retirement, vacation, buying a home, etc. Once you've done that, figure out how much each goal will cost (Bankrate.com is a great place to start) and then make a step-by-step action plan so you can save enough to make those goals a reality," urges Catey Hill, author of Shoo, Jimmy Choo!.
2. Insure yourself. "Everyone needs health, auto (if you have a car), homeowners' or renters' and disability insurance. If you have kids, you should probably also get life insurance. If you don't have the insurance you need, it can literally bankrupt you," advises Hill.
3. Save for retirement as soon as possible. Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance, recommend that women dedicate 10 percent of their income to retirement savings, starting in their 20s. Saving 10 percent of a $50,000 salary beginning at age 25, for example, would yield $2.2 million at retirement. (That calculation assumes that investments grow at 10 percent a year, gains are reinvested, and annual salary increases offset inflation.)
4. Prepare for emergencies by saving even more. Hill says many women simply don't save enough money, and recommends that they save even more than Thakor and Kedar suggest. "Women need to put away about 13 percent of their income each month for retirement, and they also need to build up an emergency fund that contains about six months' worth of income," she says.
5. Bring a friend shopping with you. Even Gwyneth Paltrow endorses this technique. If you know you have a tendency to overshop, make sure you're not alone. (Paltrow's budgeting expert for her GOOP newsletter, Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, also suggests bringing a stopwatch with you on shopping trips so you don't spend too much time browsing the aisles.)
6. Don't be taken in by 'sales.' Hill herself admits that she's vulnerable to this temptation. "There's just something about a 'sale' sign that I find hard to resist. Sure, I know that I simply do not need yet another pair of black heels (or that quilted clutch, that espresso end table, etc.), but when I see a beautiful pair that's been marked down, I still hightail it right over to the rack," she says. But she's taught herself to recognize the temptation and the move on—right out of the store.
7. Talk about money with your beau. Women often make the mistake of assuming their boyfriends are on top of their own finances without ever broaching the subject, says Kedar, who also co-wrote Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey with Thakor. "That's not to say you have to be involved in every detail, but we've heard too many women getting the short end of the stick. When we say, 'Get financially naked,' we mean when you're in a serious, committed relationship, understand what each other owns, owes, your credit score, and how much you each make," adds Kedar.
8. Don't put your husband in charge of money. Traditionally, marrying couples turned over the finances to one spouse to manage. But women who want to keep their investing and budgeting skills sharp for life should keep a hand in their finances. Since women live to age 80, on average, versus 75 for men, even those in solid marriages are likely to have to manage their own money one day. According to the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, only one third of women between the ages of 75 and 84 are married (because they are divorced, widowed, or never married). Over 85, the number drops to 13 percent.
9. Make it a habit. Smart financial decision-making happens dozens of times a day. Do I buy my lunch or bring it? Do I take a cab or bus? Do I invest in an index fund or keep my money in a savings account? Learnvest.com, a new website aimed at young women, encourages keeping personal finance on your mind by developing an action plan after taking the free diagnostic test offered on their website. Alexa von Tobel founded the website after realizing that she was never taught about money in any formal way, despite a top-notch education. She wanted to create a source of information that was easy to understand and accessible to women. As she explains on her site, "Personal finance can be daunting, and it is critical for women to have a roadmap for personal financial independence, now more than ever."