In Money on Friday 8th Mar, 2019

Why older women have so much financial intelligence to share

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The women born in Australia’s post-war years are real financial game-changers in so many ways.

They burst into the workplace, the first full generation of women to do so, then smashed glass ceilings on pay for women. They raised families using  their mothers’ rationing smarts and an amazing ability to mend-and-make-do, at times when unemployment was double today’s rate. They paid off houses through years of double-digit interest rates. And all of this was done at the same time as they were expected to save for at least a partially self-funded retirement.

So, as you’d expect, Baby Boomer women are smart AND savvy when it comes to money.

As Felicity Duffy, head of women’s markets at Westpac, says, one of the most vital contributions 60-plus women have made and continue to make to the next generation is the financial knowledge they share with their children, grandchildren and others.

“Their practical knowledge of budgeting, saving, running businesses or families over long periods of time and through very different economic climates is a really big contribution,” Duffy points out.

Yet, if asked, more women than men would say they’re ‘no good at maths’ or that they’re not particularly financially confident. While older Australians as a whole are more financially literate than younger age groups, women of all ages are considerably less so than men, the 2018 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey by the Melbourne Institute showed.

And while women are more likely to perceive themselves as organised when it comes to managing day-to-day financial matters, they’re slightly less confident than men about their financial decisions. Men, meanwhile, are more comfortable dealing with banks and other financial institutions, according to the same survey.

“Sometimes I think the lack of confidence women experience can be traced back to maths at school,” Duffy says of this surprising contradiction between women’s keen ability to take care of daily finances and their lower confidence when it comes to some trickier financial concepts.

“There’s a group called the Australian Council for Education Research and it has analysed the large-scale national data on maths and gender. According to ACER, the data show that girls can do maths and they do it as well as boys. However, girls lack the confidence and belief in their ability and they show less enjoyment when doing maths.

“This is where we need to work on changing attitudes and that comes down to women looking at what it is they do when they run the family or run a business, save to buy a home or for their retirement, and reframing that experience and knowledge as ‘doing economics’.”

Starts at 60 readers attest to the importance of recognising the financial skills you do have and being confident about building on them – because there’s no better way of taking control of your own future, no matter what your age.

“I think it’s so important for everyone to understand their business and their personal finances,” Anne Staring, a member of the Starts at 60 Money Club, says. “When one partner takes control, it can leave the other partner struggling if anything happens [to them]. I do understand, because I looked after the money in my marriage and later as a single mum, so it was one less thing to get my head around as I dealt with that change in my life.

“Life throws curve balls that you can’t control, and understanding your finances, no matter how scary it seems, is one thing you can control.”

Barbara Easthope, a Starts at 60 community blogger, reports seeing the aftermath when women haven’t been active managers of their own financial future.

“I think it’s an imperative that in a marriage, both partners are familiar with the financial arrangements,” she says. “I always have been and we have my money, his money and our money, and investments are done in consultation with one another.

“I used to be amazed with dealing with financial matters for recently widowed women how many had no idea about even the basics of their finances, like the name of their bank and the accounts it held.”

Yet, Susan Jarmo says it can take as little as a single book to turn your attitude to money around; it her case, it was the modern-day money classic Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosake, which she read in the 1990s. “It changed the way I look at expenses and how and where I spend my earnings,” she says. “This change in perception led by to putting most of our money into income-generating asset, not depreciating ones.”

Barbara Easthope also found that building up her financial knowledge over time paid dividends – literally and figuratively – in retirement. “Having made many investment decisions myself, I find our financial situation is better because I was prepared to diversity more,” she says.

Westpac’s Felicity Duffy works with the Davidson Institute, a non-profit that focuses on financial education for women, to emphasise the importance of female financial confidence.

“Women are financial planners and we need to celebrate this fact, but as women we need to step up and engage with all our finances because we can do it,” she says.  “We need to take control and superannuation is a great place to start.”

Duffy hits on super for very good reason. Despite their achievements in so many arenas, many women have been left behind in the race to create a retirement income additional to the Age Pension.

Research released in May 2018 from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia is startling. In 2015-16, the most recent year recorded, men held 61.2 percent of the total super account balance in Australia, with just 38.7 percent held by women. In the same year, the median super balance for women aged 60-64 at the time was $36,000, compared to $110,000 for men of the same age.

This has a real impact on the lives some Baby Boomer women are living right now. Research released last year by Good Shepherd, the non-profit backed by Westpac that supports disadvantaged women, found Australian women are slightly more likely than men to live below the poverty line, with older women who live alone particularly afflicted because they have lower private savings, including support, with which to support themselves.

The reasons some women are in a dire super state are simple.

Starts at 60 blogger Joan Rowe is one of the women impacted by some of these hurdles to decent superannuation accrual. “I never had the opportunity to have a super fund that mattered with the teaching jobs I did because most were short-term or part-time,” she says.

While there’s admittedly little comfort for women who’ve already retired with low or no super savings, especially those who are single and thus don’t have a partner with healthier super in which they can share, Australia could be at risk of creating further generations of financially disadvantaged females, unless young women engage more with their own finances.

The factors that make super a more difficult issue for women – as Duffy succinctly explains, “we will live longer and, thus, need more, and we have a shortened super accrual time when we take time out for caring for family” – won’t disappear in the near future.

Yet, 55 percent of women aged under 35 say they find dealing with money “stressful and overwhelming”, 85 percent don’t understand fundamental investment concepts and 77 percent don’t know the value of their super savings.

This is where the lifetime of financial intelligence held by older women can play a huge role.

“In an ever-increasingly cashless society and a need for immediate gratification, I think wise words about saving to spend can help the next generation be savvy and avoid the traps of credit and debt that doesn’t help them build wealth,” Duffy says.

“Older women who have had challenging experiences around superannuation have a lot to pass on. I think those sorts of smarts about where your money is and what it is doing come with age and the life lessons and experiences you have. We need to see and read about the positive and negative experiences of people.

“We can learn from anyone both through what they have done well and what they have not done well. None of us are perfect but sharing stories of success and vulnerabilities can support others.”

Things to know: The information in this publication is general information and factual only. It does not constitute any recommendation or financial product advice. It is an overview only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. You should consider obtaining your own independent professional advice. © Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714.

What has life taught you about money? What advice would you give to a younger person about superannuation?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.

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