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Feminine finances

8 Dec 2010 | Sydney Morning Herald
by By Anneli Knight
Women need to take control of their money earlier.

Women are encouraged to view healthy finances as a crucial part of their personal wellbeing - to help them stay motivated and strive for all-round success.

A financial empowerment coach with Women Building Wealth, Linda Fitzhardinge, works with women to addresses their financial, spiritual and physical health.

"It's holistic," she says. "If you get the wealth side right you then have time to do the health and the spiritual."

Not only do women live for longer - which means they need more money to last through their retirement - they spend more time out of the workforce taking on caring responsibilities, which affects the value of superannuation savings, and women still earn less than men for the same work.

Women often also start the financial merry-go-round behind men because they are more likely to rack up consumer debts on credit cards during their 20s, Fitzhardinge says.

She says the fact women tend to have less confidence when dealing with money and have less retirement savings makes it even more crucial for them to take control.

"It's easy to want to stick your head in the sand and say, 'I don't want to deal with it,"' she says. "The fact is that life will make you deal with it."

The age of 45 is often a turning point for many women when they begin to accept healthy finances are important to their general wellbeing.

A co-creator of popular women's finance website, Vanessa Rowsthorn, says that having high job satisfaction is one of the most important links between overall wellbeing and finance.

Rowsthorn had always loved her job working in the arts, a sector renowned for its relatively low salaries, and she realised in her 20s that she needed to start making some active financial decisions if she wanted to get ahead.

"I just ignored money until my mid-20s. I don't think I really gave it a second thought and then it dawned on me as I was edging towards 30 and started to think about things like wanting to buy a house and keep travelling overseas frequently," she says.

In the course of getting her own finances together, Rowsthorn teamed up with Nina Dubecki and created Moneygirl. The pair published the book Money Makeover this year to give women strategies to approach investing with confidence.

Rowsthorn says she can't believe how her knowledge of finance changed her attitude to life.

"I made it an absolute priority to learn everything I could," she says.

"I now feel really confident that I can fund my goals, I feel confident that I can live the life that I want without compromising my love of the arts and my day job. I know that I am going to be financially independent.

"I'm an investor and that's a thrill, I never thought I'd be excited about saying I'm an investor but I am.

"I feel incredibly liberated and really know I can achieve whatever I want to achieve."

Both Rowsthorn and Dubecki are passionate about helping women realise it is not what you earn in your job but the decisions you make about saving and investing that can make the most dramatic difference to your long-term wealth and financial security.

"It is incredibly stressful for people to live pay-cheque to pay-cheque and it causes a lot of anxiety if you don't know how you're going to fund retirement," Rowsthorn says.

"Really by getting smart with money it means that you're in control and can live a life that's independent and free."

Finance author Antonia Magee shares the ideology of the Moneygirl girls and has explored her ideas through fiction, with her book Living Thin: One Woman's Journey from Penniless to Prosperous in a Year, published earlier this year.

Magee is a strong believer that women can build self-esteem and confidence through having a solid grounding in finance and her book reveals the emotional lows and highs of a personal finance journey through the lead character, Maggie.

"At the start of the book, Maggie tells the reader that she's fat, depressed and living in her car because she was kicked out of her sharehouse for not paying rent ... the fact that she's feeling awful can be directly linked to her cash flow," Magee says. "When she loses control of her finances, everything else seems to just fall apart. As we go through the book, little by little she starts to take control."

Maggie sets out to pay off all her debts and decides she wants to accumulate $10,000 in savings.

The book reveals how the small changes she makes to her lifestyle, such as walking to work, making her lunch and not going out for dinner with friends every night of the week, make a contribution to her savings goals.

"As she gets control of her money she starts to feel good about herself and she's less and less worried about other things," Magee says.

"The message I wanted to get across is - we're not alone.

"Even though it's a fictional tale I wanted it to be realistic.

"The advice I was given is just to start from the bottom, know where all your money is and making little changes can make a massive difference down the line. It may not seem like it at the time but stopping and having the third skinny latte of the day will make a difference in six months' time."

Magee says financial confidence is linked very closely to a holistic sense of wellbeing and what is most encouraging is that even small changes to lifestyle can lead to powerful outcomes.

"Women now have to be in control - we're staying single longer and we have that responsibility to make sure we've got enough money to support ourselves," she says.

"Being in control of your finances gives you power and it also gives you choices."

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