Years ago, I got lost out in the bush two days walk into the Urewera forest. 

That’s not a metaphor. My handheld GPS, which I relied on for navigation died on me unexpectedly. I had no way to navigate back to where I was meant to be. After a fair bit of cursing my own shortsightedness in relying on my device and trying to calm down to think my way out, I put my hand in my pocket – and found an old-fashioned compass I had stashed at some point on an earlier outing. 

At that moment I realised that regardless of the circumstances that saw me lost, I needed to think straight, calm down and use the tools available to me to move forward. 

Here’s the metaphor: Financial stress can cause a similar feeling of disorientation. When you look around and only see unfamiliar terrain, it’s hard to even think of what your first move should be. It’s important in these situations to know what you have in your arsenal, and what you want or need to achieve with it. 

Unfortunately, it’s a well documented fact that financial issues tend to affect women disproportionately to men. 

Worldwide, women are less likely to have access to an account at a formal financial institution, are more financially fragile, own fewer assets and are less likely to have pensions or invest in risky, high yield assets. There’s also a universal gap in financial literacy, true across cultures and socio-demographic characteristics. 

A 2021 study by George Washington University has also shone a light on the gender ‘confidence gap’ – whereby a percieved lack of financial knowledge can make women less inclined 

to do things like invest in the stock market. The study found that women were much more likely to respond with “I don’t know” to the questions – but when that option was removed, the women in the study got it right more often than not. 

So why has “I don’t know” become the default, and how can we shift that mindset? 

Closer to home, a study from Massey University suggests financial knowledge tends to be hereditary – we learn our most important money lessons from our parents, and then from continued life experience. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though – there’s indications that financial literacy is on the rise, particularly with younger generations of women (Millennials and Gen Z) starting to ask questions and educate themselves on financial issues. 

Money transparency 

If you’re a little lost – what’s in your pocket? 

As The Joy of Money’s co-author 

Julia Newbould aptly observed, it’s not always the people who aren’t doing well who need more help. 

Newbould, an experienced financial commentator, elaborates; “There are often people who are doing very well but they don’t quite know how well they’re doing, and they’re still very stressed about their finances.” 

Money matters are extremely personal, and they can elicit strong feelings. 

Transparency is key when it comes to finance – you need to be brutally honest about where your money is going, as confronting as that can be if you haven’t done it before. Most bank and some KiwiSaver apps will have a function where you can go through and categorise your spending to see your habits. You can also go old school with an excel spreadsheet, but that’s a lot of ongoing manual entry which can be off-putting to even the most data-obsessed of us. 

Doing this financial x-ray will help you to figure out where you are, which is the first step to making a plan. This is your compass, and your values and goals are due north. 

If you’re in a relationship, transparency is even more important to reach shared goals. We’ve already established that financial habits are largely learned behaviours from our parents. Similar to having to adjust to the way your partner does their laundry, or whether they were raised in a shoes-off or shoes-on household, a certain amount of conflict may arise over different approaches to money matters. 

Take, for example, a couple saving for a house. Partner A may be a high earner with good savings habits and a substantial nest egg. Partner B may 

also be a high earner, but more likely to spend than save (or just less concerned about knowing their situation). If they both assume the other handles money the same way, they will likely have different expectations around how they are going to accomplish this – how long they will need to save for a deposit, how much debt they are willing to take on, how long they will take to pay that off, etc. 

Going back to the compass analogy … trying to save without open communication and transparency in a relationship is like trying to find north with a large magnetic mass pulling the arrow off course. You can go along for quite a while thinking you’re going the right way, only to never arrive where you expected. 

Future-proofing 

Over two-thirds of Kiwi women don’t know how much they need for retirement, and have no plan to reach a target. 

A recent sentiment report from Consumer NZ breaks down savings anxieties – one in five females indicate they have no savings (18%) compared with one in 10 men (11%); and feel more anxious about how they’ve saved (31%) compared with males (23%). One in five New Zealanders aged 50-59 indicate they have no savings – the highest percentage across all age groups. They’re also significantly less likely to be satisfied with their current level of savings (17% compared with the average of 24%) as they approach retirement. 

New Zealand women actually spend less and save more than men, according to ASB customer data, but are still worse off when it comes to things like retirement. On average, women withdrawing money from KiwiSaver had balances that were 12% lower than men’s – which is a little concerning when you consider women also tend to live longer on average and may need their savings to stretch further. 

Anectdotally, we see women often placing their family’s wellbeing over their future financial security. While this is certainly admirable, it’s good to keep in mind the advice given in any emergency situation: you need to help yourself first before you help others. When the plane is going down and the masks are dropping, you must put yours on first. The same principle applies to investing and wealth. 

Feeling in control of your finances is incredibly empowering. Looking down the barrel of your financial journey, however, can be daunting. 

Break it down into smaller steps. First, get an accurate sense of your own situation. Then consider your goals and values (and those of your partner if applicable). It’s not just about money. It’s about you, and how you can use what you have to make your life as enjoyable as possible. 

The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from a Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz 

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