When women were asked about the top drivers for feeling in charge of their futures, guess what they said?

It wasn’t salary. It wasn’t support from their boss, support at home or education.

According to Ellevest’s 2018 Money Census, it was investing and saving. Investing and saving knowledge are cited as top of the list for all age groups of women in the study. They become even more important as women age.

Women control the majority of household spending decisions, what I call acting as the CHO — Chief Household Officer. But when it comes to investing and financial planning decisions, according to Ellevest’s Census, women often feel less confident than men.

Women live longer than men do, and at the same time, because of women's' roles as primary family caregivers (both to their children and aging parents), and because of the gender pay gap, women often have less saved when they retire (Family Caregiver Alliance).

If women aren’t acting as their own CFO today, odds are they will have to at some point in the future.

So what can we do today to help our spouses, mothers and daughters increase their financial skills and transition from CHO to their own CFO? Here are six things to start with:

Net worth

Total your assets first: How much do you have in bank accounts? What are the current balances in your retirement and investment portfolios? How much would your home sell for if you were to put it on the market tomorrow? Then total what you owe to others, like your mortgage balance, student loans, credit card debts and auto loans. Assets minus total debts equals your net worth.

What to do next: You’re checking for two things — that it’s not negative and that it’s trending upward. If you’ve never calculated your net worth before, think of this as your benchmark. Wealth doesn’t have to grow in a straight line — it often goes up and down over time — but you want to see your long-term trend going up. After you know your number, set a goal to check it annually, and you could ultimately have a goal “number” in mind.

Take-home pay

You know your salary, but do you know how much you actually take home? Behavioral psychology studies show most people overestimate how much they take home after taxes. This can make it hard to have an accurate budget. Knowing what you have to work with is key to managing your finances well.

Credit scores

The three main credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, maintain your credit history, which financial-analysis firms use to determine your score. Your score helps determine what interest rate you’ll receive when and if you need a loan to buy a home or a car, and also helps determine your insurance rates.

Mortgage interest rate

What is your mortgage interest rate? Is it fixed? Does it adjust over time? If you used an adjustable rate mortgage (sometimes called an ARM), when does it adjust, and what is the adjustment based on? Make sure you know your rate and term, and make sure it’s competitive.

Credit card interest rates

According to NerdWallet’s latest annual survey, the average American household with credit card debt has a balance of $16,748. Take stock of your IOUs: Log on to each credit card company site and rank your interest rates from highest to lowest. This will help you determine the best plan of action to chip away at those debts.


Your savings should mimic your financial goals, spanning both the short and the long term. To see if that’s true-check your balances on your emergency savings and retirement portfolio. Do they align? Or are they falling short? If so, consider bumping your contributions to each account by 1 percent today. It won’t feel like much, but will add up later.

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Kimberly Shappee is first vice president — financial advisor for RBC Wealth Management in Missoula. The information included in this article is not intended to be used as the primary basis for making investment decisions. Reach Shappee at kimberly.shappee@RBC.com.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC

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