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Becoming Your Own CFO

Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” Ayn Rand

It is estimated that 90% of women will be in charge of their finances at some point in their lifetimes. Becoming a widow or being divorced are two common ways this happens. Women may become their own Chief Financial Officer suddenly and without notice. These circumstances require women to manage their financial affairs on their own, possibly at a time when they are experiencing a decrease in income and going through a period of mental and emotional turmoil.

Women face unique challenges in establishing financial security. They tend to live longer than men, so they are exposed to a variety of extra financial demands. Women often make a choice early in their careers to spend time at home taking care of young children, a choice which affects their total income over their career. Additionally, the average wage for women is still below that of men overall.

Despite the obvious importance of financial planning for females, many refrain from discussing finances even with those they are close to. For single women who are developing a new relationship with a potential life partner, shyness about money matters can combine with concerns about rocking the boat to stifle important discussions about each other’s financial condition and future cooperation.

Limiting beliefs and fears

  • Fear of being a burden: Women often do not want to be a burden financially or socially. They would not want their parents, children or often even spouses to have to bear the weight of them financially. They will duck out of talking about money for fear of upsetting loved ones.
  • Fear of making mistakes or not appearing to be smart enough: Women embody perfectionist tendencies alongside the fear of making mistakes, especially those that would have repercussions on their family’s wellbeing. Women tend to discount all that they know and the financial experience they have gained by running their career or managing their household.
  • Learned thought patterns: Traditionally money has not been a subject discussed among women peers as it has within men’s social groups. The commonality of an issue can bring self-confidence when speaking about it, and money is not a frequent subject amongst women. There is a bad reputation associated with ladies who are overly concerned with the financial status of their potential partner or spouse, and even a natural curiosity about their financial security in a marriage can have some women feeling shallow or greedy. Historically men have controlled most of the world’s wealth, and women have relied on men for financial security. These tendencies will not change over one generation; economic equality will take time.

Be aware of these limiting thoughts or the actions they may produce:

  • Enjoying wealth is selfish
  • There is never enough
  • I am not worthy of wealth
  • It is improper or rude to talk about money
  • I should not be proud about money
  • To be polite is to hide my success or abundance

To combat the status quo for women’s relationship to money, you can take immediate steps to change thoughts and take actions which help set you up for a mindset of success. Financial wellness is a long-term game, especially for women. The good news is that women tend to be naturally disposed to planning, saving and budgeting.

Imagine something different

First of all, it helps to be clear about what you want to change – if anything. Remember, if it isn’t broken, it may not need to be fixed. On the other hand, if your thoughts or actions are working against you, consider what would work better. Ask yourself how your ideal self might handle things differently. Would she be relaxed and confident when paying bills or reviewing account statements? Would she have a plan for achieving financial security? Would she talk assertively with her partner or potential partner about financial teamwork?

When you create a richly detailed image of what you prefer, you have taken a step forward toward making it happen. Create a daydream movie of you doing something differently, feeling differently, looking at things from a different perspective and reacting differently. The more detailed, the better. If it helps, write it down like a script. Rehearse it and then experiment with it in real life. Tip: Successful goals are realistically achievable ones. If you are currently avoiding adding up your assets, liabilities, and income and think you should, let doing that be your goal. Save analyzing your investment portfolio for next week.

Small successes are encouraging and invite further effort so try out one aspect of your financial role that you think you are pretty likely to do the way you want. If you have been anxious about becoming a “bag lady” and your goal is to feel more confident in your future, would examining the fear in a shorter timeframe help? If you aren’t likely to become homeless and friendless in the next week or month, then perhaps you can intentionally focus on feeling confident and relaxed while thinking only a short time ahead. Try experimenting how far out in the future you can imagine and remain confident. You might discover that as you do this, your thoughts change along with your feelings. For instance, you might find yourself wondering what it would take for you to feel confident five years out. More cash on hand? Having your car paid off? A more secure job? How could you make any of those things happen? You might find that you forget to be anxious because you have gotten so busy making plans. Each of us is unique, and you will create your own path forward.

Small changes can make a big difference

We sometimes get stuck because the gap between what we are doing and what we want to achieve is too great. Often a small change can have a surprisingly big impact, especially as time goes on. For instance, perhaps you have avoided talking with your partner about money, and you think it would be better if you were more of a team. Rather than trying to understand why you have held back or what your feelings are about it, what if you just did something different? Perhaps you could find out how much is in your checking account and simply comment on it with no intention of having a big discussion. Just say you thought you should be better informed. Could that lead to more conversation about your current finances and plans? Maybe, maybe not, but something will have changed.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t matter much what you do differently; change is stimulated by you doing something out of the ordinary routine. Equip yourself with an image of how you would like things to be, then get the ball rolling with one little action and see what happens.

When life changes, money changes

Divorce profoundly changes your finances. For most women, this means a decrease in the amount of money you have and the income available. This crisis can be an opportunity to grow if you are willing to experiment and adapt. When our lives have been turned upside down by tsunami events like divorce we are usually over-stressed and the natural tendency is to shut down. Our autopilot tends to rely on emotional and action habits that may reach back to our childhood because they are familiar even if they don’t work so well. Don’t add to your stress by forcing yourself to make changes while you are in the midst of turbulence. Look for indications that you are recovering your balance and when you are ready, try something different.

Life is constantly changing as are we. When you define the direction you prefer to take, you increase the odds of getting there.

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