Women continue to be the primary caregivers in most families with children, but they are also likely to be important breadwinners for their families. In 2017, the latest year with available data, 41 percent of mothers1 were the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, earning at least half of their total household income.
Those two priorities—caring for family members and managing finances—can often be at odds. In fact, shouldering the burden of caregiving often leads to women putting their own retirement and estate planning needs on the back burner.
But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it's possible to take care of your family while also making wise choices for your financial future. Consider these four steps to start successfully managing both of these priorities at the same time.
Setting goals for your money and your life is important for anyone, but for women, who often end up with more caregiving responsibilities, it’s especially crucial. Try to set money goals and life goals as early as possible. For instance, if you know you plan to have children within 10 years, you can work toward building your savings, purchasing a home or meeting other financial goals before your caregiving responsibilities start. Setting goals before you ever have children will help ensure you’ll reach them.
However, it’s never too late to reassess. If you’re already juggling caregiving and working to build wealth, sit down and determine goals for the next year, five years and 10 years. If you have financial goals in writing, you have something to work toward. Focus on continuing to make progress toward those goals, even while balancing competing priorities of making money and caring for a family.
Research2 shows that while women's earnings usually drop after having a child, the opposite is true for men. Rather than resigning to the belief that you might not be worthy of raises and promotions because you’re managing dual priorities, learn to negotiate for higher salaries and better benefits.
Build relationships with other women who have worked for higher salaries and more responsibilities at work, and get their advice for how to ask for and get what you want. Keep track of the current market rate for the work you do; salary reporting websites make this easier. If you find that your salary is not in line with the going rate, negotiate a fair increase.
If your employer offers work-life balance benefits such as flex time, telecommuting and extended maternity leave, take advantage of them. Rather than feeling guilty for using the benefits offered, feel grateful for the opportunity to better balance your work and life. Remember, that’s why the benefits are available.
Maybe full-time work isn’t compatible with your caregiving needs at the moment. If that’s the case, look for ways to keep contributing to your field, even if it means working part-time as a contractor or becoming self-employed. Finding work that you enjoy and find fulfilling can be important for your earning ability and your life satisfaction.
Don’t be afraid to take a non-linear career path, taking an extended break from the workforce or taking on side gigs, if that’s the best way to continue earning and meeting the needs of your family. By making an effort to stay in your field, even if it’s not in a full-time position, you can avoid sacrificing your earning power for the long term.
Women now control more than half 3 ($22 trillion) of U.S. personal wealth. Women have an average additional life expectancy of 20.6 years after age 65.4 These statistics suggest that it is more important than ever for women to feel comfortable with investing and managing money, because most women are likely to be managing their own money and wealth at some point in their lives, if not throughout their adulthood.
Women who have children often prioritize their caregiving responsibilities over their financial needs. While this is understandable, it’s counterintuitive: By not preparing for your own financial future, you may put your children at risk of needing to support you later. Resist the temptation to prioritize your children’s future financial needs over your own. For instance, focus on saving for your own retirement before saving for a child’s college education, as there’s no other option for financing your retirement.
One of the most important ways to provide good care for your family is to make sure your home is financially stable and on track to meet goals. Take time to organize all your family’s financial information in one place and take time every quarter to review your accounts, file paperwork and make financial decisions.
Finally, make a commitment to learning more about your retirement investments and options. Consider working with a financial professional with whom you feel comfortable and who is willing to help you learn. A good relationship with a financial professional that you trust can help you stay focused and on track to meet your goals.
As a woman, you are likely to be an important member of your family for both caregiving and financial needs. And with careful planning and disciplined action, you can provide valuable care for your loved ones and build a solid financial future at the same time.
1 "Breadwinning Mothers Are Increasingly the U.S. Norm” by Sarah Jane Glynn, published in Center for American Progress; May 10, 2019 https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/10/469739/
2 “Women’s earnings drop after having a child – but men’s do not” by Abigail Johnson Hess, from CNBC Make It; October 2019 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/16/womens-earnings-drop-after-having-a-childbut-mens-do-not.html
3 “Financial concerns of women” from BMO Global Asset Management Viewpoints https://bmogamviewpoints.com/women/
4 The Administration for Community Living. 2018 Profile of Older Americans; April 2018 https://www.lifeandretirement.aig.com/content/dam/aig/america-canada/us-lnr/documents/pdfs/aig_infographic_women.pdf