Women: we need to talk about your money choices

ASIC commissioner Cathie Armour.
ASIC commissioner Cathie Armour. Photo: Rob Homer

Money is often hard to come by and harder still to discuss. It’s too personal, too loaded, an all-round social minefield – especially for women, it seems, who often tiptoe around the subject.

But no-one wins if 51 per cent of the population count themselves out of discussions about savings and investments, especially when you consider they can be left to make major financial decisions about their own lives and those of significant others.

Women generally live longer than men, and they are more likely to take time out of their lives to care for children and elderly relatives. These are two key financial ‘pressure points’ where it pays to be confident.

Kate Ritchie is amongst those sharing their money stories.
Kate Ritchie is amongst those sharing their money stories. Photo: Chloe Paul

There is no shortage of responsibility placed on women, but research tells us 40 per cent of women say they find dealing with money "overwhelming". When you consider how personal circumstances can often leave women isolated, a more accurate term might be "stressed".

Picture a woman in her sixties, say, newly widowed and left to figure out if the couple’s life savings are anywhere near enough to afford up to 30 years of living expenses.

Or imagine a woman left to negotiate her way through a divorce and property settlement if she had until then relied on her spouse to make all the financial decisions.

Both dreadful scenarios, but quite typical, and far more terrifying for anyone who has previously left decisions about money to someone else.


In last year’s ANZ Financial Wellbeing survey women scored 57 for financial wellbeing, whereas men scored 61.


These numbers matter. The ANZ survey also found women accounted for 59 per cent of those who were struggling to meet day-to-day commitments, who were not feeling comfortable with their financial situation and had who little financial resilience for the future.

That’s why women have been identified as a priority audience in the National Financial Literacy Strategy and why the Australian Securities Investments Commission’s MoneySmart website is launching a series of video interviews featuring high-profile women speaking candidly about their experiences with money.

For many women the risk of austerity is far more evident at the other end of life.

At retirement, women have about half the super balance of men - $230,907 versus $454,221. Plenty of couples will survive on pooled resources, of course, but the gap between the super balances is a statistic no woman should ignore.

Women also need to talk about the lessons they’ve learned about money. In her interview social commentator and Fairfax Media columnist Jane Caro talks about the value in mistakes.

"I got involved in a bad investment when I was young," she says.

"I felt like a fool and that I was no good with money but what I would say now is those are recoverable from. Learn from it … sometimes that’s the way it goes."

Caro’s not alone in struggling with major financial decisions early in life: 85 per cent of women under 35 don’t understand fundamental investment concepts and 77 per cent of women under-35 don’t know the value of their super.

Actor and radio host Kate Ritchie, TV presenter Faustina Agolley and businesswoman Sarah Moran also share stories about the daily management of money, the importance of planning for the future and the stepping stones they took (or tripped on) to making informed decisions.

For Ritchie, an early investment decision is one of the best she says she’s ever likely to make.

Women need to share these stories, good and bad. Life throws us challenges, and our financial acumen needs to be up to the challenge.

To face the major money events in life they need to be able to plan past the day to day, including retirement and beyond. For some women this will mean coming to grips with fundamental investment concepts – or asking for advice when the time comes.

A survey by ASIC showed 77 per cent of women say they don’t understand the risk-return trade-off and 75 per cent say they don’t understand the concept of diversification. That needs to change.

The more we talk about money, the more women will be part of money conversations and have the information they need to be in control of their financial lives.

Cathie Armour is a commissioner at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission