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Financial planning for female breadwinners

“The big thing is, career women have a lot to juggle. Just because they are professionals with budding careers, that doesn't necessarily mean they're still not [putting in] labor at home,” says Jackie Porter, a certified financial planner from Mississauga, Ontario.

Many of Porter’s female clients who are primary income earners come to her because they’ve been too busy to tackle their finances while dealing with the demands of their work and families.

They often want to plan for their retirement, but Porter says they tend to take less risk on their investments and focus on having a sustainable plan of action, compared to her male clients.

Sara McCullough, a certified financial planner from Kitchener, Ontario, says most of her clients come to her to help manage income and expenses, regardless of how much they earn.

She doesn’t think there are any gender-based differences in her clients when it comes to financial priorities or concerns. However, she finds sometimes men need information presented differently than women.

“[Men] are more reassured by seeing software output that shows them, at retirement, your assets are here, and then they run down like this. And it's like, ‘Show me the big picture. And I'll understand that I can still afford to buy groceries.’”

Women tend to focus on how their finances look day to day, with a more account-focused approach.

“Women, generally speaking are a little bit more, ‘Show me what account I'm buying the groceries out of. And then I will believe the big picture,’ right?”

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Have financial conversations with your partner

Both Porter and McCullough said they often help their clients breach uncomfortable conversations around finance with their partners. This could have to do with splitting bills, planning for the future or taking care of non-financial responsibilities at home, like housework and child rearing.

“Even having conversations around things like prenups and postnups or cohab agreements, having a third neutral party come in and say, let's talk about our financial plan for the future,” says Porter.

Jenny Potter, an executive editor for Food & Home with Walmart Canada, was the breadwinner for most of her relationship with her husband, although they currently make around the same earnings.

“I was all about having an emergency fund. And just having cash there for a rainy day … whether it's a job loss, or our cat ate dental floss and she had to have emergency surgery. Versus, like, he was kind of more focused on paying down his debt.”

She said her husband went back to school while they were dating in their mid-20s and they had to be open about what they could each afford, especially as her husband was earning half of what she was making and grappling with student debt.

“That contribution, you know, maybe it isn't like 60/40, maybe it's like 30/70 and so we end up kind of like adjusting.”

They still have separate bank accounts — except for one emergency account — but do their taxes together and have conversations whenever one of them plans on spending a substantial sum of money.

Women who are breadwinners may still contend with the gender wage gap

“Women … tend to be more concerned about their finances, and maybe with good reason — we do live longer than men by four years,” says Porter.

“We take a lot more time off … for childbearing. So that's going to impact our ability to save. And, also, we are in a scenario where we won't make as much in a pension because of those gender differences as well.”

Women make about $0.83 for every dollar a man earns, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s important for women to speak up and negotiate better benefits or higher pay in their jobs, Porter says. Having a second income in place may also be useful, especially if you need to prepare for an unexpected job loss or emergency.

Smith, who started going to a financial planner to help her manage her various investment funds, is currently looking to purchase a property in Florida that she and her husband can rent out, while Potter does freelance work on the side.

Porter and McCullough say they’ve seen an increase in clients who are women and the breadwinners in their households, but McCullough notes, “We sometimes talk about it as a new thing. It's been happening for a while.”

Smith believes the shift toward higher-earning and more career-oriented women is due to changing social attitudes and opportunities in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“I just think women don't feel as limited now. I think they feel more empowered to explore different types of careers … And so that probably translates through to more and more women being in places where they take control of their finances themselves.”

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.


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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.


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