EmpowHER! Why more women are taking the financial lead

Women are becoming more knowledgeable about finances, becoming more confident managing their own investments and talking more openly about moneywith their kids, colleagues and peers. This, according to new research conducted by Citi's Women & Company.

I recently chatted with Lisa Caputo, president and CEO of Women & Co, and she says that it's about the recession and its aftermath. "Women are ushering in this new era of responsibility. They're stepping into the role of 'Chief Financial Officer' and building quality lives for themselves and their families."

They're going to graduate school. Starting companies. Becoming breadwinners. Even outgrowing the number of men in the workforce -- for the first time in American history. "We're taking the financial lead," says Caputo, "and becoming more empowered."

Here's how you can do it -- at any age:

In Your 20s
Time is on your side - use it to build a solid financial foundation.Start living on a budget, identifying financial goals and putting a plan in motion, and most importantly, setting aside income, says Caputo. Ideally, aim to set aside 15% of your gross salary. Not possible? This money doesn't have to come out of your pocket so it's not be as painful as it seems. For example, say you're single, and making $50,000 a year. If you have just $250 a month of pretax dollars automatically deducted from your paycheck, and deposited in your company's 401K plan, and if your company matches those contributions (50 cents on the dollar up to 6% of your salary), you're already more than halfway there!

In your 30s

Set up an emergency fund (ideally, 6 months worth of living expenses), max out the contributions, and "define your investment strategy and structure a well diversified portfolio," says Caputo.That may require your working with a financial advisor, particularly since you're probably having a tough time budgeting given your new status (married? kids?). You can find one through napfa.org.

In your 40s
You may be juggling the needs of a growing family and aging parents, but don't take a break from retirement savings. And think about protecting your legacy, says Caputo. "We're talking wills, naming guardians for small children, and getting life insurance if you have dependents."

In Your 50s
This is when you want to get serious about crunching the numbers -- specifically, estimating your retirement expenses and your projected income.There are calculators on the web to help you do this. Once you're age 50, you can add an extra $5,500 in catch-up contributions to your 401(k); IRA savers can throw in another $1,000. Take advantage of this. Caputo says you should also rebalance your portfolio, and review your life insurance coverage at this age.

In Your 60s
You're eligible to collect Social Security benefits beginning at age 62 -- the median retirement age -- but if you can wait a few years the payouts will be bigger. In fact, every year you delay drawing Social Security between age 62 and 70 increases your eventual payout by about 8% a year. Just something to think about, says Caputo, who also suggests you go back to budgeting basics as you learn to live on a fixed income, and that you additionally update your estate plans.
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