Women's top financial shortfalls

Dan AbramsI'll probably read Dan Abrams' new book, Man Down, when it comes out -- a book abut how women are better than men in just about everything. I can see it now -- we're better managers/leaders, we're better multi-taskers, we're better caretakers, graduate from college at a higher rate than men, more apt to ask for help when we need it, and more prone to have open discussions about sticky topics like money. I get all that.

No doubt, women have certainly made great strides, particularly post-recession (We now account for 50% of the workforce; mothers are the primary breadwinners in four out of 10 American families; 40% of working women are managers or professionals), but we still come up short in any number of areas. Among them:

Women may boast better returns over the long-term, but most lack confidence when it comes to investing. In fact, it often takes a life event, like getting married, for example, to prompt us to get going in the first place; men start investing earlier, and more gradually. The sad truth is that many of us rely on our husbands -- still -- when it comes to planning long-term finances. It may be a cultural thing, the way we were raised, anxiety about math, a general sense of insecurity, lack of knowledge about the increasingly sophisticated products that are available, but the reality is this: 9 in 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in our lives and not having some knowledge as it relates to investing is downright dangerous.

Men initiate negotiations about four times more often than women. An astounding 20% of women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all !! And it's costing us any number of ways: By not negotiating our first salary, for example, we stand to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. We're also less assertive when it comes to asking for raises and promotions. And we're spending nearly 47% more (!) for goods and services than men, paying as much as $1,353, for example, just to avoid negotiating the price of a car. Ladies: Stop playing nice.

While a recent study by the New York research firm Reach Advisors found that younger women are out-earning their male counterparts in the country's biggest metropolitan areas (Single, childless women in their 20s earn a median $27,000 a year -- that's 8% more than comparable men), the truth is this: once women get married, wages usually become stagnant. Or fall. And we're back at square one, making about 80 cents to the man's dollar (about the equivalent of working over six days to be paid what our male counterpart is paid in five), resulting in a lifetime loss of more than $300,000.

Women may be reigning in the spending (especially moms, since we're running the household finances and are responsible for about 80% of all purchases), but we're more apt to buy what we want, whereas men tend to buy what they need. In short: we're making a lot of unplanned, impulse purchases. And it's happening everywhere, from the grocery stores to the department stores to the sample sales, and outlets, says Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University. Where it's becoming increasingly prevalent: online, at the 24-48 hour flash sales and on social buying websites like groupon.com, where women are snatching up all sorts of things they never thought they wanted, but suddenly do -- from candle-making classes to high-speed Catamaran rides.

An astounding 87% of elderly Americans living in poverty are women; 25% of us go broke within two months of the death of our spouse, according to the National Center for Women and Retirement Research. Why? Because less than 15% of us think that planning for retirement is our responsibility (Only 41% of women participate in an employer-sponsored 401K), yet a whopping 75% of us will be widowed by an average age of 56. The message: Take charge of your financial future or there won't be one.
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