It’s time to ‘lean in’

In her book “Lean In,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Sandberg’s mantra encourages active engagement — in the boardroom and around conference tables where important decisions are made.

Women’s reluctance isn’t unique to their professional lives. It often carries over to their personal financial lives. I urge you to “lean in” at your kitchen table.

Consider the situations of three of my clients — a successful business owner, an accomplished mathematics professor and a respected medical professional. What do these three women have in common? They were all blindsided with sudden, sole responsibility for their household finances and long-term financial security.

The business owner’s spouse filed for divorce, the professor’s husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and the doctor’s husband died of a massive heart attack. Although all of the women had been involved in the day-to-day finances of their households, not one of them was prepared for the unexpected new role as CFO of their household. These women are not the exception. Unfortunately, they are the norm.

A recent UBS survey of more than 3,500 high-net-worth women around the world found 58 percent defer long-term financial decisions to their spouses or ex-spouses. Many women are introduced to the important financial decisions that have been made for them during critical life moments such as divorce or the death of a spouse. The study found that an overwhelming number of widows and divorcees (74 percent) discovered negative financial surprises when they were forced to take control.

The study also revealed that women who defer to their spouses have many reasons for doing so, such as more urgent responsibilities, a lack of interest in long-term finances and even discouragement from their spouses. Even in this new-age feminist generation — while we’re breaking glass ceilings, running for political office in record numbers, starting and running companies — when it comes to our personal finances, we’re still pushing those decisions to men.

Nearly 90 percent of women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives. Whether single by choice, divorced or widowed — women live on average eight to 10 years longer than men — statistics clearly demonstrate why it is essential that you have a solid understanding of your household finances and your economic future.

Become involved in the budgeting, investment and estate planning decisions. It may seem daunting or even uncomfortable, but time spent now will empower your future security. Ask questions and get answers. Knowing your numbers is a proactive game-changer.

As you lean in at home and begin to take greater control of your financial life, consider this quote from Sandberg’s book. “Women need to shift from thinking, ‘I am not ready to do that,’ to ‘I want to do that, and I will learn by doing it.’ With the New Year approaching, resolve to make 2020 the year you’ll lean in at your kitchen table.

Sandra Gontero, CPA/PFS, CFP, is the founder of Epoch Wealth Management