Women are more financially independent than ever before: The majority - whether single, married or partnered - are their household's primary breadwinner, according to a Prudential survey. They make up close to half of the work force, and more than half of college graduates.
But there is an older generation that may just be discovering their financial independence for the first time. Mary's mother falls into that category: Married for many years, Mary says she was part of a generation that took care of her husband and the home first. It was only later, after Mary's dad passed away, that she was able to experience financial independence, even buying her very first car at age 76.
Many people reach this point and freeze - they don't know how to manage the money and household decisions on their own after so many years spent relying on someone else. Here's how to make the transition:
Start early. A solid 90% of women will have to manage their finances solo at some point in their lives. It's a function of many factors - namely, divorce, waiting longer to marry, and the fact that women tend to outlive men. Start planning for this change in advance by putting a foot in the family finances now. That means learning all of the log-in information for online accounts, what is owed and when those bills are due, how much you save and where you save it, how much you have available for retirement, and what your insurance coverage is. Sit down and shadow your partner if he (or she!) tends to manage this side of your lives alone.
Embrace it. Mary's mother found that taking charge of her own financial life - picking out and paying for that car all on her own - was empowering. Mary says she's become a "new, dynamic woman," one who has freedom and independence. Though her father is greatly missed, it's a good feeling. You may find yourself experiencing the same thing. Take the time to enjoy your newfound freedom, and pat yourself on the back for your accomplishments.
Take advantage. Mary's mom was finally able to purchase the car she wanted after all those years. What do you want? You'll quickly find that saving for a goal and making it happen is an immense feeling of accomplishment. Pick something small and work toward it - that momentum will give you the confidence to meet larger goals in the future, like retirement.
Get help. A major life change or milestone is a good opportunity to seek advice from a financial advisor. Even just a quick check up can give you the confidence you need to move forward on your own; a more long-term relationship can help ensure that you get and stay on track with periodic check-ins.
Don't be too independent. You need a team of people on your side as you go into the later stages of life. One might be the aforementioned financial advisor, but you'll also want someone or multiple people to serve as your financial and healthcare powers of attorney. These people are designated to make decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself, and you'll select them as part of a comprehensive estate-planning package, which also includes your will.