Good NEWS!! Single women are generally more cautious spenders than men, since they only splurge on a few items (the expected ones: clothing and personal care products like shampoo and teeth-whitening products, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics), while single guys tear through more money overall, on things like eating out, entertainment and car ownership. Bad news: Those same women are behind on saving for their futures. Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of the women's finance site LearnVest.com, and Barb Chang, head of product for the money management site Mint.com, were asked what single women should be doing with their money right now.
You Need to Track Your Expenses (As Annoying As It Seems)
Chang says single women often say they're too busy and don't see the payoff of putting in a lot of time in tracking. In fact, Mint got started because its founder realized catching up on personal budgeting was taking up an entire Sunday afternoon every week. But staying on top of the money that comes into and goes out of the Bank of You every month is the first step in financial planning. More than 90 percent of Mint users say they have changed their habits as a result of using the service. Here are some different ways you can track your spending.
You Need an Emergency Fund More Than Anyone Else Does
The old rule of thumb was to have about six months' pay in an emergency fund, but Von Tobel says that in the current economic climate, highly educated people who are laid off find that it takes about nine months to find a job—and because more women are getting advanced degrees than men, it's particularly important for them to have more put away. The best place to keep an emergency savings account, von Tobel says, is in a place you can easily access without penalty at anytime. This means a money market account or high-interest savings account. And as you know but it probably bears repeating, don't put the money in the stock market or in equities, as volatility in the market could decrease your savings.
Debt Can Hurt Your Future. .Even If You Wind Up Marrying "Mr. Perfect Credit"
In 2009, 15 percent of American adults were late making a credit card payment; 8 percent missed a payment entirely. Those fees added up to about $20.5 billion, according to R.K. Hammer, a consultant to the credit card industry. Although those numbers decreased a bit last year, they've started creeping up again as some of the country's major credit card issuers posted increases in the number of credit card payments that were at least 30 days late in September. Even if you're only a week or two late, a credit card company can still disclose your missed payment to credit reporting agencies, and that may damage your credit score. You should know your debt-to-income ratio (the percentage of your income which you use to pay off your debts). These numbers impact anyone's credit score—so you want it lower than 36 percent. (If you're a single woman, even if you do end up marrying someone with pristine credit, banks will take the lower of you and your partner's credit scores.)
You Still Need a Life Insurance Policy
Von Tobel has noticed that a lot of childless women say, "I don't need life insurance because I have no dependents." If they died and didn't have insurance, though, their family would be responsible for paying off their car and education loans, mortgage, estate taxes and other debts. If you're a single mom and don't have it—and research from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business and Genworth Financial shows that almost 70 percent of single parents with children living at home are in this situation—you risk your children not having their basic needs met, especially if there's no dad in the picture. Most experts say you should carry life insurance that's equal to six to 10 times your salary. If you have children, add more.
Saving for Retirement Is More Important Than You Think
It's easy to procrastinate when retirement seems so far off and other demands—like student loans for 20-somethings and mortgage payments for 30-somethings—seem more pressing. And while you definitely should not neglect those obligations, retirement should be just as high a priority. In a panel on women and retirement sponsored by Merrill Lynch earlier this year, moderator Charles Gibson noted that in 2007 the average amount a woman had in her 401k was about $56,000, while a man had $95,000. Another fact from the seminar: Finance expert David Bach, who's written 11 books on money, said the general rule for anyone (men, women, married or single) is to save at least 10 percent of your gross income for your twilight years. But because of women's longer life spans (and think about how expensive those additional seven to nine years can be with nursing homes or extra medical care), he recommends that they save 15 percent.