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May is a month to celebrate women, particularly mothers, and our many achievements.  Women’s roles at home and in the workplace have changed dramatically and the economic power and influence that women have gained over the last few decades is exciting.

It is estimated that women currently control nearly $10 trillion of wealth and that number is expected to triple to $30 trillion by the end of the decade.  While women have a lot to celebrate, there are some unique challenges, particularly as we transition in and out of various phases of our lives, that impact our finances and our ability to build and preserve wealth.

In my work as a financial advisor, I have found that there are a lot of women who don’t like to talk about their finances.  In fact, there are studies that show that more women would prefer to talk about their own death than their finances! 

My Journey – Twists, Turns and Changes

Upon graduating from Boston College with an Accounting degree, I began a very successful career as a CPA with Ernst & Young in New York City.  During my 10 years with Ernst & Young, I was on a fast-track to Partner, earned an MBA, got married, purchased my first home, and had my first child. 

In 2001, our family relocated to the Bay Area and I decided to retire from my career to provide primary care for our children so my husband could focus on a new business venture.  In 2011, after a 10-year hiatus spent raising three children, I decided to return to work and start my second career as a Financial Advisor with The Barry & Milligan Group at Merrill Lynch.

During my 10 years at Merrill Lynch, I worked hard to learn the business, build our practice, and earn several professional licenses and designations, all the while maintaining a busy home life with very active kids.  Last year I took a significant financial risk by leaving Merrill Lynch with my teammates and becoming a business owner of Quorum Private Wealth.  And sadly, over the last year, I have also been working through a very difficult dissolution of my 27-year marriage.

Life Stages Can Take Years – But Every Day Matters

If you are like me, life isn’t exactly a straight line. It's a winding road, with many forks, and may even feel chaotic at times, pulling us in many different directions, with different roles and responsibilities along the way.  While each life stage brings important rewards, including emotional fulfillment, each stage also presents risks, which can have significant financial consequences.  Understanding how your day-to-day life intersects with your financial life can help you plan and prepare for whatever may come your way. Things you’re anticipating and expecting — and, sometimes, things you’re not.

Keep Your Finances in Front of You

The twin of not wanting to talk about money is not wanting to think about it. And when you put it off, it just gets harder. My rule for myself was to always keep my finances in front of me – maintaining a comprehensive net worth statement, understanding our household income and expenses, maximizing contributions to my retirement accounts, managing household debt, planning for kids’ education costs and keeping an eye on our investments. 

I appreciate that you might say – well, Sue, financial advising is your day job so it’s easy for you to stay on top of all of this.  And while that may be true, financial knowledge is the key to financial independence and having confidence is imperative. 

There are many components to a financial plan, but there are five foundational things you should start with:

  1.  Take an inventory of your important financial documents so that you know what you have and where you have it.
  2.  Stay actively involved in all financial decisions. Don’t let a partner make them for you and be sure that your needs are considered.
  3.  Expect potential career interruptions and plan accordingly. Contribute as much as possible to retirement plans while working
  4.  Simplify your finances by consolidating accounts wherever possible. This makes it easier to keep everything in front of you
  5.  Regularly examine your goals and update financial plans when major life changes occur -- but always keep a long-term view on investing!

The one thing you can do today for your financial health is OWN it! The power of knowledge, planning and preparation can help you feel informed and excited about wherever your journey takes you.  So, let’s celebrate the successes of women this May by taking control of our finances.  And, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers and grandmothers.