Recently, I wrote about the significant retirement savings gap between men and women. Women have less than 1/3 saved for retirement than their male counterparts, and it means many women face severe difficulties when life throws them financial curve balls and that women are far more likely than men to live in poverty in retirement. But there are an incredible number of women who are financially empowered and who have taken the proverbial bull by the horns when it comes to their money and personal financial security. So, in hopes of motivating more women to be financial powerhouses, I reached out to some amazing female personal finance bloggers and money coaches to share their “financial awakening” stories and advice! Keep reading to hear the inspirational stories of 11 fantastic ladies, and see what advice they have for you!
What is a “financial awakening”?
Money has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember. Kids understand the basics of money as early as three years old. But many people don’t have their “financial awakening” until they reach adulthood or face a major financial crisis. Some people never have this awakening and live paycheck-to-paycheck their entire lives.
A financial awakening is an event that makes a person realize they need to take control of their money. That they truly need to put in the work to get out of debt, save for the future, and achieve their financial goals. It is the inspiration that motivates you to make the hard changes for your long-term benefit and security.
Financial awakening stories from strong women – The inspiration you need
Mrs. Need2Save – Strong Women Raise Strong Women
I grew up in a broken home and I have to say that my financial awakening happened at a very early age when I saw how hard it was for my mother to raise 4 kids on small wages. Without knowing it, she taught us the value of hard work through working 2 and 3 jobs at a time to feed us. I remember the day she showed me her monthly budget and how much the mortgage and heating oil costs. She introduced me to the concept of ‘saving for yourself’ via retirement accounts and these lessons stuck with me. This foundation provided me the confidence to deal with men who for some reason only spoke to my husband about big financial decisions like applying for a mortgage or buying a car. I remember vividly a financial planner we worked with at one time (and later fired) that my income probably wouldn’t matter in the long run because I would likely decide to stay home with the kids.
Data shows that women feel intimidated by investing and financial jargon. They are also more inclined to worry about caring for family members than men are which is a major distraction from saving for their own needs. We need to empower women through education and crush the idea that investing is a man’s game. All beginners have concerns about what they don’t know and it doesn’t matter which kind of plumbing you have.
Mrs. Need2Save’s Current Financial Goal: My husband and I are equal partners in our pursuit of financial independence. He keeps me accountable for financial decisions, and I do the same for him. We expect to retire in about 6 years at the age of 51 with no mortgage debt, and enough savings/investments to fund about $60k in living expenses in today’s dollars for 35-45 years (God willing).
Mrs. Need2Save’s Financial Advice for Women: The path to financial wealth is built on living below your means, diligently saving the difference, and avoiding debt. Don’t let fancy jargon cloud your vision – those guys are just trying to sell you something you don’t need!
Desirae Odjick – Sometimes it Only Takes One Small Step
I’ve always been what I would consider “informed” about money, thanks to my rockstar of a mom, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I finally started to implement what I knew, and the first step was kind of hilariously basic: I switched to a no-fee checking account. That one, tiny step gave me the confidence that I was A Person Who Was Good With Money (because I saved all of $5 a month) and propelled me to do other things like start investing, ramp up my savings and track my spending, all of which have had a MAJOR impact on my financial life!
Switching to an online bank three years ago was the first step towards saving 50% of my income today, and helped me buy my first house – seriously. Today, my financial knowledge – plus my willingness to talk openly about it – is helping my boyfriend and I set shared goals and merge some parts of our finances as we move into our first home together.
Desirae’s Current Financial Goal: [Desirae forgot to include her current goal, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that furnishing her new home and paying down that shiny new mortgage are at the top of her list!]
Desirae’s Financial Advice for Women: There’s literally no first step that’s too small to take, and we all have to start somewhere.
Mrs. Groovy – A Career Change Can Lead to a Life Change
My financial awakening was due to a career crisis. I worked as a professional actor for many years and was fed up with the lifestyle — waiting for the phone to ring, never planning anything fearing I’d miss out on last minute gigs, and having little money.
I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do but I was certain I wanted to be a “professional”. So I researched graduate degrees and decided to go for a Master of Public Administration, at the age of 40.
I wish I could say that an MPA led to some marvelous career. It didn’t. But I got a job easily at a competitive salary and I was good at it. However, the biggest life-changing result of getting the degree was meeting Mr. Groovy in my grad program. He, too, was seeking a life change. And he got it alright!
Mrs. Groovy’s Current Financial Goal: I’m retired, so my money goal is to maintain our investments and keep expenses on track.
Mrs. Groovy’s Financial Advice for Women: Ladies, if you’re dissatisfied with your finances or your career — push yourself to take action. Read up on investing, start a side-hustle, take a class. Behave like you mean business and the universe will open up for you in ways you can’t conceive of now.
Julie Rains – Investing is the Key to Wealth
Being motivated by money has been a priority for me since I was a kid as I’m a natural-born saver. But I began to see bigger possibilities when I was in college studying business and finance and working as a resident assistant in housing.
One of the full-time housing staff members was independently wealthy, having been an original investor in a small-town grocery store that experienced tremendous growth. Some of my brainy, ambitious co-workers (and fellow college students) who weren’t business majors asked me how this ordinary person became wealthy. As I explained how investing works, I realized that not only did I understand finance reasonably well, I could also become wealthy through investing – even if I never became a CEO. After I landed my first real job – before I had things like bedroom furniture — I started saving and investing for the future. It was one of the smartest things I did.
Julie’s Current Financial Goal: Right now, more than 30 years after explaining to my friends how to invest, one of my biggest priorities is to invest in myself. I’ve focused a lot on investing for the long-term future and making sure my children got a good education. Now that I’ve achieved retirement and educational goals, I’m focusing on upping investments in my professional endeavors.
Julie’s Financial Advice for Women: Invest for the future and invest in yourself.
Lauren @ Millennial Dollar – Wanting More Than Our Parents Had
I remember having awareness of money at a very young age. I couldn’t live in the same neighborhood as my friends, I couldn’t play hockey, and we never got popcorn at the movies because “we didn’t have the money”. It didn’t seem fair. So for as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of having money so that I could do all the things in life that I wanted to do.
Once my parents divorced, the money issue became even more magnified. I was getting old enough to understand certain things, so I could see how some of my parents’ financial decisions were causing the hardship. They split $14,000 in credit card debt when they divorced. Seeing the struggles that my family went through during that time made me vow that I would be smart with my money in my adult life.
As a young adult, I struggled with alcoholism, eventually putting myself in the position where I used my available credit to rebuild my life early in sobriety while I didn’t have a job. I’ve almost recovered from that debt and am beginning the journey I set out on as kid… have lots of money and be smart with it so I can have the option to do all the things I want to do in life.
Lauren’s Current Financial Goal: Finish paying off credit card debt and my car loan!
Lauren’s Financial Advice for Women: We live in the information age, meaning that we have such easy access to this abundance of information about finance (or really anything you want to learn about). Take advantage of it and read everything. Educating yourself is the best investment you can make in your financial future if you don’t know where to start.
Jacki Cummings Koski – Learning from Seeing the Retirement Savings Gap Firsthand
My sad financial awakening was when I got divorced many years ago. The divorce itself was hard enough… but when I started reviewing my ex’s and my retirement accounts, it was a real eye opener. We were both in our 30s, making about the same salary, and been at our jobs for about the same amount of time. BUT when I looked at our 401(k) statements, I had $20,000 and he had $120,000! Yes, HE had $100k more than I had saved for retirement!
Now a single mom and my daughter watching and learning from everything I do…I had to pull it together. Restarting after the divorce, I ended up with about $60k in my rollover IRA that I never added or removed any money, promising myself I would learn how to make that money grow. I learned everything I could about investing and the stock market from reading online, listening to podcasts and most of all, joining an investment club supported by a non-profit investor education organization called BetterInvesting. I wanted to be a positive financial role model for my then teenage daughter (now an adult). Fast forward 12 years, that IRA account has grown to $164k! And on top of that, I have maxed out my 401(k), Roth IRA and Health Savings Account (investing the funds) every year for the past 9 years. #SuperEmpowering!
Jacki’s Current Financial Goal: Becoming Financially Independent and Retiring “Extra” Early from Corporate America in my 40s.
Jacki’s Financial Advice for Women: Don’t be afraid to learn about investing, it is not as scary as some make it out to be and free education sources are everywhere. It is very empowering to see your money grow and to know you did something to make it happen.
Kendall Hamilton – Making Too Much to Feel This Broke
My financial awakening came at tax season. After seeing, what my husband and I made, combined, I couldn’t understand why we were feeling so strapped for cash all the time. We were making too much to feel this broke. To top it off, we couldn’t tell you where all of our money was actually going. Dining out? Shopping? Something needed to change.
I started researching different budgets that would work for us and stumbled upon Dave Ramsey. After reading about his “baby steps”, I was hooked! I finally felt that fire inside to get serious about our finances so that my husband and I could live a debt-free life. We are now working our way through the baby steps together, one at a time. We can’t imagine handling our finances any other way. With the tools to succeed and the realization of just how important it is to create a budget, we have completely turned our finances around. My husband and I are determined to ride out this financial journey and transition from ballers on a budget, to financial freedom! We are paying off our loans, saving more money, easily tracking our expenses, and spending within our means.
Kendall’s Current Financial Goal: Our current large financial goal is to completely pay off our remaining debt so that we can focus on purchasing our first home together!
Kendall’s Financial Advice for Women: In today’s society, it is considered “normal” to have debt. Break the norm and live a life free of debt so that you can set yourself up for financial freedom!
Lily @ The Frugal Gene – Finding Inspiration from Those Around Us
My “financial awakening” was sort of like a double attack. My student loan bill came and it hit me hard. I was about $20K in the hole. At the same time, I started dating this Dane Dehaan look-a-like. He was this young Silicon Valley big shot. He became the VP of Engineering at just 28 years old. 28! He’d say things that I’ve never heard of like “asset allocation” and “my advisor in Chicago.”
One day, I told him that my life goal was to buy a red Audi TT coupe. He stared at me and he told me that was the most “pathetic life goal” he has ever heard. I honestly didn’t understand what he meant by that at the time. I was just a broke 22-year-old kid. The TT was $50,000 and that sounded light years away from my reality. Now I know why he reacted like he did. He wanted me to shoot higher in life, like him. But I was very financially naïve at the time. I mean… my lifetime aspiration was to own a flashy car? Did I really say that? 🙁
Lily’s Current Financial Goal: Build a $3 million net worth before 2035.
Lily’s Financial Advice for Women: Don’t buy that $60 hair conditioner. It probably cost them $1 dollar to make and $30 to advertise.
Emily Guy Birken – Believing in Yourself!
It’s hard for me to describe a “financial awakening” in my life because I have always been a money nerd and a squirrel. However, I have had an important money-related “awakening” in regards to my marriage.
I was a high school English teacher until I had kids. The original plan was for me to take a year off, but after our first child was born, I looked for some writing gigs so that I could still bring in a little money.
My husband had a hard time believing that I could make real money by writing, even though my freelancing career took off quickly. I also realized pretty soon after having our son that I could not go back to teaching. The level of stress that I lived with when I was childless was simply unacceptable now that I was a parent.
The problem was that my husband wanted some sort of guarantee of financial stability from my new writing career, and no amount of promises from me that I would get a traditional job if the freelancing clients dried up would reassure him. That’s because his risk tolerance is very low and his inability to understand what I do and why I’m good at it made it tough for him to accept that I really was building a stable and lucrative career. We had a lot of tense discussions, but I would not allow his fears to compromise my dreams.
This led me to my “awakening.” I realized that you have to believe in yourself absolutely. I knew that I could make freelancing work, but if I had let my husband’s worries affect me, I would have gotten a traditional job and tried to freelance on the sides. But I got overwhelmed working full-time without kids, and the only way I could actually build a freelance career that would work for me is if it were my main career. So that’s what I did.
Here I am seven years later with a thriving freelance career, including four published books. My husband got on board after he was able to overcome his own financial fears, but not letting his fears dictate my choices was a tough moment in our marriage and one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. Knowing myself, my talents, my values, and my ability to make good financial choices allowed me to make the decision to pursue this career even when it caused a strain in our marriage. I realized the only way to prove to him that I could do was to do it.[Ladies, Emily recently published a new book called End Financial Stress Now! Be sure to check it out and help her reach her goal!]
Emily’s Current Financial Goal: To out-earn my husband, which I have not yet achieved. There’s a little bit of “neener neener” to this goal, but I also want to give him the gift of ending his money worries, many of which are based on the fear that he might lose his job. He has financial demons that I can’t fully understand, and I want to do anything I can to lessen those demons.
Emily’s Financial Advice for Women: Know who you are and what you can do, and don’t let anyone stand in your way. If you are honest with yourself about your abilities and your potential, then you can trust yourself to take a risk.
Femme Frugality – Knowing Your on Your Own
From a relatively young age, I knew I’d be on my own financially. I had to figure out how I was going to get money to pay the bills while not completely giving up on my education. I had to find ways to keep big costs like rent and vehicle expenses to a minimum. I was responsible with my money because I had to be; there was no one to bail me out.
I don’t know that I ever really had a financial awakening. I was taught good money habits from a young age and took them to heart. When I got thrown into the pool of life, these habits served as my floaties.
Femme’s Current Financial Goal: Currently saving for a downpayment on a house!
Femme’s Financial Advice for Women: When all of your goals are so immediate, it can be difficult to think longer-term. I am currently saving for a down payment for a house, and it’s been frustrating when “life happens” and I get derailed. If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to keep going, even when the excitement of setting a new goal is gone, and reaching it seems impossible. Persistence in this stage is where the real magic happens—even though it’s hard.
So what’s your story? What is going to help you reach your goals?
I had a great time collecting all these amazing financial awakening stories. I hope it was inspiring to read about women who are chasing their financial goals full force and believing in themselves. Did you see aspects of your own life in their tales? Did it make you think about your own goals? What’s your next step? Let’s start closing that retirement savings gender gap together!
I’m hoping to keep collecting these stories and spreading the word about all the female financial success stories out there! If you have a story to tell, a piece of advice to share, or a goal you want help achieving, comment below or send me an email anytime. I would love to hear about it!