Heather Pulier is the founder of Outset Financial, a platform that promotes financial literacy and wellness, with a focus on women. Her own personal narrative–one of extreme wealth to bankruptcy and divorce almost overnight–was a driving force behind the launching of her business. When she found herself a single mother of four children under the age of 8 and $12.5 million in debt, she knew she needed to take control of her financial future without once again ceding her power to the men in her life. Her decisions and family history of financial trauma had led her down a ruinous path. When she started to educate herself about saving and investing, she realized just how much of her outlook on money was rooted in heavily gendered assumptions that men are better with money than women. “Money choices are first and foremost emotional,” she says. “Most people don’t think of them that way.” She got a masters in marriage and family therapy, became a nationally licensed insurance producer, and used her collective skill set to start her own financial advising company and help others avoid the mistakes she had made.
Her story, she says, while extreme, is not unique and has universal application to so many women, no matter how empowered in other areas of their lives, who find themselves in positions of giving their money power away. “Women have had a relatively short history of financial autonomy—it wasn’t until 1974, for instance, that we were allowed to have credit cards in our name, regardless of marital status—so we’ve had to work double time to come into our fiscal maturity. Meanwhile, women at every age still face a variety of financial hurdles: a stubborn gender pay gap that slashes lifetime earnings; career breaks during early motherhood that dent professional advancement; longer life expectancies that demand heftier retirement resources; and a pervasive investment gap that stunts wealth-building potential. Women must navigate a high-stakes financial landscape, but it is possible to cultivate personal awareness in order to make wise, and self-protective, financial choices in every decade of life so that we can keep landing on our feet.”
Tips and Tools for Every Decade
In your 30s: Build your financial core
- Avoid lifestyle inflation: As your income increases, resist the urge to upgrade your lifestyle. Instead, prioritize saving and investing for long- and short-term security. If your employer matches, contribute to your retirement fund, 401(k), or Roth IRA. As for short-term security, read on…
- Build a WTF (“what the f***”) fund: Life can fall apart—welcome to being alive. Save three to six months of living expenses as an emergency fund.
- Close the gender pay gap: Negotiate effectively and advocate for fair compensation. You are worth it; women are worth it.
- Evaluate your money influencers: The official, or unofficial, advisers you surround yourself with tremendously influence your financial health. Choose wisely.
- Look back: Examine what your parents taught you emotionally and practically about money. Create a “family money tree,” reaching back to your grandparents, detailing what patterns, habits, and beliefs they had—and that you are still holding on to today. These embedded beliefs and narratives often keep us from achieving money health. Identify the positive traits, strive to keep those in your repertoire, and discard the rest.
- Dodge “starter marriage” land mines: Early-in-life divorces can wreak havoc on your finances. And since 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, this makes it what is known as a “high-risk” event. Have candid conversations with your partner about your finances, goals, and expectations, and create a personalized partnership agreement—not a prenup—outlining how you will handle the challenges to minimize future financial disasters.
- Buy whole life insurance: This is an asset you can buy without a partner. When you’re young and healthy, the rates are low, which will grow at a fixed rate as you age. Investing in whole life insurance offers you tax-deferred compound interest, which is money you can use while you’re alive.
In your 40s: Capitalize on your progress
- Maximize retirement contributions: Increase contributions to accounts like a 401(k) or an IRA, and take advantage of employer matching, aiming to contribute the maximum annual limit.
- Pay off high-interest debt such as credit card balances and loans.
- Say no to “gray divorce” debt: With age comes wisdom—and a higher risk of divorce. Understand your particular set of financial consequences should your marriage or partnership end—what the family law asserts in your particular state, how your assets will be divided, how your credit score will affect you. Knowing what you can count on in case of divorce also means you know how your shared funds are managed and where they are held.
- Share the “mental load”: The invisible burden of juggling domestic planning, childcare, household organization, and errands often falls disproportionately on women. Meanwhile, men are often siloed with financial responsibility. (This is a more traditional view, of course: The genders can be reversed on this. And same-sex partners may find themselves divided along similar lines.) It’s important to share the mental load in all arenas so there is a fair distribution. But, in particular, participating in the household budget will nurture financial intimacy, allowing both people to take part in the decision-making, leading to a healthier and more balanced relationship.
- Diversify your investments: Spread investments across asset classes such as stocks, bonds, and real estate to reduce risk and increase potential returns.
- Invest in a health savings account (HSA): Contribute to an HSA if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan to cover medical expenses. These accounts offer triple tax advantages and can help cover medical costs now and in the future, including during retirement.
- Be a mindful mentor: Engage in age-appropriate conversations about money management, saving, and investing with your children or younger employees. This reinforces your positive financial habits and ensures you let go of any unwanted behaviors. Remember, financial stress can spread like wildfire, and protecting our kids from its impact is essential.
- Make a will: Protect your loved ones and your assets.
In your 50s: Navigating midlife financial challenges
- Don’t let fear drive your decisions: It’s common to feel anxious about retirement as it approaches. Instead of making fear-based choices—such as seeking higher, quicker returns with riskier investments—focus on building a solid financial foundation, and seek professional guidance so you make well-informed decisions.
- Outsmart the “pink tax”: Researchers in gender inequality have found that many goods and services marketed to women are priced higher than the same products offered to men. Deodorants, for example, are often more expensive for women than men, even with similar ingredients; dry cleaners usually charge more to clean a woman’s blouse than a man’s shirt, even if they are made of the same material and are a similar size; a woman’s white T-shirt often costs more than a man’s white T-shirt. Shop smart; frugality is the new black.
- Purchase long-term-care insurance. As people age, the likelihood of needing assistance with daily living increases. Long-term-care insurance can help cover these expenses and protect retirement savings. Here are some affordable options to consider: long-term-care insurance (LTCI); hybrid life/long-term-care policies; critical illness insurance; annuities with long-term-care riders. Compare policies, seek professional advice, and review terms and conditions before making a decision.
- Beware the empty-nest syndrome: Do not try to fill the void with spending.
Evaluate the services, products, and people in your money life. What you buy and who you work with when you’re young may no longer feel right today. It is okay to say goodbye to advisers no longer serving you.
- Be ready to ride solo: Increased living expenses and reduced income are helped by having a solid financial education and a robust support network. Both are vital when living alone due to divorce or the death of a spouse. Plan for and embrace the idea of single life with financial confidence.
In your 60s: It gets better
- Reevaluate your priorities: No one actually “retires” from spending money. That is, you will always need to be aware of where your dollars are going. As you enter the later decades, whether this brings retirement or a second career, take the time to reassess your financial goals and align them with your current lifestyle.
- Avoid lifestyle inflation: Sixty is the new 40. You may live another 25 to 35 years. This is not your last hoorah!
- Be thoughtful about late-life-partnership finances: Discuss assets and estate planning to protect each of your financial interests.
- Embrace living: Aging also doesn’t mean you stop living. Prioritize experiences and relationships over material possessions.
- Conquer the fear of outliving your money: Ensure you have a sustainable retirement income plan. Rather than scare you with equations for how much you should have saved by now, let me suggest instead that retirement savings can come from a variety of different sources, including Social Security benefits, employer-provided pension plans, annuities that offer regular distributions, or even part-time work. Consult a financial planner to create a strategy that considers your particular circumstances and life expectancy.
- Rewrite your will: It is your money. Make sure you enjoy it while you are alive, but also make sure you are leaving it how—and to whom—you want.
- Write your medical directives: If you do not want extreme measures to be taken if you are incapacitated, potentially bankrupting your estate, make sure you have this in writing.
Any content published by Oprah Daily is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be regarded as a substitute for professional guidance from your healthcare provider.
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