Late, great comedian Joan Rivers is quoted as saying: “People say that money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.”

While Rivers might have been extolling on the virtues of having the money to buy anything, it’s also possible she was making a point about financial independence. Essentially, with money comes freedom — such as the freedom to change your locks or buy your own place.

So, having a key made? Metaphor or not, that’s just one reason why women should invest in themselves, their financial independence and their financial futures. Some other reasons? Let’s discuss… and then let’s figure out how women can get started today.

  • The gender pay gap.
  • Time out of the workforce.
  • Longer lifespans.
  • Financial independence.

The gender pay gap

Let’s start with the mother of all issues: the gender pay gap.

In their lifetimes, women will generally earn substantially less than their male counterparts due to various factors including maternity leave and time spent raising their families.

Using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has calculated that Australia’s current national gender pay gap is 14.6%.

The good news is the WGEA consider the gender pay gap in Australia to be at its lowest level in 20 years.

But before you start jumping up and down, there’s some bad news. According to the WGEA, the full-time total remuneration gender pay gap — covering salary, superannuation, bonuses and other additional payments — is 21.3%. This means that right now, generally, men working full-time earn nearly $26,000  a year more than women working full-time.

While these statistics only measure women's overall position in the paid workforce and don’t compare like roles, these numbers remain troubling.

Time out of the workforce

This probably won’t surprise you: women are not only more likely to take time out of paid work to care for children, but they’re also more likely to care for parents and other relatives than their male counterparts. In fact, according to this OECD report, for every hour of unpaid work a man does, a woman performs an average of one hour and 48 minutes of unpaid work.

The financial impact that time out of the workforce can have should not be understated. Whether directly or indirectly, it may alter the likelihood of receiving a promotion or pay-rise. In addition, the less you earn, the less you’ll have in superannuation. In fact, according to ABC News in August 2018, the median superannuation balance for women is just $28,000 (compared to $100,000 for men).

Longer lifespans

The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW) reports that while life expectancy for both men and women has improved dramatically, women are still outliving men. The statistics show that the life expectancy of women aged 25 in 2014-2016 was 85.1 years while the life expectancy of men aged 25 in 2014-2016 was 81.2 years.

In other words, women have to make their finances last longer than men — even if you forget the financial disadvantages caused by the gender pay gap and time out of work.

Financial independence

Finally, we refer back to Joan Rivers and getting that metaphorical key made — or more broadly, the importance of financial independence. In an ideal world, every woman would be able to dig into her fuck-off fund (or a more modestly named account) and know she had the resources to radically change her life in any way necessary.

All this to say that it’s clearly important for women to take charge of their finances and be financially independent — and one way for women to take charge is to start investing in their future, directly and indirectly.

So, how to get started?

Invest in yourself

There are many ways you can indirectly invest in yourself, all of which are likely to positively impact your finances over time — even if it’s not immediately obvious. Let’s discuss…

Education

Let’s paint a picture. There’s an opportunity for you to score a promotion at work — and that means a pay rise. The problem is that if you get the job, you’ll be doing a lot of public speaking and that thought terrifies you. So, instead of applying for the job, you oh-so casually ignore the opening and go about your business. But what if there was another way?

What if you could take a public speaking course and overcome your fears?

One way of investing in yourself is to actively consider whether continuing your education will allow you to elevate your career to the next level or become a specialist in your field. You don’t necessarily need to go back to school altogether; a course or certificate might be the trick.

Education may cost you a bit of money in the short term but has the potential to give you a return on your investment over the long-term.

Health

Another way you can invest in yourself is by looking after your health — and that means your physical, mental and emotional health. While there will always be impactful events in life that we simply can’t account for, we can take measures to optimise our health more generally.

As per the ABS’s Measures of Australia's Progress (2013) report, good health can mean “a life free of the burdens of illness, which can include pain, social isolation, financial costs, and restrictions to lifestyle choices.” Who can argue with that?

Here are some tweaks you can make to build and maintain your health today:

  • Increase your physical activity.
  • Include healthier foods in your diet and learn about food labelling in Australia.
  • Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Get to know your body and if you notice any changes, see a doctor.

Creativity

The obvious benefit to nurturing your creativity is just that: you get to be creative and have a little lighthearted fun along the way. But the not-so-obvious benefit is that you may learn new skills that you could parlay into a side hustle, a specialty field, or even a new career.

This is something Steve Jobs referenced in the infamous commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. After dropping out of Reed College, Jobs hung out at the campus as a “drop-in.” He attended random classes. In fact, it was a calligraphy course that Jobs took on a whim that ultimately inspired the beautiful typography that Apple is so famous for.

The moral of the story? You never know where your creativity could take you.

Invest in your financial future

Of course, there is also a number of ways you can directly invest in your future. And when doing so, it's a good idea to seek independent financial and legal advice to help you decide what's right for you.

Pay down debt

If you have debt, such as credit card debt, make a plan to pay that debt down ASAP. Paying unnecessary interest can really mess with your net worth. There are various methods for getting on top of your debt. For example, if you have credit card debt, you can look into consolidating your debts into a personal loan, or transferring the balance to a card with a limited-time interest-free period on balance transfers and using that period to make a dent in the debt. While a credit card with an interest-free period sounds appealing, keep in mind that balance transfer offers come with their own risks, which you should make yourself aware of before jumping in.

Create an emergency fund

As we mentioned earlier, it can be super important to have savings at the ready if an emergency strikes. After all, disasters (big and small) can hit at any time. (First things first, though. If you have debts, consider whether you should pay off your debt before you start saving.)

Once you’re ready to start saving, set up a separate account for your emergency fund. And try to stick to it. Even if you can only put a few dollars aside each week, it will help if, say, your car suddenly breaks down or you suddenly need your wisdom teeth removed.

If you have that emergency fund at the ready, an unexpected bill won’t seem nearly as overwhelming, but better yet, you also won’t have to resort to going into debt, which — in the worst cases — could negatively impact your finances for months or years to come.

Invest in stocks, property and other assets

Of course, one way to invest in your financial future is to literally invest — by buying stocks, bonds, real estate/property or other assets.

The good news here is that contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be flush with cash to get started. In fact, you could start investing in the share market with as little as $5 to your name. Of course, buying a property will take a little more than $5, in most cases. But no matter which option you choose, there’s no better time than the present to get started.

Save for retirement

Ah, retirement. That’s years away, right?

For most of us, retirement seems like one of those investments that we consider covered. After all, if you’re earning more than $450 gross (i.e before tax) in a calendar month, your employer is paying at least 9.5% of your earnings into your superannuation account. So, why worry?

Well, currently there’s a debate raging over whether the average Australian will have enough money to retire. And no matter which camp you fall into, there’s really no excuse for ignoring your superannuation altogether — even if you don’t want to make extra contributions.

Some steps you can take to stay on top of saving for retirement include:

  • Considering whether you should consolidate all your superannuation accounts into one.
  • Ensuring you are in a super fund that is performing well over time.
  • Figuring out if your super fund is charging exorbitant fees — and if so, considering transferring to a fund that charges less.
  • Thinking about whether you’re young enough to be in a medium- or high-risk fund.