Betsy Perez — Union Bank & Trust and Inspire Advisory Board

When it comes to understanding money, I’m lucky.

I learned to budget by watching my parents. My mom’s tried-and-true system was ever-present, whether we were at the grocery store or the local clothing shop for a fun little splurge. She would write a check and then diligently record her spending in the appropriate section of her checkbook register.

I remember different insurance and investment guys stopping at the house and meeting with my parents. I never really understood what they were talking about, but I knew it was important.

In college, I learned about credit and investing from my graphic design internship at a local ad agency. I spent many afternoons cutting and pasting together mailings and brochures, proofreading disclosures, and, almost by mistake, developing a much deeper sense of how things worked than most of my peers.

Even with all this informal education, I never quite felt confident about what I was doing with my money. Maybe it’s because I knew I could do better. Maybe it’s because I felt shame about some bad decisions I’d made over the years. Maybe it’s because about five years before my marriage ended in early 2020, I just gave up on discussing money with my spouse; we were tired of arguing about it, and because we weren’t in debt — like I said, I’m lucky — I let him run the show.

I know I’m not alone.

Study after study has shown that many women defer decisions to their partners. According to a recent UBS study, 54% of millennial women living with male partners deferred long-term financial planning to them rather than sharing in the responsibility or taking the lead themselves. The primary reason? They thought their husbands knew more.

That wasn’t my reason. When I deferred the decision-making, I’d been a financial marketer for 20+ years. I just wasn’t giving my money the time and energy it needed.

My divorce was a financial wake-up call. I had to dive in and dive deep.

And, I feel great about it.

Realizing that it was up to me to take care of myself, my daughters, and my future has been incredibly empowering.

I know where every dollar is going.
My will and trust are in order.
I’m constantly working to beef up my emergency fund.
And I’m saving, saving, saving for retirement.

I’m finally doing what I should’ve done all along. Why? I had to.

Turns out, when you force a woman’s hand, she typically takes on the challenge.

I’m not alone in that one, either. Just look at what’s happening with women and money amid the pandemic.

The economic impact of the pandemic has been coined as a “she-cession” due to the disproportionate toll it has taken on women, especially women of color who have lost their productivity and jobs at greater rates than white men and women. Last September, the start of remote school coincided with an eye-popping 865,000 women leaving the workforce. That stat is expected to have real impact on our GDP — working women contribute nearly $8 trillion annually, according to the Center for American Progress.

Depressing, right? Just when we were gaining ground on all the gaps (pay, wealth, confidence, etc.), we find ourselves in a pandemic.

But I think, just maybe, this has been a “have to” moment for women.

A new study by UBS, Own Your Worth 2020, indicated that 63% of women say COVID-19 has affected how they think about money, and they’re more likely to talk about it with their partners and children — which is tremendous because by age seven, kids have already formed their money habits. And, 67% of women say they are more engaged with their money.

Plus, J.P. Morgan’s Wealth Management’s Women and Investing study, which came out in October, showed that Black and Latina women took more ownership over their finances and investing than white women did in order to capitalize on market volatility.

I certainly hope these early studies are indicators of women starting to trust themselves more and stepping up and taking charge when it comes to their finances.

I know personally how wonderful a feeling it is when you lose the fear and start taking action.