Don’t let being the nurturer disempower you financially

Laura du Preez | 31 August 2022

Laura du Preez has been writing about personal finance topics for more than 20 years, including eight years as personal finance editor for two leading media houses. 

When working women enter relationships and start families they often allow their partners to manage the bigger financial issues and focus solely on the household budget.

But growing unfamiliar with basics of managing money and failing to be equal with your partner in the family finances can leave you financially vulnerable and the risks are high that one day you may be alone and/or find yourself fulfilling the role of breadwinner.

The four “D”s – debt, divorce, disability and death - make you vulnerable when you give up control, Christel du Toit, managing director at Finsmart Asset Management, says.

Death and divorce – or just being left holding the baby when a relationship ends – are two primary reasons why 42% of South African households are headed by women, according to 2021 Stats SA data.

Stay in control financially

After finding herself financially disempowered after the divorce and learning how to rebuild her financial life, Du Toit says the advice she would give her 20-something self is: Keep control of your own financial situation in every single aspect.

“I would also most probably never stop working and become a stay-at-home mom, unless I could run my business from home. I would be a very independent woman,” she says.

South African statistics show four out of 10 marriages end in divorce before their 10th anniversary.

Think about what could go wrong

Learning to manage money will prepare you for any eventuality that may change your status from being financially dependent on a spouse or life partner to being a breadwinner.

Janet Hugo, an independent financial adviser with Stirling Wealth, experienced this when her husband contracted a dread disease.

Luckily she was already an established adviser – a job she took up after having a family and motivated to do so by her husband’s financial adviser refusing to explain his financial recommendations to her.

Hugo says if she knew what she knows now when she got married, she would have made very different choices.

You get married because you hope there will be a future and it feels disloyal to the relationship to assume it will go wrong, she says.

But you have to think about how you are protected if, perhaps, it does go wrong, she says.

Independence slowly seeps away

Many women give up their financial independence in slow increments – getting up to keep the baby quiet, looking after children, doing the family admin and not keeping up with their careers, Hugo says. 

Before long you have built fences and it is no longer possible or easy to go back to work, or if you do, it is to a position that is less of the career you started when you were young. You are trapped, Hugo says.

All those years when you had energy have been spent looking after your kids, she says.

Women are nurturers who often put everyone else’s needs before their own, Nozipho van Heerden, a financial educator and author told a recent women’s month webinar hosted by 10X Investments.

Sometimes women realise the need for some selfcare – and organise time away from their children and running the home. Similarly, women also need to practice financial selfcare, putting their financial needs first, Van Heerden says.

If we do not take care of ourselves, we will soon not be able to care for anyone else, she says.

If you take care of your future self, you will be able to nurture and contribute more to the lives of those you love in the future, Sonja De Bruyn, 10X Investments chairman, agrees.

When you need the doctor, you don’t send your husband, so why when it comes to your financial health, why would you leave your partner to see to it, Ishani Khoosal, head of corporate distribution at 10X Investments, asks.

Rock the boat

Women often don’t have the courage to rock the boat, but a mentor who is willing to speak out can help you, Hugo says.

If you marry and sign an anti-nuptial contract, get your own lawyer, she suggests.

If you marry into a wealthy family or marry a spouse who can afford for you to be a stay-at-home mom, insist in the anti-nuptial agreement that your spouse continues to contribute to retirement savings in your name through a retirement annuity, Hugo suggests.

It is also worth checking the assumptions your spouse has made and that they align with yours – maybe he expects you to go back to work when your children are a certain age, but you are not expecting to, she says.

Check what your spouse has in mind for retirement and if your thinking is aligned, Hugo suggests.

Disagreements about money are the biggest reason why marriages fail or become very unhappy, Hugo says.

Outliving a spouse

If your marriage or partnership does not succumb to divorce, and you are fortunate enough to have a partner who retires in good health with you, consider that statistics also show that women outlive men on average by seven years.

Outliving a husband results in many women finding themselves in financial trouble and having to learn to manage money at an older age.

Visit your gran in her old age home – it will give you enough proof of the likelihood that you will outlive your husband, Du Toit says.

You might as well then know, understand and manage money from the age of 23 to 93, she says.

10X Investment’s research shows that when it comes to their future financial health and saving for retirement, more women than men cash in their retirement savings – probably because women have lower savings and often leave jobs to start families. 

Khoosal says many people think if they cash out their retirement savings they can start again.

But they underestimate how much they will need at retirement and the huge impact of losing out on compounding – the interest you earn on interest when you leave your savings invested – and the tax you pay on withdrawals, she says.

This has as disastrous effect on the outcome – the pension you will get at retirement for what is often a longer retirement than your husband’s, she adds. 

It is about being educated and not being tempted to cash it out, Khoosal says. Read more: How much do I need to save for retirement? and Why is withdrawing from my retirement fund a bad idea?

Think long-term

Women are often good at saving for groceries or December expenses in the likes of stokvels or bank accounts, but need to understand that short-term savings can’t be used to meet long-term goals like retirement, Asavele Gwele, junior investment analyst at 10X explains.

Understand what returns you are earning on long-term savings and the need to take some calculated financial risks through exposure to equities so your savings will outperform inflation over the long term, she says.

Don’t assume your spouse has everything relating to your joint finances under control – sometimes it is just not in their personality, Hugo warns. You need to educate yourself and to ask questions so you can be sure that you will be looked after if you outlive your spouse, she says.