By Maureen Zavatone Ahhh, September…the first signs of crisp Fall air, back to school, apple picking….. and Self Improvement Month. What better time than back to school season to check in on your own well-being, to take some time to improve yourself and set goals to help you be the best YOU that you can be?! I made a self-improvement commitment earlier this year and decided to train for a Fall marathon. Before I had children, I used to run a lot and do occasional races. I became a mom in my 40s, so I’m a mid-career professional with pre-schoolers. You know the story, the schedules got busier, my kids have become more active, and my exercise routine got shorter and less frequent. It was time to give myself some time back to do more running and one more (last?!) race. So I do a lot of running and a lot of thinking these days. Training for a race is a lot like planning for your financial future. You have a goal. You know what you have to do to meet the goal. There may be detours, challenges or headwinds along the way but above all else you want to be ready when it’s go-time. What’s your financial goal? In the spring, I wrote about the changing economic force that women represent. Recall that women today are earning more and account for 47% of US wealth creators, with 62% of women identifying themselves as the primary source of household assets. Women are making more household financial decisions than ever with two-thirds of women considered primary decision-makers, not just influencers, when it comes to money. 1 Despite these positive developments, women are more often behind in retirement saving and investing due to the headwinds we face along the way. It’s important to stay on track toward your goals, whether you are just starting out in your career, changing jobs or even careers, transitioning back to work after caring for your family or nearing retirement. What about the headwinds? We often face challenges that men don’t. We’re still earning 78 cents on the dollar compared to our male counterparts, so we have to work harder and smarter to earn our money. 2 Additionally, we’re often tailoring our careers to make time and take time to care for our children or aging parents. In fact, two thirds of family caregivers are women, and the cost of lost earnings to these caregivers over the course of a career averages nearly $325,000 in wages and benefits. 3 Less time in the work force may mean less time to take advantage of company sponsored retirement plans and matching contributions, and less time for the compounding effect of growth on assets. Women who divorce experience a drop in the standard of living of about 45% following their divorce. It’s important to prepare for this and become informed – really educated and informed – if you plan to divorce. 4 On average, we live 4.8 years longer than men, and as we age, approximately half of women age 75 and older live alone, compared to just 22% of men.5,6 Additionally, despite the advances in educating ourselves, four out of five women say they lack confidence in their financial knowledge. 7 Bottom line – The need to have a plan in place to account for all of these headwinds and help our money last through retirement is critical. Women often take no or below average risk with their investments. Why? Are we simply savers and not investors? Do we believe that it’s impolite to talk to our friends about money and investments? Or do we fear looking unintelligent (dare I say stupid??) if we ask too many questions? A reported 80% of women replied that they have refrained from talking about personal finance to people they are close with.7 Get to the finish line We plan everything. We plan activities for our kids, we plan parties and weddings and nights out with our friends. We plan vacations. Questions for you….How much time did you spend this year making plans for your social calendar? How much time did you spend planning your summer vacation? How much time did you spend planning for your future? In the spirit of self-improvement month, I challenge you to make a commitment to take control of your financial path. Increase your financial literacy and empower yourself to make informed decisions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your advisor. (Hint: There are no stupid questions, only pieces of information that you don’t currently know.) If you feel intimidated, uninformed or stupid, seek a new advisor with whom you can have an honest conversation. Don’t be afraid of the answer you might hear – it’s important to know what you can expect in retirement and change course if you can implement saving, investing or spending changes now. Contemplate the tradeoffs between risk and return, and if you don’t understand it – ask. What is risk? How well can you sleep at night with the way your investments are structured? Don’t be afraid to talk about saving and spending, your appetite for risk and an appropriate level of risk given your needs and objectives. Don’t be afraid to ask why an investment choice is made and what it costs to make the investment. Create a comprehensive plan to identify your goals and prioritize your needs. Make plans and allowances for the obstacles you may encounter. Are you adequately insured? Are your documents up to date? Are the people that you entrust with your plans informed and empowered to make decisions on your behalf? Be aware of the challenges of illness, widowhood or divorce and have protection in place where you can. Have your accounts organized to enable you meet your expenses, both anticipated and unforeseen. Feel comfortable with the person that is explaining your options and helping you make these decisions. And remember that financial planning is a marathon not a sprint, and you’ll constantly need to check-in with your plan along the way. Ready….set…..GO!! Center for Talent Innovation. Harnessing the Power of the Purse, 2014. dol.gov/equalpay MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts , Finnacial Impact of Divorce, Page 6 Institute on Aging Center for disease Control and Prevention, USA Today Oct 8, 2014 Forbes, Women, Money and their Alarming Lack of Confidence, Sept 29, 2015 Find out more about Maureen here: www.morganstanleyfa.com/maureen.zavatone Ready to start a plan? Reach out to Maureen here: 860. 447.4860 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org Maureen Zavatone is a Financial Advisor with Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management in Essex. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, member SIPC. Maureen is our go-to gal for all things financial. Here’s another useful article she wrote for us: 10 Tips for Cleaning Your Financial House. Photo: Billie Beads Piggy Bank. Find them on Etsy here.