MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In the 1960s and 1970s, advertisements boldly called out to women saying things like, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” While the appeal to independent women was a common marketing trend at the time, but it also harkened to a new day of financial independence for women across the nation.
This new independence, however, came with an ever increasing financial responsibility. It is why the Women in Transition program opened the doors at the Russell Marine and Family Center aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to provide practical financial tools to women of all ages, incomes and financial circumstances June 5.
“We may have come a long way,” said Barbara Bennett, investor education specialist with the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of the State’s Securities Division. “Women are serving on ships and in war zones; however, in the average civilian economy we are still making only about 78 to 80 percent of what men make.”
It’s not the only challenge women face. While their average income is often lower than men, women also face a slew of unique financial challenges and often bear a large portion of families’ financial needs.
“What we have is women earning less money in a shorter amount of time, and they need it longer because they are going to typically outlive men,” said Bennett. “We’re constantly in a position where we have to be spending money. Spending a little bit of money on some level each day comes to be a normal factor. It isn’t something we often think twice about.”
Around 99 percent of women will be financially responsible for their household at some point in their lives. It is why understanding how to manage household incomes and expenses is so important. If someone doesn’t have confidence in their financial decisions, often times their decision is to do nothing, said Bennett.
This paralysis is a risky thing in the modern economy. While many women take on family responsibilities removing them from the work force for longer periods than men, their financial role often remains strong. The responsibility of managing a family’s budget, bills and purchasing is often held by women, said Bennett.
Military spouses face particular challenges of their own. The high mobility of the military family and the challenge to balance military duty with family needs and employment often creates additional burdens on women.
“When we moved 26 times in 17 years during my husband’s career, there were very few places where I could actually get a job,” said Bennett. “I didn’t have earning power during those years, and the jobs I had were very low paying, didn’t have many benefits and certainly didn’t have any retirement plans.”
Today, Bennett travels around North Carolina to share her lessons and expertise with the women who take on such a large role in the nation's economy. It’s important to understand things like credit and investment, said Bennett, but it’s also important to be careful.
“One of the things that may be an issue is what we call the Cinderella Complex,” said Bennett. “A man is not a financial plan. This might be a surprise to hear. Especially in this day and age, if you’re depending on someone else for your financial future, that might not be the best choice. We do have to start making out own financial futures. Things like monitoring our credit and credit scores.”
Cutting up the old credit card is not necessarily a wise method of money management. In fact, credit history is important in the modern economy. If someone has an account spanning ten years and another opened one year ago, closing the older account pretty much obliterates ten years of credit history. Thirty-five percent of a credit score is based on how card holders previously paid off their financial obligations, said Bennett.
Keeping the score in the sweet zone and looking after the family’s economic future takes communication. Spouses need to set reasonable goals and discuss their economic priorities, said Bennett. In addition, setting achievable goals will help couples see the benefits of the efforts, even if it’s cutting out the morning latte and saving extra cash each week.
Bennett also reminded the women in attendance they need to protect the finances they’ve earned, especially with the difficulties that come with military service.
“If you think the outside world doesn’t know this base has lost somebody, you’re probably mistaken,” said Bennett. “It’s sad, but they know there is money coming to the spouse.”
Scammers also know military families have a source of income and an often hectic lifestyle. It’s something they can and have taken advantage of. It is why Bennett encouraged the women to trust, but verify.
For more information on preventing fraud and managing your finances, visit secretary.state.nc.us/sec. In addition, keep an eye on mccslejeune.com for more classes and upcoming events.