Here's how to make a financial situation where you're in charge and have no one else to answer to empowering, not overwhelming.
Good news: Single women are generally more cautious spenders than men, since they only splurge on a few items (the expected ones: clothing and personal care products like shampoo and teeth-whitening products, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics), while single guys tear through more money overall, on things like eating out, entertainment and car ownership. Bad news: Those same women are behind on saving for their futures. We asked Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of the women's finance site LearnVest.com, and Barb Chang, head of product for the money management site Mint.com, what single women should be doing with their money right now.
You Need to Track Your Expenses (As Annoying As It Seems)
Chang says single women often say they're too busy and don't see the payoff of putting in a lot of time in tracking. In fact, Mint got started because its founder realized catching up on personal budgeting was taking up an entire Sunday afternoon every week. But staying on top of the money that comes into and goes out of the Bank of You every month is the first step in financial planning. More than 90 percent of Mint users say they have changed their habits as a result of using the service. Here are some different ways you can track your spending.
You Need an Emergency Fund More Than Anyone Else Does
The old rule of thumb was to have about six months' pay in an emergency fund, but von Tobel says that in the current economic climate, highly educated people who are laid off find that it takes about nine months to find a job—and because more women are getting advanced degrees than men, it's particularly important for them to have more put away. The best place to keep an emergency savings account, von Tobel says, is in a place you can easily access without penalty at anytime. This means a money market account or high-interest savings account. And as you know but it probably bears repeating, don't put the money in the stock market or in equities, as volatility in the market could decrease your savings.
Debt Can Hurt Your Future...Even If You Wind Up Marrying Mr. Perfect Credit
In 2009, 15 percent of American adults were late making a credit card payment; 8 percent missed a payment entirely. Those fees added up to about $20.5 billion, according to R.K. Hammer, a consultant to the credit card industry. Although those numbers decreased a bit last year, they've started creeping up again as some of the country's major credit card issuers posted increases in the number of credit card payments that were at least 30 days late in September.
Even if you're only a week or two late, a credit card company can still disclose your missed payment to credit reporting agencies, and that may damage your credit score. You should know your debt-to-income ratio (the percentage of your income which you use to pay off your debts). These numbers impact anyone's credit score—so you want it lower than 36 percent. (If you're a single woman, even if you do end up marrying someone with pristine credit, banks will take the lower of you and your partner's credit scores.)