Financial advisor Karen Vogelsang speaks to a group at the Valparaiso offices of the Visiting Nurse Association on Thursday, January 23, 2014 during a program titled, "Women and their Money". The seminar discussed how women can obtain the knowledge needed to manage their finances. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:07AM
Attention ladies: Welcome to class.
On this Monday morning I’m giving you a surprise pop quiz on your finances. Relax, there are no right or wrong answers.
Get out your No. 2 pencil. Put your checkbook away. No peeking at your bank statements, retirement savings account or asking your mate for help. Also, answer as honestly as possible for your own good. Ready? Here we go.
What are your current liquid assets — cash on hand, checking account, savings account, certificates of deposit, life insurance cash value, stocks, bonds and so on?
What are your fixed assets — home, vehicle, personal property and so on?
What are your retirement assets — 401(k), 403(b), IRA and so on?
What are your current financial liabilities — auto loan, installment debt, personal loans, credit cards, mortgage, insurance, taxes and so on?
Bonus questions: What’s the name and contact information of your financial planner? Banker? Accountant? And where are your mortgage papers, insurance policies, living will document and stock certificates?
OK, pencils down. Heads up. How’d you do? Here’s why I quizzed you.
“Women are notorious for letting others handle their finances,” said Karen Vogelsang, senior financial advisor and principal of Vogelsang Asset Management LLC in Valparaiso.
Vogelsang recently presented a free workshop, “Women and their Money,” as part of a continuing series hosted by the Forever Society of the Visiting Nurse Association of Porter County. The organization hosts monthly workshops, for both genders, but this one immediately caught my attention.
The goal of the hour-long workshop was to educate and empower women to take control of their financial lives. Although a couple dozen women attended, there were plenty of empty seats that should have been filled by you, and you and you. Why?
“A man is not a plan,” said Vogelsang, after showing a humorous clip from the classic movie, “Gone with the Wind.” The sappy scene showed Scarlett O’Hara swooning for Rhett Butler, intoxicated “partly” by his money.
Such traditional marital relationships are outdated, of course, yet still too many women are living in the past regarding their knowledge of financial affairs. Namely, their own.
“It’s YOUR money,” Vogelsang told the audience. “You need to take full responsibility for your financial decisions.”
The average age of widowhood for women is 58, Vogelsang noted, as a few older ladies in the crowd knowingly nodded in agreement. Factoring in the average life expectancy for women, up to 80 years old, that equates to several years on their own.
“These women often have unique financial needs,” Vogelsang said while using a slide-show presentation to support her advice.
For instance, 85 percent of women will be on their own financially at some point. And of the elderly poor in America, more than 70 percent are women. Some women never marry, others marry later in life, some divorce and others outlive their husbands.
Other future factors must be considered, such as lost pensions, healthcare changes and life-altering events. Key financial decisions may need hard-to-find details, some number-crunching and better organization skills. And don’t be scared off by ever-changing rules, fluctuating interest rates and tough-to-understand language and lingo.
“Ask a lot of questions to your financial advisor, and also questions about them,” Vogelsang said.
Conduct a broker check on them. What services do they offer? How often do you meet with them? Have they ever been fined? Ask how they get paid, by fee or commission? More importantly, is there a chemistry between you both?
“And get a second opinion, or a third, just like you would do with a doctor,” she said.
Plus, more women should give referrals for financial planners to their friends and coworkers, just as they do with hairstylists, workout clubs or clothing shops, she noted.
“Sixty-two percent of women don’t feel comfortable working with a financial advisor,” she added. “Yet investment firms are now catering to more women.”
And so is Vogelsang, who handed out a spiffy financial planning folder to each guest, complete with worksheets, planning forms, retirement funding brochures and even a free copy of a book by Terry Savage, the nationally-known expert on finances, the market and economy. The swag-bag alone was worth the effort to attend, but Vogelsang’s advice rang true for the women there.
“Women are the most underserved population when it comes to financial planning,” Vogelsang said. “But more women are now talking about this issue and there is more sharing of financial decisions in families today.”
Yes, financial advice comes with a cost but, as Vogelsang smartly pointed out, “It’s more expensive to make financial mistakes. A contingency plan should be in place.”
She also stressed that women with children still living in the home should be honest about money issues without shielding kids from financial truths. In other words, if you can’t afford something, it’s OK to tell them.
While a few women in the audience scribbled down notes, I recalled the old adage of the “four A’s” regarding money issues: Allocation, analysis, accounting and adjustment.
Know your financial numbers and where to find them when needed. Review them every so often to keep a pulse on your situation. Disperse your money correctly, keeping in mind needs over wants. And adjust accordingly to keep up with the times.
If there is one piece of advice to take away from today’s pop quiz or Vogelsang’s insightful workshop, it’s to start earlier with your record-keeping and retirement planning. Middle age isn’t often early enough.
If anything, remember this timeless yet timely advice: A man is not a plan.
For more info on VNA’s Forever Society and its upcoming workshops (including one on investments), call 531-8049 or email email@example.com.
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