Wise Money Advice From Women Over 50

Wise Money Advice From Women Over 50

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, with celebrations taking place around the world. Debuting in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, the global day celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday (hint, hint, United States).

How far have women come in the U.S. since the early 1900s?

  • In 1900, 19% of working-age women participated in the workforce. In 1950, it was 34%. Today that number is 60%.
  • In 1900, women earned 54% of what men earn. In 1950, women earned 60%. Today that number is 77%.

One message rings loud and clear to us: Financial literacy is not just an option, it’s a privilege and an obligation to ourselves as women, given how far we have come. We have financial options and opportunities our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. Let’s make the most of them!

We decided to celebrate International Women’s Day by asking women over 50: What would you tell your 20-year-old self about money if you had the chance? The answers were inspiring, humbling, poignant, and above all – wise. They ran the gamut from the importance of savings and retirement to understanding needs vs. wants, but one common theme emerged: not depending on a man to be financially secure.

Here are some of our favorite words of wisdom:

Be Independent

"Do not rely on your husband or father to do your taxes."
Donna Meister-Simons, 51
Beachwood, OH
(Learn about doing your taxes here.)

“Love yourself first and plan to take care of you. Even if you choose to share your life with someone, make sure that you remain independently, financially secure. Plan for your future without that person because you just never know...'happily ever after' may not really be forever.”
Lynne DuRant, 50
Aiken, SC

“Make sure you have your own career to bring you income and don't rely on your husband to totally support you. Also, save some money weekly for the bad times, which everyone encounters.”
Renee Rubin-Ross, 72
Greenlawn, NY

(Learn the basics of savings.)

“I would first emphasize the importance of maintaining good credit, of paying all bills on time. You never know when you may need it...like when your transmission dies somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania and you're not only not sure where you are, but you have less than $200 to your name and four hot, hungry, restless children depending on you. Always have a credit card that isn't maxed out. Always…just in case.

“I would also warn myself about financial independence and how 'rainy days' do indeed happen...husbands sometimes leave wives, with $4, no gas in the car, a new baby and no diapers.”
Patricia Carrubba, 54
Fluvanna County, VA

Do It Now, Not Later!

“Good things do not come to those who wait in the area of personal finance. Draw up a budget NOW, even if it’s for how you're spending your parent's money.”
Lorraine Johnson, 50
North Carolina

(Get started with LV’s budgeting tool.)

“Even though finances can be scary and daunting, bite the bullet and learn how to 'do it!' Be independent and self-reliant. Set goals and follow through! You CAN do it, and will be a stronger, prouder, and more self-assured individual for it.”
Gay Engelbrecht, 52
Durham, NC

(Get started on your financial action plan here.)

“The years go by quickly, and you are never too young to start saving for your retirement, strange as that may sound. Many people of retirement age are surprised to learn that they can't retire due to lack of savings and planning.”
Willa Schneider, 63
Dix Hills, NY

Value Your Career

“Build a career that pays enough to cover housing and childcare.”
Margy Childs, 53
Charlottesville, VA

“When I was in my 40s, I told women who were just entering the workforce, ‘You work for health insurance.’  I would still say that today – even with the Obama Healthcare coverage."
Donna Meister-Simons, 51
Beachwood, OH

(Learn about health insurance.)

“Have a career that matters and that you can go back to if/after you have children. NEVER depend on a man or his income to be your sole supporter. They come and go. Women need to have their own careers where they can make their own money and their own checking accounts!”
Laurie Deane, 60
Sarasota, FL
(Use LV’s “I am Starting a New Job” checklist.)

“Choose companies that offer 401(k) plans.”
Donna Meister-Simons, 51
Beachwood, OH


"Pay into your savings account as if it is a bill owed to yourself. It is."
Dahna Carrubba, 50
Katy, TX

(Try LV’s Savings Account checklist.)

"Save money. Watch your debt. I don’t think I would tell us to do anything different. [My husband and I] never went into debt, except for the mortgage and payments on the car. We just didn’t buy things we couldn’t afford. Buy what you can afford and what you need, not what you want."
Emily Johnson, 82
Pasadena, MD
(Learn the basics of saving, and the basics of credit cards.)

“I have found that a great many things I thought I couldn't live without were not necessary. If I waited two days to make a purchase, I no longer wanted it. And, if I did have the money for that purchase, I could do well by putting the amount I saved into my savings or investment account.”
Leesa Johnson, 60
Edgewater, MD

(Learn the basics of investing.)

Buy Less Stuff

“When you spend your money, you have to make sure you are getting something good for your money. Don’t go out and buy a lot of frivolous stuff."
Ruth Matthews, 86
Phoenix, AZ

“Statistics show that women are poor shoppers. Women spend lots of money on little things and don't have the money for big things. Think big by saving small.”
Donna Meister-Simons, 51
Beachwood, OH

“Know the difference between 'wants' and 'needs,' make purchases for only needs. Live below your means, save all you can. Write down all purchases - it helps cut out extra spending.”
Mary Fogler, 56
Columbus, IN

Read more words of wisdom here.

Inspired to tackled your own finances? Here are some resources to get you started:

LearnVest's Customized Action Plan
LV Bootcamp Programs
LV Budgeting Tool
Money Calculators
LV Financial Basics
LearnVest Checklists

Be Independent

“Be sure you can take care of yourself financially all the days of your life. Set yourself up with work that is sustaining and fulfilling, with skills that help you adapt. Become a wise consumer, buying locally and very little.”
Louise Barnum, 59
Siler City, NC

"Lean on yourself before you lean on anyone else. Make sure you can earn your own living, even if you have a husband."
Clara Lin, 62
Yorba Linda, CA

“As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20! Having married at the early age of 19, I was not well-educated concerning personal finances. My husband controlled the money that was brought into the marriage by both of us. Big mistake there for this 63-year-old woman, who divorced after 28 years of marriage and found herself overwhelmed with debt that I did little to create.

“Looking back, some of the things that I would have done in my 20s:

  • Monitor my credit report on a regular basis to be aware of what it contains. I have personally found errors in my report that have affected my credit rating. (Use LV’s credit score checklist.)
  • Credit cards are great, BUT I would have considered them as a luxury and not a necessity and I would use them sparingly. (Learn the credit card basics.)
  • Emergencies happen in life, and I would have prepared myself better for them. I would have a savings account (in my name only) that I made monthly deposits to that was dedicated solely for emergencies that my regular paycheck could not handle. (A getaway to the Big Easy would not count as an emergency!)
  • I would have invested money into an IRA early on to build to my retirement fund.” (Learn about saving for retirement.)

Carol Dunaway, 63
Gautier, MI
(Try out LV’s Bootcamp to get out of debt.)

Do It Now, Not Later!

“Start saving for retirement in your 20s! Stop hedging your bets on Prince Charming or the lottery; most of us will never see it. Save 6% in your 20s and increase by 1% per decade. Spend more on your spiritual and intellectual being than on those worldly possessions you "have to have" that I guarantee you will forget in the coming years. ALWAYS reserve money for entertainment and vacations.”
Elizabeth Marx, 56
Annapolis, MD
(Use LV’s savings deposit calculator.)

“The years go by quickly, and you are never too young to start saving for your retirement, strange as that may sound. Many people of retirement age are surprised to learn that they can't retire due to lack of savings and planning.”
Willa Schneider, 63
Dix Hills, NY

Own a Home

“When I purchased my first home at 22 years of age, I should have gone for bigger and better at the time, because in a few short years I was able to afford much bigger and better, but was then locked into turning over a much smaller profit upon resale than if I had stretched myself and taken more of a risk early on. That is not to say to be imprudent, just to realize that not to be so timid and cautious at such a young age because it is easier to recover if necessary.”
Linda Scarantino, 57
Hillsborough, NJ
(Learn about mortgages here.)

“When you buy a house, pay it off it in the shortest number of years you possibly can. Don’t ever finance a house for thirty years. You think you can’t afford to do it in a shorter term, and you end up paying off your house much later in life, but if you had just stuck it out in the beginning, your house would be paid off when you’re fifty, which is so much more practical.

“No matter what you do, unless it’s a hardship, don’t take equity out of your house. Otherwise I wouldn’t have changed anything. I had a lot of fun!”
Debbie Collins, 53
Edgewater, MD

“Homeownership is a wonderful, wonderful thing. The sooner you can do it, DO IT! Don't wait. Make sure you have a home that is yours and that, if need be, you can pay the mortgage yourself.”
Patricia Carrubba, 54
Fluvanna County, VA

“Pay mortgage instead of rent when it's possible and affordable.”
Clara Lin, 62
Yorba Linda, CA

Other Words of Wisdom

“The mistakes I have made were because I let my emotions rule the decision. Emotions will always play a part in financial decisions, but they shouldn't be the deciding factor.”
Sharon Wooten, 50
Severna Park, MD

“I was not savvy at all about finances when I got married at 20. I finally bought a 'budget-keeping' book and wrote down all our expenses each month, which helped us manage our income to better advantage. Because we didn't have much money, I finally realized that was why we needed help from outside sources. I think young women need to realize that saving and keeping a budget, even on a meager income, will make a difference in the long run.”
Carol McClendon, 72
Fort Worth, TX

(Learn the basics of saving.)

“I got married when I was 22. Gosh! We were so poor when we got out of school! I wish I had tracked my spending. I started doing it when I was older, and it really makes you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m spending too much on clothes.’”
Helen Winkel, 65
Phoenix, AZ

“Invest in your primary long-term asset: your body. I'm not talking new boobs; just maintain your health! In my thirties, between working full time and parenting, I forfeited consistent exercise and healthy eating. Twenty extra pounds doesn't really sound like that much, but my joints and bones really felt the difference. Now, having lost that weight, I feel healthier at 53 than I did at 43. And the money I spent on larger-sized clothes could have padded our retirement savings instead of covering my padded body.”
Margy Childs, 53
Charlottesville, VA

“I would also have told myself to be wise about college for my children. "Out-of-state tuition" is not an option, no matter how much they beg. I would also tell myself to guide my children down the path of scholarships and to apply for any and all…you just never know.”
Patricia Carrubba, 54
Fluvanna County, VA

(Use the college savings calculator.)

“1. Save 10% of net income.
2. Beware emotional spending.
3. Small, mindful self-care purchases are necessary.”
Kathryn Doster, 63
Sanford, NC


Financial planning made simple.

Get your free financial assessment.

Related Tags

Get the latest in your inbox.

Subscription failed!

You're Now Subscribed!