5 Smart Ways Women Can Shock-Proof Their Finances

Don't let a curveball hurl you into a sudden panic over money. These simple strategies will prepare you for the worst now, so if you do face a fiscal emergency, you'll be calm and ready to ramp up your earning potential.

Photo Credit: Breno Machado

Few people expect bad stuff to happen, but, unfortunately, it can. And over the course of your lifetime, odds are that you’re going to face at least one major obstacle that has the potential to set you back financially. It may sound grim, but it’s reality.

Whether it’s a job loss, a divorce, an expensive health issue, or equity that takes a nosedive, fiscal emergencies can happen with zero notice, says Bobbi Rebell, a financial journalist who leads the U.S. Business Video team for Reuters news agency and serves as an anchor for their U.S. business video content. She stresses this concept in her new book How to be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom.

In other words, it helps to be a little pessimistic and expect the worst, because then you’ll have peace of mind if and when tragedy strikes. There’s no need to live in fear. Prepare yourself—and empower yourself—today by taking the following five steps.

1. Take at Least Partial (if Not Full) Control of Your Finances.

In many marriages, men follow tradition and handle the household finances—the mortgage, the property taxes, the annual income taxes, the car lease, the kids’ student loans, the retirement accounts, the savings accounts, the credit card bills, the electricity, water and cable bills, investments, you name it.

If this is true in your relationship, on the one hand, it’s freeing. Taking care of all that stuff is complicated and time-consuming (and often headache-inducing). But there’s a major downside, which is that you likely don’t have any idea—or at least not the full picture—of what’s going on with your money.

In her book, Rebell tells the story of Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital advisor for women, whose first husband had always handled the couple’s finances. Krawcheck found out that he’d been having an affair, then went through a divorce, and realized that she hadn’t known what was going on with their finances. She never thought she needed to because she never expected her marriage to end. But then, out of nowhere, it did. She told Rebell that the experience left her feeling mad and stupid.

So if your husband is handling all of the finances, tell him that you want to take over—or at least tell him that you’d like to split them in half with him. After all, knowledge is power. And make it clear that you’re ready to pitch in, not pounce. A “we’re in this together” attitude will make him more likely to come clean about any glaring financial issues.

2. Have Regular Money Conversations with Your Partner.

According to Fidelity, 43 percent of couples don’t know what their partners earn. Are you in that boat? If so, it’s time to get talking. In fact, it’s good to have frequent discussions about your money regardless.

Tell your husband that you’d like to have a regular conversation about your finances. Maybe it’s weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually—choose the most realistic and helpful timeframe for you. Then schedule it on your joint Google calendar so you don’t forget. It’s especially important to talk after any major life changes (good or bad), such as a job loss, a promotion, a new job, a new house, a new car, or a new child, because those things affect your financial outlook.

Okay, we know, we know. That last paragraph may have brought up unexpected agita—financial talk isn’t always easy because money is all about what we value. Most couples will differ in a few areas, like how much to spend on the kids or travel. So, make it fun. Perhaps that means buying doughnuts beforehand or going to an action movie afterward or having the talk at a special place—do something that makes you both look forward to it.

During the discussion, check your basic bookkeeping. Go over exactly how much money is coming into your accounts and exactly how much money is going out of your accounts (and where it’s going). Looking at a recent month is likely to give you a good snapshot. Then ask yourselves questions, focusing on whatever makes you most nervous. Are you overspending or are you able to put a little cash into savings each month? Are there certain debts that you’d like to get rid of—and if so, which ones should you prioritize? Are there certain savings goals that you’d like to reach (a house, a car, a wedding, a vacation)—and if so, which ones should you prioritize? Are you on track to save enough for retirement? Are you on track to afford college for your kid(s)? The list goes on.

And be honest with each other. This is not the time to hide anything that embarrasses you. One trick, says Rebell, is to share something about yourself first that might make you appear vulnerable. Maybe it’s “I splurged at the mall last weekend, and I want to make up for that” or “I have no idea what my credit score is, and I want to find out.” Once your partner hears your confession, he is more likely to share his own.

3. Have a Plan B for Earning.

“I think the Cinderella Syndrome is still alive and well and it’s important for women to understand that when you get married, anything can still happen—even if the marriage goes great and you don’t get divorced,” says Rebell. “Your spouse could lose a job, the house could go under, or your business could have troubles. So even if you’re not the primary breadwinner or even if you’re not working full-time, you should always have that backup plan where you can turn up the dial and earn more money if you need to, because in this world, there’s so much uncertainty.”

Start developing that side hustle you’ve been thinking about. That might mean tutoring, selling something that you make, or designing websites. Or it may mean finishing a Master’s degree. The point is: Always have something in your back pocket in case of emergency, and it’ll provide you with peace of mind.

“The really hot side hustle right now for moms is Rodan and Fields—it’s an interesting next generation take on the Avon lady of the past. I also know a lot of moms who work for places like The Real Real, where they go and help women clean out their closets and sell designer goods,” says Rebell. “Other popular ideas include ghostwriting for executives at corporations and SEO optimization consulting.”

4. Keep Up Your Networks.

 “There are really blurry lines between friendship and work these days. It’s important to constantly be out there, meeting new people,” says Rebell. It’s good for your general happiness, she says, but it’s also good because it can lead to new career opportunities.

For instance, if, in the back of your mind, you think you might want to go back to being a swimming coach someday—maybe even years down the line, after your kids are more self-sufficient—then start planting the seeds for that now. Keep up your membership with the local swimming group and create a Facebook group for the group so you have an online outlet where you can chat, and share stories, photos, and news about upcoming competitions.

The same goes for any career field, whether it’s accounting, law, engineering, medicine, politics, or something else. When you familiarize yourself with that local community and that community gets to know you, like you, and trust you, opportunities are more likely to present themselves organically, and when the time comes, you can tap that network for advice.

5. Be a Giver.

“Look for things that you can do for other people, especially if you don’t need anything from the other person. 1. It’s going to make you feel good. 2. If you need a favor from that person, even five years later, that person will be there for you,” says Rebell.

Rebell recently came across a job listing from a friend and passed it along to another friend. In that case, she did two good deeds, because she helped the hiring manager and the job seeker—a double whammy.

In fact, says, Rebell, her whole book was built by friendships and favors that she had done over the years. By the time she reached out for help with the book, the sources knew her and trusted that she would present them in a fair and positive light.