Dollars and Sense

How can women prepare for life’s financial events?

Understand the timing and cost of big moments and budget accordingly.

August 30, 2021


Like most of us, you likely have financial goals for the future—maybe you’d like to start a family or buy a house.

How do you prepare for those events, and when?

By looking at common life stages when big financial events occur—and reviewing ways to prepare for those events—you’ll position yourself to make thoughtful money moves. Let’s look at some strategies. 

How do you feel about your money?

A few points of reference before we begin.

Women have made huge economic gains over the decades, but challenges remain. Most women have more debt than men and hold 58 percent of all student loan debt. If that’s not frustrating enough, the disparity continues with income: women earn 85 percent of what men earn. The end result? Women have less money and more bills to pay.

No single person can control societal trends. But you can control how active you are in managing your own financial wellbeing. 

By taking one small step towards managing your money, and then another, you’ll gradually increase your confidence and make progress toward positive financial outcomes. Let’s look at some of life’s major stages.

Age: 20s

Potential life events: College, first jobs, marriage

Women today earn about 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees . Accordingly, women also hold a lot of student loan debt. Paying that debt down is paramount.


  • With your first job, sign up for any company-sponsored retirement plans, especially if there is a match. 
  • Establish a budget if you don’t already have one. Include debt repayment and emergency saving and avoid living above your means. 
  • If marriage is on the horizon, consider keeping some of your own money separate with your own checking account and credit cards. Be thoughtful about money that’s spent jointly by setting a monthly meeting to discuss financial goals.

Age: 30s

Potential life events: Starting a family, deciding whether to buy your first house

Starting a family is expensive. The annual cost to raise a child is about $13,000. That doesn’t count saving for college, or the opportunity cost of not working. Life insurance becomes more important, as does saving for a home.


  • Research the cost of prenatal care, hospital stays, birthing costs, and any additional costs (like hiring a doula).
  • Review your workplace benefits for health insurance coverage, maternity leave options, and short-term disability insurance.
  • Consider building a larger emergency fund for unexpected costs.
  • Look into life insurance policies, which will help to ensure your family is protected should anything happen to you
  • Take time to understand housing costs. Buying a home can be a good investment, but there are costs to consider like taxes, upkeep, and the size of a down payment 

Age: 40s

Potential life events: Saving for college, career advancements/changes, estate planning

If you have a family, you might be starting to plan for their college education if you haven’t already. If you’re advancing in your career and earning more money, you may want to revisit your budgeting and goals to distribute your assets differently. Your 40s are also a good opportunity to begin thinking long term about your estate.


  • Open a 529 plan for your kids, if you’re able. The earlier you begin saving, the more money is likely to be available to you when you withdraw.
  • Try not to divert money from your retirement goals in order to fund a college savings account. You or your child can take a loan out for college. You can’t take a loan for retirement.
  • Revisit your emergency savings, retirement plan, and other investments. Life changes may give you an opportunity to reallocate.
  • If you haven’t already, now is also a good time to put together an estate plan to help ensure all of your assets, both physical and financial, go where you want them to go when you pass. This is especially important if you have a family and would like to leave a legacy.

Age: 50s

Potential life events: Empty nest, caring for aging parents, retirement planning
As retirement nears, it’s a good time to increase your savings. If your kids have left the house, you have an opportunity to reevaluate your overall needs.


  • Increase your contributions to retirement accounts if you can. Take advantage of catch-up contributions.
  • If your children have left, consider whether to downsize your home. By saving money on housing, you’ll be able to increase your retirement savings. 
  • If you have an elderly parent that needs care, it’s time to research options. People ages 55 to 64 are most likely to provide eldercare. Most of that care is provided by women. Take advantage of resources like the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Eldercare.

Age: 60s

Potential life events: Retirement

The average retirement age is around 64 for men and 62 for women. As you exit the workforce, it’s important to align your retirement income with your desired lifestyle. You’ll no longer be paying payroll taxes, contributing to a retirement plan, or spending money on many work-related activities like commuting. You may also require less retirement income if you pay off large bills, like a mortgage, before you leave the workforce.


  • Understand how your retirement savings will translate into income, and budget accordingly. 
  • Figure out what will keep you busy and happy. Keep in mind that women generally live an average of six to eight years longer than men, so your money needs to last that much longer.

Feeling more confident? You should be. These strategies can and should be examined by men and women. The more that anyone takes charge of their finances, the more likely they will be able to reach their financial goals.

By planning for every life stage and budgeting thoughtfully, you’ll surely make progress towards your financial goals.

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