Love, Self

5 Ways To Be Financially Independent

financial independence

In 2007, I worked with a life coaching client in her 40s who was single, estranged from her birth family, and self-employed as a writer and new media consultant. She was self-sustaining but also frustrated that she wasn't meeting any men with life partner potential. When she admitted to me that she was deeply worried about becoming a "bag lady," I thought she might be exaggerating. Now, I'm not so sure. It's become frighteningly clear since then how quickly anyone's finances and life conditions can change.

In this recession, it's no wonder that financial insecurity makes it hard for us to sleep well at night. A study from life insurance company Allianz reflects this fear. Nearly half of the women surveyed admitted they fear becoming homeless, whether or not they are in a relationship and/or earn significant incomes. As for the women who do earn a healthy income, they fear it will be harder for them to find a life partner than women who earn less (maybe because men are intimidated by powerful, driven females).

Ironically, these statistics have changed little from Allianz's last survey (their "Women, Money & Power" survey) in which 90 percent of women felt financially insecure — even those who earned more than $100,000 annually. Despite being their families' primary breadwinners, it's not uncommon for women to imagine themselves on the streets with their worldly goods stuffed into shopping carts or wheeled suitcases. So how can we quell those fears? Having financial independence is a good place to start. Here are my five top tips for you to take charge of your own finances, without having to rely on a significant other.

1. Stop waiting for Prince Charming to arrive. Become your own "knight in shining armor" by learning survival tools like car maintenance, minor plumbing or household repairs and extreme weather preparedness in addition to basic sewing, cooking and gardening skills. If you can manage these primary areas of modern life, you'll not only be attractive to a life partner who appreciates independent women, but you'll be self-sufficient whether you're in a couple or not. You'll also save money when you can effectively make basic repairs yourself instead of having to hire a handyman.

2. Create that "secret stash" of cash. Even if you're in a long-term marriage, you deserve to have some money that's just yours. Then, you can use it however you want — for fun or education or as a cushion for the future. My husband and I have always kept our bank accounts separate and I also have a secret stash anyway. If you have sole control over your funds and don't need anyone's permission to save or spend them, you'll feel a rich sense of security that, to quote Mastercard, is "priceless."

3. Cultivate a personal support team of friends. Whether you're single, divorced, widowed or in a relationship (which could end at any moment in divorce or death, not to be morbid), you need good friends who will take you in if your finances ever disappear. (This team can prevent you from becoming dependent on family members, especially those you may not want to spend much time with.) At the same time, your friends should be reassured that you're also there for them if they ever need a home, a hug and a cup of hot chocolate at a moment's notice.

4. Maintain good credit. Even if you prefer not to use credit cards for basic purchases, if your credit is good, it's smart to earmark at least one major card with a $5-10k credit line and maintain it with a zero-balance so you can utilize it for unexpected emergencies. Then, you won't ever be in a position to need loans from friends or family, which can damage or at least strain your relationships with them.

5. Develop your financial skills and marketable talents. When you're single, you depend on yourself to pay the bills, so you save for the future. If you're in a marriage or long-term relationship, you're just as responsible as your spouse for your mutual financial security. One of the biggest financial mistakes you can make is to let your spouse handle all money matters. Get savvy about investing and check your bank statements regularly. This kind of money management can relieve stress and prevent financial infidelity. You're less likely inherit your spouse's debts in the event of his/her death or discover unhappy financial surprises if you get divorced. On top of that, having marketable skills (from carpentry to cooking) means you'll be able to find opportunities to support yourself in an emergency. It also produces an extra part-time income from what was just a fun hobby. 

Start now to create your own financial independence and make sure you'll never need to worry about winding up as a "bag lady."