Are you always living paycheque to paycheque with no idea where your money goes? Is your pension plan actually a half-baked notion of marrying a man with millions? Do you get a cold sweat when the credit-card bill comes through the door?
Well, first of all, you're not alone. A new 'Women, Money and Power Study' by Allianz Life found that more than half of all women across the earning spectrum worry about finances and, even if they have a good income, they're terrified they'll lose it all.
Yet this fear doesn't translate into taking control, with Visa's International Barometer of Women's Financial Literacy revealing that on average women are less likely to follow a budget than men and will have less saved in emergency funds.
But a new book is looking to change all that. The Wealthy Woman – A Man Is Not A Financial Plan by money guru Mary Waring reckons women need to pull their heads out of the sand and start empowering themselves when it comes to cash.
Waring, a former London City worker turned personal financial adviser, was horrified by how many women avoid dealing with their finances because they "don't do maths". She says: "If you're bright enough to be a scientist, doctor, lawyer, bring up a family of three kids and manage to get them all to the right school/ right football practice/right ballet lessons at the right time, then you're actually bright enough to get to grips with your finances."
So if you want to take that first step towards financial independence, she suggests 10 top tips, but, beware, not one of them involves marrying a millionaire ...
1 Forget 'Fake it till you make it'
The whole 'we're worth it' philosophy is a ploy designed to leave us in debt. You might think you 'deserve' the Marc Jacobs handbag and that if you dress the part, then the pay rise will follow. But Waring says no,
"Here's a radical thought. Why not wait until you've earned that bonus, salary rise, or extra income before you spend it?" says Waring. Moreover, your short-term indulgences could be standing in the way of long-term goals. If you want to save for a house, you can't go out several times a week and buy everything you want.
2 Saving is interesting – start young
Throughout her book, Waring uses the examples of Savvy Sarah and Not-so-savvy Nicola, the first representing a wise attitude to saving, the latter tends to spend all her cash on flashy dinners and nice shoes (hmmm, to which one do most of us relate?). But infuriating as Savvy Sarah is, she does prove the point that putting a little bit away from an early age reaps rewards in interest.
For example: Sarah starts putting away €25 a month in her 20s, in an account with 5pc return a year, meaning she has €38,000 by the time she's 60.
Nicola starts 10 years later, in the same account, but only has €21,000 by the time she's 60. Even though she's saved three quarters the amount that Sarah has, the effect of compound interest (interest paid on interest) means that Sarah ends up with almost twice as much money as Nicola when they reach 60.
Waring says: "The longer you delay before you start saving, the more you need to put in each month to get the same end figure."
3 Know your worth
Stop avoiding opening bank statements and face facts, you'll never improve your financial situation if you don't know your starting point. Sit down and list all your assets (what you have) and liabilities (what you owe), Waring has a downloadable spreadsheet for this on her website www.mary-waring.co.uk.
4 Plan SMART
Once you know your worth you can set a goal for what you'd like that net worth to be in a year's time. When goal setting, you should follow the SMART rule; S: Be Specific. 'I want to increase my wealth by €2,000' rather than just 'I want to be more wealthy'
M: Measurable. Keep writing down where the money is coming from and going out A: Attainable. Don't be unrealistic about what you can achieve R: Relevant. Chose a motivator for your saving, for example, saving for a house
T: Time-based. Plan to reach your goal by a specific date.
5 A man is not a financial plan (nor are your parents, the State or the Lotto)
Don't fool yourself. Basing your financial happiness on your partner makes the false assumption that they will have enough in their pension pot and doesn't allow for separation and divorce.
Hoping to inherit from your parents doesn't take into account Capital Acquisitions Tax (which kicks in at 33pc over €225,000) or allow for the fact that people are living longer or might require care. The basic state pension is €219/week – which is unlikely to fund your fun retirement plans of travel and taking up golf.
The Lotto? Well it could be you, but it probably won't. The only option is to start saving and ...
6 Get knowledgeable
Go and see a financial adviser and learn about savings accounts and tax advantages, interest rates and pensions ... And don't forget about inflation. "It [pension income] might look like a reasonable figure on the piece of paper but, by the time you get to 65, it will have lost significant purchasing power due to inflation," warns Waring.
For example: If you reckon now that you need €25k annual income when you retire, allowing for 3pc inflation per year this figure will increase to €33,598 in 10 years and €45,153 in 20 years. Your pension might show projected income of €25,000/pa at 65 but by retirement €25,000 will be worth significantly less.
7 It makes sense to look after the cents
Small savings add up. Waring, based in the UK, gives the example of saving child benefit straight into a separate high interest account whereby £20.30/week, growing at 10pc a year would produce a sum of £53,194 by the child's 18th birthday or (left untouched without adding to it after 18) would add up to a whopping £4,691,577 by the time your child retired at 65.
In Ireland, a similar example would be saving child benefit of €130/month into an account at 3.5pc interest (eg KBC) will return €39,000 after 18 years.
If you can it's better to save a small amount often rather than see it absorbed into your current account. Waring is a great believer in 'expenditure creep' where spending often creeps up in line with income – but, if it doesn't go into your account, you won't miss it.
8 Keep a spending diary
Weight-loss plans often encourage members to keep a food diary to pin point excess calories. Keep a log of where all your money is going and you could be surprised by how much could be shaved off on coffees, impulse buys and food that ends up being thrown out.
"Think of it as weight gain for your purse," says Waring.
9 Plastic: not so fantastic
Save credit cards for genuine emergencies. Studies show that using plastic means we spend more than twice as much than if we'd paid cash.
Also be wary of only paying off the minimum amount on credit cards – it might look tempting, but you could end up spending three times as much. For example: if the balance on your card is €5,000 and you're paying 2pc of the outstanding balance each month, subject to a minimum payment of €5. At an annual interest rate of 17pc, it will take you 47 YEARS to pay off the balance – and that's without adding anything to the credit card balance.
"The other horror to consider is how much you will have repaid over the 47-year period," says Waring.
"In the example above, you'll actually have repaid €15,750. Bearing in mind the initial purchase was for €5,000, by putting it on credit card and repaying the minimum balance each month, you've repaid over three times the initial cost."
10 Be prepared for a Wealthy Woman Wobble
Even if you emulate Savvy Sarah and do everything right, sometimes bad things – tax changes, repairs, redundancy – happen. Waring recommends having a rainy day fund, amounting to three months' expenditure, saved up on stand- by for emergencies.
THE WEALTHY WOMAN: A WOMAN'S GUIDE TO ACHIEVING FINANCIAL SECURITY BY MARY WARING IS OUT NOW