Women & Money: From College to Coupledom
How to achieve financial independence and ensure you keep it long-term.
Establishing financial stability and good credit as early in life as possible makes it easier to move forward in your life. For most of us, the move towards financial independence starts in school. Even in high school, many parents start to help their children become financially independent with assistance like their own bank accounts, mini-budgets and even credit cards. From those first steps towards independence, through the start of your career and on into marriage, the more steps you take early to establish a solid financial footing, the better off you’ll be.
Of course, not every financial life proceeds forward in the same way, you may do these stages in a different order. For instance, you may get married early and both enter the workforce immediately to start building a life together. If this is the case for you, tweak the advice and tips found below as needed to fit your situation. If you run into trouble or have questions, call us at to let a certified credit counselor review your situation and help you make a plan that works for you. You can also complete an online application to request a confidential debt and budget analysis at no charge.
Financial Stage 1: Student life
The first stage for most women after they leave their parents’ home is to head to college. During the years in school, students tend to control at least some of their own financial destinies. As you move through school, you generally become more and more financially independent until you graduate and truly strike out on your own.
These tips can help you get through your college days without debt problems or financial distress:
- Build an effective budget for school. Use the tips you can find in Consolidated Credit’s Budgeting 101 section to custom tailor a budget that helps you manage your money effectively as you work to get your degree.
- Don’t run out to get credit at 21. The Credit CARD Act prohibits creditors from sending offers to you until you’re 21. After that, they may start to flood your mailbox. But just because you’re eligible to get a card, it doesn’t mean you need one.
- Avoid high-interest store cards. Young women are prime targets for up-selling in-store credit cards when you’re out shopping at your favorite stores. Store credit cards tend to have much higher interest rates and strict usage terms. Don’t sign up for the card, unless you know it’s giving you more than a high risk of debt.
- Stay on top of your bills. Late payments and collection accounts can ruin your credit. Make sure you pay your bills on time to avoid credit damage. Even if it’s a service bill for something like utilities, pay it on time! New alternative credit score models are being considered that would use things like utility payments to prove you’re a responsible borrower. So on-time payments may help you down the road, too.
- Don’t go overboard with specialty products. Incidental expenses like department or specialty makeup or salon hair care products can really start to add up once you start paying for things yourself. Switch to less expensive products and avoid specialty brands.
- On that subject, don’t shop by brand at all. From the clothes on your back to the food on your table, brand names simply cost more. Whenever possible, go for generic or discount brands – your budget will thank you for learning this lesson early.
- Go cheap on girls’ nights. Don’t go overboard at high-end restaurants and bars that overcharge. Look for ladies’ night specials and split appetizers or share plates to keep the cost down.
For 2014 high school graduates, 72.7% of women went on to college, versus 64% of men. 
Financial Stage 2: Entering the workforce
Once you finish school and start to focus full-time employment, your financial plans need to evolve in order to set a solid foundation for the future. The more positive steps you take for your finances now, the easier it will be to reach your financial goals in the future.
These tips can help you establish a solid financial foundation as you enter the workforce:
- Negotiate your salary! It can be tempting to take the first offer you get as your enter the workforce, but you need to make sure you’re being paid for what the position you’re taking is worth. Check salary ranges and negotiate actively with employers.
- Create a household budget. Once you get your first job and have a starting salary level, build a more formal household budget. This will help you avoid overspending and prevent you from using credit cards to get by, which can cause problems with debt.
- Start paying your student loans off now. Options like deferment can delay repayment if you don’t have a job, but once you secure a position make a plan that pays off your student debt as quickly as possible. Even if you’re not struggling to make payments, consider a student loan debt consolidation plan that allows you to pay back what you owe quickly. If you’re having trouble, consider consolidation programs for low income.
- Set up retirement savings early. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the more money you’ll have and the less you’ll have to push to catch up later in life. By age 30, you want to have at least one retirement account open – either an IRA or 401(k) through your employer. By age 35 you should have one times your annual salary already saved up in that account.
- Start your emergency fund. Initially, you’ll want to save up at least $1,000 so you can cover unexpected expenses, repairs and medical emergencies without relying on a credit card. Eventually, your fund should grow to equal about 3-6 months of bills and expenses in your budget.
- Get new credit with caution. By now, you may have or want to have at least 1-2 credit cards. Always keep the number of cards minimized and only open accounts you really need for a specific strategic purpose.
- Pay off debt quickly. On any account that you open, keep the debt minimized. Ideally you want to pay off everything you borrow in-full each billing cycle. If you make a purchase that will take more than one billing cycle to pay off, make sure to put that purchase on your credit card with the lowest interest rate.
- Check your credit at least once every year. The more you open new lines of credit and take out loans, you need to check your credit report once each year to ensure it’s error-free. You can get free credit reports every 12 months through annualcreditreport.com.
Women made up 53.7% of the workforce in 2015, and only 5.2% of the unemployed labor force. 
Financial Stage 3: Merging your finances
Achieving financial stability on your own is tough enough, but once you bring another person with a different set of philosophies into the mix, it can get even more complicated. Although you may reap the benefits of another income, if you partner has financial issues they can potentially drag you down, too, if you’re not careful.
These tips can help you be successful as you hitch your financial wagon to your partner:
- Don’t wait to have the money talk. As soon as you start to get serious, you should start talking about key money issues. Amounts of debt, credit history, banking philosophy and budget strategies should all be discussed to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Designate financial responsibilities. Decide who is paying what – particularly if you’re not opting for joint accounts. Make sure all the bills are covered and non-billable expenses like groceries are divided up strategically.
- Make sure you’re both saving. It’s likely to cause problems is one of you is going out of your way to save while the other is having fun spending. Make sure both of you are on board with your saving strategy.
- Check your credit before you tie the knot. Although you both will maintain your own credit profiles even after you get married, it’s important to know where your credit scores are. One half having bad credit shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it will affect your ability to get financing as a couple in the future. So help your partner build better credit.
- Define your long-term financial goals together. Talk about when you want to buy your first house, how soon you want to have kids, and what you want to do during retirement. Once you know how these big goals will play out, you can start planning ahead.
Couples who disagree about finances at least once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced that couple who disagree only a few times a month.