Carol Jardine knows the financial struggle of a single mom. After the unexpected death of her husband Lynn in 1980, she was faced with the total responsibility of raising five children.
"To that point, I didn't take time to get involved in our financial affairs," says Jardine. "Lynn was a competent provider and I was preoccupied with raising the family."Suddenly I had to be interested in finances. Two days after Lynn's death an IRS agent contacted me and said our farm was going to be audited. I asked for time to recuperate, but he said I sounded like I was handling my husband's death well and planned to go ahead with the audit the next week.
"Fortunately my accountant was able to satisfy the auditor and that particular problem was solved. But I had other troubles. I had difficulty finding all the documents I needed. I consulted accountants and lawyers and even though they were competent I wasn't familiar with their terms and I often got conflicting advice."
Jardine knew this was only the beginning. She needed to prepare to manage her finances. Today, nine years later, she does know the terms. After returning to school, Jardine is now licensed in investments and insurances and has, with co-author Geri O'Neil, written a workbook called "Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! A Financial Guide and Workbook for Women."
The objective of the book is to put women in charge of their money.
Most single mothers are very industrious. They'll work hard, raise gardens, run all over town to save money on their groceries and stay up until three in the morning to sew clothes, observes Jardine. Yet they tend to ignore obvious ways of saving or making money in the long run.
"The biggest problem single women face is lack of income.
There simply isn't enough money to go around and, especially in the case of a divorce, that's a hard problem to fix even with a book," she acknowledges. But, without realizing it, women often lose money that would improve their financial position.
Jardine and O'Neil's workbook takes women through a variety of management procedures, including financial goal setting and establishing a budget, an income statement and a statement of assets and liabilities.
Divorced women are particularly affected when child support payments don't come regularly. But if a woman has completed a balance sheet and a financial statement and knows how much income she should be getting from various sources, she may be able to build savings so she has a cushion if her support payments are delinquent, stresses Jardine.
The workbook also includes worksheets for setting up files and taking personal property inventories. "If you suffer a property loss, it's your responsibility to document that you owned the property and what it cost. Once you have an inventory in place, it's not hard to keep up since people don't generally make many major purchases," she emphasizes.
Jardine has a number of tips to help women manage their financial affairs:
- Divorced women face the problem of credit because the credit they've built up is in their ex-husband's name.
To establish credit, start by trying to get a credit card. Use it, but pay off your balance every month. Also consider borrowing from a bank a nominal sum - say $200 against an asset. Put that money in a savings account and pay it back before it's due. Do this several times and you'll soon establish a good credit rating.
- Think about whether you're using money to meet personal needs. "Sometimes when you've just been divorced or widowed - and you're in a turmoil - you may use money to make up for a void or deprived feeling," says Jardine.
- Take advantage of earning all the interest you can. Find a bank that doesn't charge fees (credit unions often do not). Also make sure you're receiving interest on your savings and checking accounts.
- Be cautious with charge cards. "Something on sale may seem to be a terrific bargain so you may put it on a credit card. The item you buy may be discounted 20 or 25 percent, but if the purchase isn't paid off within the month, you're charged 18 percent monthly interest." So, asks Jardine, was the sale really a bargain? Charge cards can work to your advantage if you pay them off by the due date because that gives you a 30-day float on your money to gather interest in your savings account. But the minute you have a finance charge, you lose that advantage.
- It's not wise to pay bills too early or too late - either way you can lose money, emphasizes Jardine. Write out checks for your bills on the same day, address them, and then make a note about which bills need to be mailed on certain days.
- In shopping for insurance, always look for a company with an A or A plus rating. In obtaining health insurance on a limited income, choose a plan with a high deductible and a "supplemental accident benefit." If you have teens who drive, choose an auto insurance that has a "good student discount."