Sisters in savings

21:21, Sep 17 2009

Money-minded young women in Christchurch are taking a pass on book clubs and discussing dollars instead of ladies' nights out. AMANDA MORRALL sees what the sisterhood has to offer in the way of financial support.

It is a Wednesday night in downtown Christchurch. As offices empty and workers rush to beat the traffic, or meander into inner-city pubs and restaurants, six smartly dressed, attractive women aged 25 to 30 are filing into the fifth- floor offices of financial planner Sheryl Sutherland for their monthly money-club meeting.

Sutherland, founder of Women's Financial Strategies, is not there, but it is because of her prodding that these women are gathered to take a page from her book. Excerpts from Sutherland's book, Girls Just Want to Have Fund$ have been photocopied in preparation and laid out neatly in chairs.

This is the eighth meeting of the Slynkey Money Club - a collaboration of sorts between Sutherland and e-magazine founder Ruth Lynskey. "I had the girls; she had the knowledge," quips Lynskey.

Before the "girls" get down to business, they each pony up $30 for a dinner in November to mark their final meeting. It is a fitting gesture given what is on the menu tonight: budgeting.

After a quick catch-up, the meeting gets under way, beginning with a summation of their savings progress - their homework from the last meeting.

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Accounting assistant Corene Gdanitz, 28, happily reports she is ferreting away more than 50 per cent of her take-home pay, a severe savings strategy needed to finance an upcoming world trip.

The others report similarly positive, albeit more modest progress, before Lynskey steers the conversation to the business at hand: budgeting.

As a small business owner, Lynskey says she has been forced to get a handle on it. "Before that it was work, spend what you've got until it's all gone, no drama, no thought even about the future or savings or retirement. But when I started Slynkey, I had to start thinking really carefully about my day-to-day money."

Spending a night off talking about the finer points of budgeting and whether it is better to pay for groceries with cash or eftpos may seem dull, but Lynskey says the sessions are seldom dry.

Case in point: at tonight's meeting the gals end up having a playful debate about the comparative costs of having a baby versus a new Ferrari. "It's definitely not boring," says Lynskey afterwards.

"If it was a seminar and we had to listen to someone talk at us, it would be different, but because it is informal, supportive, women- only, and we're all close in age, we've managed to make it interesting and fun."

Over time, Lynskey says, her attention to and interest in personal finance has grown. "Since I got married in December, I have been thinking more ahead. And now with the money club, we've got our insurances in order, started to plan for retirement, all those grown- up things which I didn't do when I was single and flatting. I just had minimum contents insurance and that was it."

Sutherland says the blissful but blind spending pattern is typical of many young women today.

"They tend to be more interested in their sex lives, fashion, the next party, that sort of thing, than structure in their financial life, and that's perfectly understandable because that's where your head's at, at that age."

Understandable, maybe, but acceptable?

"No, of course not, but that's not how they're wired at that age," says Sutherland, who has made a career out of coaching women on their finances.

Whatever the reason, there are compelling arguments why women, whatever their age, shouldn't be so blase about money.

Fund manager Janine Starks, one of a few women in the country with the job title, says it is a statistical horror show for women.

One-third of all marriages end in divorce, one-third of families are single-parented, and more women than ever (by choice or circumstance) are going it alone.

On top of that, women live longer then men.

"So if we don't end up a solo mum or divorced, we're likely to end up widowed at some point.

"While I'd like to think there are vast numbers of us blissfully married to wealthy toy boys, it's not the reality."

While happily married to a former judo expert turned chef whose association with Starks has allowed him to stop working, the 39-year-old says marriage is no guarantee of long-term financial security.

"Those of us in wedded bliss might stick our heads in the sand, but if we get left on our own in our twilight years, the shock of not knowing how to cope with retirement income and investments will only compound our problems."

Money club member Sarah Knox says she is under no illusion that someone else is going to take care of her financially. Since the club's session on retirement, Knox says she is "more than determined to have a great plan in place" before she stops working.

"I want to enjoy my retirement immensely, not struggle on a week-to-week basis relying on the Government superannuation alone."

Retirement is not a sexy subject at any age, but it is something more young independent women are waking up to.

In the United States, ladies-only money clubs addressing such issues are proliferating, says Sutherland. Knox says these type of clubs demystify money issues and grow confidence.

In the time she has been with the club, Knox says she has eliminated her debts, cut up her credit cards and started a dedicated high- interest savings account with restricted access and penalties for withdrawals.

"I was terrible at savings," she confesses.

"I had a general savings account with my bank, but if I saw something I liked, I would just buy it, no questions asked."

Knox says she enjoys shopping and travelling too much to give up spending altogether. Instead, she modified her behaviour and came up with a long-term plan where consumerism is not at the expense of retirement savings.

She has decided to invest in herself: going back to school to study medicine.

Sutherland says education is one of the best investments a woman can make.

"One of my favourite clients started off 20 years ago with me. Her husband had left her with two small children and she had no qualifications, but she was adamant she wanted to start saving some money, so she started to set aside $40 a month. She is now a senior lecturer at the university and has more than $500,000 in the bank."

While none of the Slynkey money club members are investors, all are aiming to get there - sooner than later if possible.

Charlotte Aronsen, 25, says she decided to join the group to get some basic information, because it is not a topic that comes up in conversation with friends her age.

"It is scary going to a financial adviser, so this feels more like a casual thing."

Starks says a lack of confidence is what holds many women back from investing.

"They treat the topic of investing like putting out the wheelie bins - a boy's job. Women forget they have a valuable role to play when making investing decisions."

Women, she says, have many attributes that make for good investors, including organisational skills, intuition, analytical minds, adversity to high risk and being prepared.

"If you've always got a brolly in your car, you are one of those women," says Starks.

The Press