Pension figures don’t add up

Julie Feuerborn, an American who's been living in North Yorkshire for years, and is  a registered financial adviser

Julie Feuerborn, an American who's been living in North Yorkshire for years, and is a registered financial adviser

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Julie Feuerborn says the financial world is geared around men, which means women often take a back seat when it comes to money. She’s out to change all that, as she tells Sheena Hastings.

ROSA (not her real name) a married mum of two, had got tangled up in worries about money. She and her husband came to the UK because of his job, leaving her career (she’s a health professional) in limbo for a time.

Cards and loans she had not paid off over a long period had followed her across the globe and became a pressing concern, especially when not earning.

“We had made all sorts of other careful plans,” she says. “My husband was getting on with his new job, and I realised I had never made my situation a priority. I suddenly had all this time to think, and felt vulnerable – particularly around money.

“I had done well at school, college and in my job. I felt I’d succeeded as a mother, but in financial planning I was weak. I started thinking about retirement and the debts I owed. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I knew so little and didn’t even have a savings account in my own name.

“I’d just always left the finances to my husband. We all have different skills and interests, and he was good at managing money. But I suddenly felt terrible that I had never shown any interest. At the same time I’d got myself into debt and the problem seemed too enormous to deal with. So I had buried my head in the sand.”

Rosa was busy beating herself up, but an increasing body of research into women and finance shows that she is far from alone. We talk little about money – even to our best friends – but a sizeable chunk of the population that is living longest isn’t necessarily financially literate.

The tendency among many women is, it seems, to shrink away from the numbers.

Yet government figures show that 40 per cent of women in the UK are on their own, while 80 per cent will be solely responsible for their finances at some stage.

But back to Rosa. She heard about a series of workshops on women and finance being run by money coach Julie Feuerborn, who’s based in Harrogate. “I went along and people were encouraged to be open and honest within those four walls. There were a few people like me who had particular problems and others who were on top of it all. I got lots of useful information, and Julie made me feel I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.”

A while later Rosa met Julie again and told her she needed to get more actively involved in sorting out her finances but didn’t know where to start.

“Other things had begun to bother me – such as the fact that we had no ‘emergency money’ put aside. I started to see Julie regularly, and the first thing she did was tell me to write a financial journal. I wrote in it four or five times a week, including lots of stuff about my feelings around money.

“Themes came out of this – the main one being how much emotion is tied up with finances. I found it shocking how much money problems dragged my self-esteem down.”

Over a period of regular coaching from Julie, Rosa started to find her feet. “It was a relief to acknowledge the problems to someone, and I started to slowly pay off one thing at a time. I got a job in retail to help with this. Later I was able to certify my professional qualifications in the UK and moved into my proper professional field, with a better salary.”

It had a profound effect. “I started to address each of the debts that had snowballed and pay them off. My husband was relieved – and I felt so much better. I now have a savings account, and we have a contingency fund.

“I learned that when you have debt, ignoring them is the worst thing to do, and that you need to target the debt with the highest interest first. I became good at analysing where money went – and, for instance, instead of going out for expensive coffees, would invite friends to my home. My next priority is to sort out a pension.”

Feuerborn trained in finance at the University of Illinois and was a certified financial planner before coming to England with her husband Dan and four children some years ago. He works as a software engineer at the US base at Menwith Hill, and for a while Julie managed the base’s charity shop, improving its profitability.

Word got around that Julie was good with money (“I’ve always saved – which I think is partly to do with being the ninth of 12 children, and wanting to protect the little that was mine”) and people came to her about financial worries. They included a widow, whose husband had always done the ‘money stuff’ and needed help to understand and manage wisely what she had.

Today, Julie’s money coaching business is in helping people, but particularly women who are middle income earners, to understand money and make their own financial plans.

“Everyone has money issues,” says Julie, who says her four children have grown up with “lots of money talk, all the time.” She says many women don’t understand the language around financial products, which is in her opinion geared towards the assumption that men will almost always manage a family’s money.

“This idea that money is the man’s sphere comes from traditional roles – 150 years ago women had no property or financial independence. For a long time women stayed home with the children and men controlled household finance, and this stereotype has lasted until quite recently.

“It doesn’t help either that the field of pensions, for instance, is so full of jargon. Financial services are too much about the money and too little about people and their goals. I’m not about selling products but about helping people to understand what they have, what they need and want and what can be done better.”

One couple sought Julie’s insight so they could plan how to live in retirement. “You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know where their money goes. I sent them away to go through their statements. She realised how much he spent on audio books, and he offered to cut down drastically. But she didn’t want him to, because he got so much pleasure from them.”

Tracking outgoings meant choices could be made – to continue buying those books, or reduce spending and make cash available for something else.

“Money and life are so intertwined. When you understand your finances, you ultimately control your destiny.

What are the worst things a woman, or anyone, can do financially? “Spending more than you earn, obviously; then not opening envelopes. Better to open that statement and face the truth, become accountable and start doing something about it. And thirdly, not making a will – 60 per cent of people in the UK don’t, but we owe it to our loved ones to do so.”

• Julie Feuerborn is holding a workshop called Becoming A Money Confident Woman at The Cairn Hotel in Harrogate on September 30. To book one of 15 places at the event for £175 go to www.juliethemoneycoach.com

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