California Lawyers Association
How Female Attorneys Can Improve Financial Well-Being
By Jala Eaton, CLA Health and Wellness Committee Member
Let me start by saying that for the majority of my life, I ignored my money. I spent it. I hid it from myself. I obtained thousands of dollars in student loans for two degrees during a recession, expecting the best. Instead, I ended up working in a field I never expected to work in.
For years, I worked as a trust administrator protecting money left in trust funds. Seeing millions of dollars daily was a regular occurrence for me. It wasn’t until I saw 100 million dollars ($100,000,000) in one trust that my relationship with money changed forever.
Maybe the shift occurred because I knew the money belonged to a person who still went into his local branch to do his banking. It made me want to build my own wealth and empower other women to do the same. If he could do it, why couldn’t we?
Despite the degrees and experience I have, I had never felt 100% confident financially. This might be because I questioned whether I knew enough about money. But as I continued to work and research, I found that there are three basics steps to obtaining wealth:
- Financial planning and financial literacy. Even with millions in the bank, trust beneficiaries are expected to submit budgets and know their assets and liabilities. They must have a plan.
- Investing: I have never seen a trust that didn’t have marketable securities and other investments. Additionally, trusts that included a business were usually the larger trusts. Investing is one way to ensure that your money grows.
- Estate planning: Generational wealth and trusts are not possible without an estate plan. Money may transfer successfully to one generation, but rarely does the money continue on to a second or third generation.
Empowering women through financial literacy usually results in improved financial health and well-being for the entire family. Here is what you can do to stop this vicious cycle of not feeling confident about your money.
Women need to be financially confident. We have to know that we can handle any financial situation that comes our way. We can’t afford to live feeling guilty and condemned by past mistakes. Instead, we need to act with the confidence that will enable us to make the right decisions for our lives. Self-sufficient can mean needing no outside help in satisfying one’s basic needs OR being emotionally and intellectually independent.
Confidence and education go hand and hand. Confidence will increase your emotional independence and proactively using what you have learned will increase your intellectual independence.
So how do you build financial confidence? Start by taking a self-inventory to discover your money strengths and weaknesses:
1. Write down your short-term and long-term goals and your “why”
Why you want to achieve something is important when trying to decide how to prioritize your goals.
For example, if your long-term goal is to buy a home that could later be passed down to your family, you could end up with 10 or more short-term goals, including checking your credit report and score, learning how to increase your score, finding a real estate agent, getting pre-approved by a lender, saving for the down payment and closing costs, and more.
After you set your goals, don’t listen to the naysayers or your negative self-talk saying, “It’s not a good idea for you to do your own investing or to manage your money.” You’re the best person for the job.
2. Figure out how much money you have, how much you’re earning, and where it’s going
The most important question here is, is the money going to your stated goals? If it is not, take time to learn how to fix any issues you see.
Your self-inventory results will give you actionable insight on what you need to do to achieve financial confidence and self-sufficiency. Stop thinking about what you’ve been through and the mistakes you’ve made, and what you don’t know or understand. Forgive yourself and move forward so you can get what you desire.
When I committed to reading more about the issues I had, I borrowed books from my local library, took courses, and even spoke to financial advisors.
Self-sufficiency doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help, it just means you have to have some idea of what needs to be done — i.e. saving, investing, taxes, retirement, estate planning — and what is in your best interest based on your goals. Then you can consciously decide to delegate tasks to others, such as a financial adviser or attorney.
You want to ensure that it is hard to take advantage of you and that you can advocate for yourself should someone try to tell you that you are wrong about what you need.
When I went through the financial confidence inventory I described above, I realized I needed to understand investing. I had an employer-sponsored retirement account that had a -15% return. I was losing money.
I set out to learn the basics of investing. I read everything I could get my hands on, I asked questions, and I started having financial conversations.
When I started my financial confidence journey, I read, “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki, “Invested” by Danielle Town, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “Don’t Settle for Safe” by Sarah Jakes Roberts, and “You Are A Badass at Making Money” by Jen Sincero, just to name a few.
More importantly, I took action to implement what I was reading. I studied my investment options and created a retirement investment plan. My account quickly changed to a positive 9.45% return and eventually had a 35.56% return.
I now understand why my account balance changed so fast. It was because my employer was initially investing the money I saved solely into their stock, and this strategy wasn’t in my best interest based on my financial goals.
This isn’t the worst you will face when it comes to investing. I’ve watched a very successful woman enter her favorite bank with a plan to take control of her finances and her investments, only to be told by her male financial adviser that he didn’t recommend that she learn to invest and should just allow him to do it for her. Better yet, if she really wanted to manage her own accounts she could do so, but she would have to call him first so he could approve what she wanted to do with her money.
You have to be willing to learn what you are doing. No one cares about you and your success the way you care.
It is not enough to build wealth through saving and investing, we must also protect our wealth. Dying without an estate plan in place will turn your family’s mourning period into a frenzy of fighting.
Estate planning is deeper than who gets your money after you die. At some point, you will need help. An accident, old age, declining health, having a pet, or being out of the country could trigger the need for a proper estate plan if you are alive but unable to make financial decisions for yourself. If you have done your estate planning, your plan will spring into action and your designated representative will be able to act on your behalf.
If your goal during life was not to be taken advantage of, don’t let it happen to you in death.
Many families and charities never see the money they were promised if there is not an estate plan in place.
Women have historically been left out of financial planning and estate planning because it is a male-dominated industry, despite the fact that we often outlive our partners, and women business owners account for more than 8.6 million businesses and control more than $14 trillion in assets. We are capable of advocating for ourselves, but the majority of us shrink when we feel like we don’t understand money/finance because it’s “complex.”
When building your estate plan, consider who is capable of managing your money and where your money should go. If you want your money to go to a minor, a pet, a friend, or you have a business to protect, then you should consider having a trust drafted. Have a full estate plan drafted by an attorney who specializes in Trusts and Wills. And remember to update your estate-planning documents regularly.
Estate planning is for everyone, and your plan should be reviewed once a year at a minimum to ensure that you are effectively controlling and protecting your legacy. We worked hard and your money can continue working hard and speaking on your behalf
The more financial literacy women have, the better off we will be. As an attorney and certified financial adviser, I have made it my mission to teach financial education and estate planning in hopes that if you teach a person to fish they will eat for a lifetime and teach others what they have learned.
Jala Eaton, Esq, CTFA is an optimist, estate planning attorney, and certified financial advisor with a mission to help women build and protect their assets through learning to invest and creating an estate plan. When not advising her clients or talking about money on Instagram (follow at @yourwealthbestfriend) she likes to attend the private dance parties her six-year-old daughter holds in their living room.