THE BLOG
01/31/2012 06:10 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2012

Women and Money: What You Need to Realize about Financial Security

Sometimes the realization that you need to make sure of your financial security comes in a roundabout way. Mine certainly did. It began with a health scare.

On Monday I had a mammogram and on Friday morning of the same week I called my ob/gyn for the results. I gave her my home number, as I was going to be conducting a seminar and didn't want my cell phone going off in the middle of the presentation.

After work I did my usual Friday thing and met my husband at home for a relaxing dinner. But as fate would have it, two things stopped those dinner plans. One was a message from my ob/gyn asking me to call her office and the other was a letter from Medical Imaging, where I had gone for my mammogram.

While the call simply said, "Kristen, this is Dr. Jackson, please call my office," the letter was different. It was more detailed and stated:

"Dear Kristen C. Houghton,

Your breast imaging exam shows the need for further evaluation. Please contact your physician for further instructions. Thank you for using our services."

I couldn't call my ob/gyn because her office was closed and except for emergencies, such as going into labor, calling her service wasn't a real option. I would have to wait until Monday at 10:30 AM -- more than 48 hours away -- to ask her questions about this development.

It was the end of the week and I was tired, so my reaction was a bit stronger than it should have been. I panicked and began imagining worst case scenarios, one of which was financial. What would happen to me and to my husband if I was unable to work? I had downgraded my long-term disability plan at work to avoid having over $300.00 a month taken out of my salary. Disability, should I need it, wasn't an option. Talk about being penny-wise and pound foolish!

I am a woman who, like many others today, makes more money than my husband and I'm also the one who has the health plan. It wasn't always so; in the past he had always had the bigger, more comfortable salary while I worked my way into a steady and solvent writing and speaking career. My salaries were always miniscule compared to his until I was established and had a steady position. Until then it was his salary and excellent health plan that was a staple in our lives.

But downsizing and a career change for him left me, if not the breadwinner, then the more financially stable partner in the marriage. The hefty bi-weekly mortgage payments came from my paycheck, as did various other necessities. If something happened to me, even if I was laid up for several long months and unable to work, financial disaster loomed. Savings accounts can get depleted rather quickly when they aren't added to each pay period.

Add to that a few financially unsound but kind-hearted "help-outs" such as paying an adult child's hefty student loan, loaning a few thousand dollars to help offset financial pain for a relative and some unexpected home repairs of our own had made a significant dent in our savings. I was also ripped off by a former publicist who promised much, took my money, but did little in the way of publicity. At the time these expenses occurred, I was confident that within a few months I'd be able to replace the savings. Any worries about my health were non-existent. I felt prepared for replenishing our savings.

I quickly realized how unprepared I, as the person making the most money in the relationship, really was. In the horrible event that I wasn't able to work at my current salary, everything could possibly be lost. It would only take a few months and that would be that.

I spent the weekend worrying while trying to figure out -- if I was okay, God willing -- how I would come up with a more solid financial plan. Of course my husband is involved in our finances, but it was up to me to make some solid fiscal decisions. The decisions I forced myself to make are common sense ones that will help all women.

Practice healthy selfishness with your money.

Every financial expert will tell you: Taking money from your savings to pay a child's student loan is putting your financial future at risk. Don't do it!

When I co-signed a loan for our child's Ph.D. program (over my husband's strenuous objections, I might add), I did not think that I would have to pay it off. But when our graduate-degreed child was unable to get a job and make payments, SallieMae set me straight on that score. I, as the co-signer, was as responsible for payments as the originator of the loan.

My accountant warned me that my credit rating would suffer. If payments weren't made, the co-signer's paycheck was as likely to be garnished as the signer. I was afraid not to pay the loan. With Sallie Mae charging 12.9 percent interest compounded daily, $3,000.00 in interest had already increased the original amount to be paid back.

Times are hard and your heart isn't, but loaning or giving money to relatives in need is a dangerous risk. You may create hard feelings by saying no, but it is the best thing to do for you.

Have a good to excellent long-term disability plan.

As you get older, insurance companies up the ante on long-term disability payments and many women, in an effort to save some money, make the bad decision to drop the plan or go with something much cheaper. You know the saying "You get what you pay for"? Believe every word. Long-term disability insurance should be there to help make sure you are financially secure and safe from debt. Think of it as a financial safety net.

Know exactly where your money goes.

There are days when, because of hectic schedules and deadlines, neither I nor my husband wants to cook. Hello take-out and eat-out. It wasn't just with food either. The constant use of my debit card was too quick and easy a fix for many things. Use cash for most purchases.

Don't assume debt based on a future paycheck.

Online shopping is easy, quick and hassle-free, but it is a future debt that is waiting to be paid. Whenever I would charge something I always figured I could pay it next month. Sometimes a good chunk of my check went to pay that assumed future debt. Think before you click.

Respect money and have a solid plan for any contingencies .

You never know what can happen and you need to have some money set aside for emergency repairs. Begin a small household account for any home repairs or upgrades. Add some money to it every pay period. Never touch savings, IRAs, or retirement money unless there is a dire emergency and absolutely no other resource. Let me be blunt: this is your money, your life, and your future.

I am more conscious about my money and am making important changes to my financial future. It's a shame that it took a mini-crisis, imagined or not, to set me on the path to financial security.

Two days ago, I had a second mammogram on my left breast and an ultrasound. At my doctor's office this afternoon she gave me another letter that was faxed over from Medical Imaging. This one read:

"There is no mammographic or sonographic evidence of malignancy. Benign findings. Routine annual screening is recommended."

I'm not religious, but I've got to say 'Thank God' -- and I really mean it. Truthfully, I did learn something from this, and I have found what I feel is one dictum for a happy life:

You can never be too careful with your health or your finances. Keeping them both in good shape creates security.

© 2012 Copyright Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious new book, No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut in the top 10 hot new releases at Amazon
available now on Kindle, Nook, and all e-book venues.
To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at You may email her at kch@kristenhoughton.com. She is also the author of "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First" ranked in the top 100 books by Tower Books.com

Subscribe to the In(formation) email.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers.