Women in Business: She Works Hard for Her Money, So She Better Use it Right

You work hard for your money — so you'd better make sure it returns the favor and treats you right.

According to financial gurus, when it comes to finances and budgeting, what you don't know definitely can hurt you.

So, whether you're an artist, beautician, chef, dentist, editor, florist (I won't drag this out and go through the entire alphabet, but hopefully, you get my drift) ... listen up!

If you earn a paycheck, make sure your money works just as hard (if not harder) than you do. Money is a tool, and if you manage it properly you can build yourself a security net -- which means never having to worry about your financial future.

Survey and statistic data released over the past few years suggest women and money-management often do not go hand-in-hand.

In 2005, a nationwide PNC/Harris Interactive survey of nearly 1,500 adults found: "Women, despite their concern for stability and financial security, are less likely than men to take steps to protect their wealth. Men are more likely than women to have set up a will, healthcare proxy or trust than their female counterparts."

E-mail me at herbusiness@foxnews.com and tell me your money management success stories or financial fears/nightmares, and I'll share what some of you have to say next week.

The most recent Women and Company survey indicates that a startling 58 percent of women do not review their financial situation. Here are some more of the alarming results:

*only 42 percent of women surveyed periodically review their savings, investments, retirement plans or insurance policies
*fewer than 16 percent (15.62 percent) of women responding to the poll have formed a financial support network (financial advisor, CPA, attorney)
*just over 13 percent (13.45 percent) have executed a will, living will and healthcare proxy
*and approximately 11 percent (11.43 percent) have prepared for their long-term needs

"Between family and career, women are juggling so many priorities that managing finances often falls to the bottom of the list," according to Lisa Caputo, president and CEO of Women and Company, a membership program from Citigroup (C) that provides financial education and resources for women.

Your financial well-being should be at the top of your priority list. You may have a long list of people, pets and/or obligations you need to take care of day in and out — but that's NEVER an excuse for not taking care of you.

If you fall under one of the cited statistical categories and you want to do something about it but don't know where to begin, here are some tips on finding help to ensure you get the most out of your money.

Important to Note: It's Not Entirely Your Fault

"We still do not have financial education in our schools, so financial illiteracy reigns for many people well into adult life where they are expected to make responsible decisions on employment, housing, spending, investing and retirement," said Bonnie A. Hughes, certified financial planner (CFP) and founder and principal of A & H Financial Planning & Education, Inc.

But you don't get off that easy. It isn't all your fault, but that shouldn't stop you from doing something about it. The good news: help could be just a friendly chat or an Internet search and a few phone calls away.

It's Never Too Early for Financial Planning

Q: When should one talk to a financial adviser?

Hughes: At least annually and whenever a major financial decision warrants.

Q: Is there a typical age or salary range that warrants professional advice?

Hughes: When a person gets their first paying job, they should spend an hour or so with a financial planner. My sons have had financial plans since their first jobs (they're now 23 and 21) and while simple, it clarifies their financial world for them and gives them context for spending and investing decisions.

Q: Would you say there is a minimum salary?

Hughes: No. [It's never too early for] guidance [on] resources, which can include Roth IRAs, inheritances, stipends, salary, etc.

You'd Better Shop Around

Now more about that "good news." A simple Internet search of your city/town, state and the words "certified financial planner" should produce a long list of credentialed financial whizzes in your area.

You can easily call a handful of them and ask them a prepared list of questions. Then you will have a pool to choose from. After weighing their answers, you can pick the perfect fit for you.

Another way to find a good CFP is to ask a trusted friend/colleague:

"A personal recommendation from a person you trust can be a guide, and ultimately you should seek out a CFP (because the CFP will as a base be educated, ethical and experienced) who has experience with the kinds of questions you want answered and is a good communication match for you so you'll feel comfortable asking questions and be prepared to listen to the professional advice being offered," Hughes said.

There Are No Dumb Questions

First of all, an old adage to keep in mind when making these calls: There are no dumb questions, especially when they pertain to your own finances. Remind me, whose money and future is it you will be discussing? Exactly.

The Financial Planning Association has listed 10 sample questions on its Web site, along with in-depth explanations of why these questions matter.

You Choose a CFP, and Then What?

Q: Do most CFPs charge for a consultation?

Hughes: Not all do — of those who do, many will put the charge toward the total fee if the person becomes a client. The best way to find out is to ask prior to setting the appointment.

Q: When meeting/speaking with a CFP for the first time, what types of questions should women be prepared to answer?

Hughes: The same [type] as any client should be prepared to answer. The conversation should be a free exchange of solid information. If you don't know your personal finance particulars, the planner can tell you what documents to bring with you so the they can be more fully informed.

Women should also be prepared to answer questions about the specific help they are seeking.

Q: Are there any hard and fast rules?

Hughes: My feeling about hard and fast rules is that the value in meeting with a planner comes from the individual analysis and consideration. Following hard and fast rules may not bring an optimal result. Planners work with the individual on a specific and personal basis and therein lies the value.

Bonnie's Three Steps to Financial Wellness

1) Live within your means, [it's the] easiest path to financial stability.

2) Know yourself. Live your dream — no one else's — try to avoid competitive spending.

3) Enjoy your means, whatever they are, because when you connect your money to your personal values, something really healthy happens. A kind of financial peace follows that makes money the tool it can be to improve your life.

The Bottom Line

Just as a carpenter can't build a house with tools and materials alone (know-how is the make-or-break ingredient), you can't knit that future security blanket without knowing how to make your money work for you. So if you don't know already, go find out. No excuses.

"Minding Her Business" is a column that covers issues affecting women in business and in the workplace. Female professionals (and male, too, if they wish) can use this resource to network, ask questions, receive and offer advice, share personal experiences … and you don’t ever have to leave your office. Just e-mail herbusiness@foxnews.com. E-mails are subject to editing for length and content.