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What I Learned About Money and More in 2014

From buying insurance to loving work, some great advice

Every New Year’s Eve, I look back on and jot down highlights of the year gone by — from places I visited to my accomplishments and losses. This regular annual review helps me recapture, remember and move forward. I then write down four goals for the year ahead: two for my work, and two personal.

With a few dwindling days left in 2014, I conducted a similar review of topics and advice I've written about this past year for Next Avenue. It covers a wide swath, from health and long-term care insurance to credit card debt and career tips. At the end, you'll find my goals for all of you.

Health Insurance

I wrote about the bulging cost of insurance for those of us over 50. For me, and I suspect, many of you, health insurance caused sticker shock in 2014. It’s not just the self-employed like me and my husband, Cliff, who paid more. Americans with employer-based plans also said more money was taken out of their paychecks for coverage.

My advice for those who need to shop for a health insurance policy in 2015:

Compare premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs from multiple insurers. Start by going to Healthcare.gov or the site for your state exchange.

A health insurance broker may save time and angst (look for one at the National Association of Health Underwriters website) Or shop on your own at such websites as ehealthInsurance.com, GoHealthinsurance.com, Healthcompare.com, and Netquote.com. Check to see whether your preferred doctors are in-network.

Open a tax-advantaged Health Savings Account (HSA). This financial tool works in conjunction with a health insurance policy to help you save money for future health costs and keep those expenses down.

Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance was another head scratcher. In 2014, major insurers adopted “gender distinct” rates for new coverage. Translation: If you’re a woman, you’ll now pay more than a man for the same coverage. That’s because women typically live five to seven years longer than men, which means they’d need benefits for more years. 

My advice for women in their 50s and 60s interested in purchasing long-term care coverage:

See if you can self-insure, as I’m currently doing. Long-term care insurance is best for people who think they’ll have too much income and assets to qualify for Medicaid but fear they won’t have enough in savings to shell out for several years of long-term care, which can cost $100,000 a year or more.

Do your homework. Costs for coverage vary considerably depending on the insurer and the policy features you want. For free quotes, visit the AALTCI website or call the group (818-597-3227), which can recommend a specialist to help you compare policies. You can also find a specialist through the National Association of Health Underwriters site. A fee-only financial adviser may also be able to recommend an agent or broker to help you sort through options. Check to see if your employer offers coverage; you might be able find a policy at a lower group rate.

Shop for coverage as a couple. If you’re married or in a same-sex domestic partnership, you can apply for a plan that lets the two of you share benefits as needed. This is generally cheaper than buying two individual plans. 

Women and Investing

In 2014, I was discouraged by the findings of some national financial surveys of women that crossed my desk. 

(MORE: Women and Money Management: A Sad Story)

Prudential’s eighth biennial study on the Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women found that women feel no more prepared to make wise financial decisions today than two years ago — or even a decade ago. Nor has their understanding of financial and insurance products improved. Not surprisingly, the “Confidence Gap” (the measure of women’s confidence in their ability to attain their financial goals) has not improved over that 10-year span either, according to the disheartening findings.

Here are four findings that caught my eye, along with my advice for women concerning them:

Women said they have a lack of funds to invest. My advice: Set up an automatic investment program between your checking account and an index fund (of the broad stock market) with as little as $50 a month. 

Women are failing to use online money-management tools and calculators.  My advice: take advantage of the free help on the Internet, such as The National Endowment for Financial Education’s site, Smartaboutmoney.org and the sites Daily Worth, LearnVest and Wiserwomen.org (operated by the nonprofit Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement or WISER) — check out WISER’s Investment 101 tutorial.

Women have a lack of familiarity with financial products and industry jargon. My advice: Your employer’s resources are a good place to start. Many companies and nonprofits offer workplace education and planning tools; some even underwrite lunch-and-learn sessions or bring in outside financial advisers to give talks. I was pleased to see in the Prudential study that women are beginning to see social media as a financial research tool; 12 percent said they use the sites for that purpose.

Women feel financial advisers don’t “get” them. My advice: Stop making excuses for not working with one. Interview a few (there are searchable databases at sites of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Financial Planning Association and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards).

Loving Your Job More

When I hear people whining about their jobs or their boss I want to shout: suck it up! Do something about it. Stop being a victim. I wrote about this in a post related to my new book that will be published in March: Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness. Here was some of the advice I shared.
Focus on what you like about your work and ramp it up. 

Make a change — even a small one. Boredom is often at the root of unhappiness at work. So take a single step toward modifying what’s getting you down. One way to do this: sign up for continuing education or professional development programs offered by your employer. 

Raise your hand and ask for new duties. Say “yes” to new assignments. The adrenaline from facing challenges will charge you up and when you succeed, the rewards will be internal and external.

Explore finding joy around the edges. For example, if you have a musical bent, form a band with a group of co-workers to play music or start an a cappella group. If your interests are more physical, join or organize a company team sport or create a walking, biking or running group with co-workers.

Look into telecommuting. When it comes to what makes people love their jobs, this is a biggie. Telecommuting employees are happier, more loyal and have fewer unscheduled absences, according to a survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Working Women Over 50

Some of the highlights of the year came from interviewing authors of splendid books published in 2014. These included What Works for Women at Work by mother-daughter authors, Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey, who surveyed 127 professional women. The book’s core message: “It’s time for women to stop judging each other about what they believe to be the right way to be a woman.” 

And I learned from Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, co-authors of The Confidence Code: The Science And Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know that a lack of confidence at work — not competence — keeps women from getting ahead and getting paid fairly. Kay is the Washington anchor for BBC World News America; Shipman is a correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America.

“We can make our brains more open to confidence,” said Kay. “Go to the thing that is just a little bit hard, the unknown thing, the thing you have always found a little bit scary. That is how you grow your confidence. Not by sitting inside your narrow little comfort zone doing the things you know you can do well.”

Outstanding Women to Emulate

Finally, there were three outstanding women whose stories I shared with you. 

(MORE: How to Start a Charity For a Cause You Care About)

Molly MacDonald is the founder and CEO of The Pink Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial aid to breast cancer patients. 

Fellow equestrian Barbara Smith, who for a 61st birthday present for herself rode in a grueling, eight-day, 1,000-kilometer horse race (about 625 miles or so) in Mongolia that’s billed as “the longest and toughest horse race in the world.”  

And the third woman who won my heart was Kate Williams. Williams, 72, is blind, due to a progressive congenital eye disease that began to slowly erode her vision at 47. “It was devastating to me,” Williams told me. “But I realized that I just had to learn to do things differently if I wanted to keep working.”
Today, Williams runs an employment program at Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, Calif. to help the blind find jobs. “I have an opportunity to let people know that life is not being defined by your disability, but your ability,” Williams told me.

Money and Work Goals for 2015

Now, here are my six 2015 goals for all the women (and men) who read my Next Avenue blog:

1. Travel outside your comfort zone. Go someplace new.
2. Save more money. 
3. Learn something new.
4. Be a better friend.
5. Give more of your time and money to those who need it.
6. Laugh and smile.

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