It's not too late to get a grip on your Queenager finances...

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (September 18th 2023)

An emotional week

Dear Queenagers

Hope you’ve all had a good week; mine was emotional. Dropped the little one at uni in Manchester and I swear as we drove away ( a 400 mile round trip in a day also wasn’t the best idea…) it was like a second rupture of the umbilical chord. I held it together in front of her, but we wept the whole way to the M6 toll… and in the services (well I did).

I’ve been told many times this week: Congrats, you’ve got both kids through school and into uni, you should see that as a big achievement. The truth is, although I am super proud of them both, I have never felt less glad about a big ‘achievement’, it just feels like a big sadness, a big hole, a big shift. I know that Change is Difficult and all transitions have their up and down moments, so I am just trying to ride it out… this too will pass and all that. And the main thing is she sounds like she’s having fun  which is what really matters… So anyway,  thanks for all your lovely messages, thoughts and encouragement, so many of you have reached out sending sympathy and sharing your own journeys, it is great to know this is something so many of us all go through. Truly, much appreciated!

And we’ll get on to this week’s letter, I promise,  but first just a final call for the Noon Wasing Retreat on October 1st – we’ve got about three spots left so if you are thinking of coming, don’t delay, book today! There is 20% off for Paid Subscribers (only £6 a month).

So as well as the Manchester delivery and finishing my book (nearly there, has to be handed in next week…) last week I had a lovely morning where I left my kitchen table and my lap top, put on a trouser suit and lipstick (Yay!) and got the Thameslink to the swanky Oxo Tower for the launch of some fascinating research. Presented by my old friend Helena Morrissey it was called Money Matters: The Wobbly Bits and looks at the fraught subject of women and money. The top line was how women too often put the immediate needs of everyone around them ahead of their own financial security, whether that’s giving up work to provide free elder-care or to look after grandchildren, or not thinking about our own personal financial futures when it comes to work/life balance conversations in the family.

“The financial wobbly bits in life are often tricky to navigate and filled with emotion, from moving in with a partner to having your first child or hitting the menopause; some are minor speedbumps others major de-railing potholes” says Helena Morrissey, Chair of AJ Bell who did the research. “What is clear is that women need to push for the financial impact of family choices to be shared equally at home; women need to have frank conversations with partners about how they share the financial impact of caring responsibilities and taking time out from careers. Single women also take a big financial hit, it is more expensive running a solo household than living with someone else.”

We Queenagers need to take our heads out of the sand, stop being polite and putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own, get a grip on our money and what we need to do with it to have a financially comfortable old age. Too many of us grew up thinking that a man was a financial plan… I see in Noon Circles a sense that someone else should be doing this for us. Well sorry ladies, but the financial cavalry aren’t coming. If we don’t do it ourselves then nobody will. The facts are that the gender pensions gap is even scarier and bigger than the gender pay gap. We need to pull on our big girl pants (as my Noon co-founder loves to say) and get stuck in.

I’ve interviewed Helena Morrissey many times in the last couple of decades and she has become a friend. One of the original super-women – she had nine children and was the CEO of an Investment Bank and the Founder of the 30 per cent club, which campaigns for gender equity in business globally – she has been a beacon for women’s empowerment for fifteen years. Her husband stayed at home to raise the family and she has always been the main breadwinner. “We realised when our first kids were very young that my career had more of a chance of providing for our growing family’s needs than his did.” Helena talked frankly at the launch about how her career moves had been dictated by maximising her earning potential. Of course we’re not all bankers, but essentially, she wants more women to take financial control of their lives.

Like Helena, over half of Queenagers are the main bread winner. I am in. That has had benefits; if the kids were ill I had to go to work and my husband stayed at home because it was my salary that paid the mortgage. It was a pressure, but also a boon. I saw so many women give up on their careers because their husband’s job came first, trumped their’s… and then when they divorced they faced a double loss. Not just the partnership and the family, but also a huge career and financial hit. They hadn’t got their own pensions or ways of making money. It left them very vulnerable. This was writ large in the AJ Bell report. Here are some of the most striking figures.

  • 55% of women didn’t return to fulltime work after the birth of their first child (compared to over 95% of men)
  • Almost half of women have had their career and finances impacted by caring responsibilities other than parenting (eg elder care… or caring for grandchildren) 15% gave up work, 18% cut their hours, 14% said there was a financial hit to them for providing care
  • just a quarter of women carried on paying into their pension during parental leave
  • Women have 35% less in their pension pots than men – but for divorced women their spouse’s pension pot on average is worth £205,800 while the woman’s is a meagre £26,100….. a staggering difference of £179,700. So if you are getting divorced, PLEASE go for the Pension not the House!

For many of us it is only as we hit 50 and start to think about how we are going to live in terms of income for the next up to 50 years that we realise that maybe boring things like our pensions, or savings should have been a higher priority! For many of us there is always something better to do; I know I often approach my personal finances with a mixture of terror and boredom and there is nothing I dread more than filing my tax return.

But I’m starting to think that’s because we haven’t been telling the right stories about women and money; that maybe if we did, Queenagers would find the whole thing more relatable. For instance: One of the only bits of sensible financial planning I have ever done is to pay into Child Trust Funds for my daughters. They were introduced by Tony Blair’s government, every kid born was given £500 by the state to be invested so they had some funds when they hit 18. I took out a direct debit from my salary when my daughters were born and religiously paid £50 or £100 a month into their accounts. I am so glad that I did. This summer my eldest has been off working in a surf hostel in Portugal (some of it financed by her Child Trust Fund) and if she wants to do a Masters or go travelling after she finishes Uni, she’ll have those options because of the saving that I did. Same with the little one – I see it as their ‘follow my dreams’ fund. That feels a much more persuasive reason to take up a saving habit than dreary columns of compound interest….I bet far more women would save if there was a better story told about what it would allow them to do…

We need to see our financial habits as part of a bigger story about how we want our lives to pan out. It’s not too late! This month on Noon we’ve run three different articles about what all Queenagers should be thinking about and doing in terms of their money as part of our Queenager Financial Spanx series. There is a whole piece for childfree Queenagers as their old-age needs and ideas around legacy can be different, and they are the most frequently overlooked segment of all!

The latest is all about pensions and will be up this week. The keypoints are: Do you have a whole load from different employers over the years? Then amalgamate them in one place. Are you up to date on your National Insurance contributions so you get the full state pension of around £10k (you can over pay to fill up any gaps eg from taking time out for caring)?

They key takeaway from the research is: Don’t be an ostrich about your financial future. Getting a grip on your pension now could make all the difference to your life as you age… as Helena Morrissey says, financial fitness is like physical fitness, we need a ‘little but often’ approach. It’s one of those things that if you grip it, force yourself to go through what you’ve got, maybe talk to an Independent Financial Advisor, and get the whole thing in order, you suddenly feel some agency. It can also help you to do your bit: I  am super worried about climate change – Libyan floods, the Antarctic Ice melting more than ever, Ocean temperatures reaching all time highs, all sorts of climate records being broken this year which makes it look like we are over the tipping point for 1.5 degrees of warming. I hate feeling helpless about it. But then a friend of mine who works with XR told me that the biggest contribution we can make as individuals to help on global warming is to shift our pensions out of fossil fuels and into renewables. So I did exactly that; I switched all my old pension pots to a new financial advisor and shifted it all about of fossil fuels, into green energy and I’m also invested in impact gender funds which back female entrepreneurs all over the globe. It’s my way of putting my money where my mouth is.

The truth is that when it comes to our money, we can have agency if we choose to take it. Men do. At The Wobbly Bits launch they revealed how often men ask for extra pension contributions as part of a pay increase (wish I’d done that) or how often women leave their savings languishing in low interest accounts. It’s about a mindset. Taking a bit of time to understand it and to engage… come on Queenagers we can DO this!

Now I am not having a go at you. I totally understand the reluctance and it is not our fault. When my parents got divorced in the Seventies, my mother wasn’t allowed a mortgage in her own name, she needed a male guarantor. It’s only in the last generation that women have been ALLOWED to take the reins on their finances. Us female breadwinners are the first women ever to take on that role. As with many things Queenager, we are pioneers.

So if this chimes with you and you want some advice, or to turn over a financial new leaf – then come and join me on Tuesday evening when along with the brilliant Danni Hewson (ex BBC Radio Five Live’s Voice of Business, and now AJ Bell’s Head of Finance)  we’ll be running a Queenager Financial Spanx Webinar for all of you. It’s free. Tuesday September 19th at 7pm, – sign up here and you’ll be sent a link.

We’ll be building on this newsletter today, running through the basics of what you need to be thinking about  and answering your questions. If there is something you want us to tackle email me today and I promise to cover it on Tuesday –

Have a great Sunday



By Eleanor Mills

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