This week marked the first ever National Summit on Women’s Safety, with a keynote delivered by none other than that feminist warrior, Scott Morrison. It’s hard not to be cynical about the reason for holding the summit, but I guess it’s better than nothing. And as the famous Billy Bragg once sang, cynicism’s such a cop-out.

The thing is, money is at the heart of women’s safety. As Financy founder, Biance Hartge-Hazelman said this week:

“Financial hardship and coercive controls are among the main reasons why women find it hard to break the cycle of abuse… To address domestic abuse without addressing the economic security of women … is a fundamental mistake.”

But even for those who are in healthy relationships, we must always guard our financial independence.

You just never know when a relationship will end, a partner will die … or a global pandemic hits.

Money is at the heart of our freedom, security and choices.

Women over 55 are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia, stung by late-life divorces, tiny or non-existent super balances, and long periods of unpaid care. We must guard our future as well as our present, whether in a relationship or single.

Waiting for the government to act in our interests is a long, slow and disappointing strategy. It’s up to you to take action on your own future.

  1. Always see the paperwork.

Not knowing where your money goes, or how to access it, is the most dangerous form of economic insecurity for women. It doesn’t always lead to financial abuse, but financial abuse always relies on this condition.

Don’t let a partner take charge of the financial administration to live in blissful ignorance of what you own and what you owe. When things are good, it might seem like one less thing to worry about. If things turn sour, it becomes a huge source of stress.

Make sure you’re across bank statements, insurance policies, superannuation statements, tax returns – the lot.

Be sure to have the passwords to online accounts, are authorised contacts on the utilities and insurance, and generally know how to pick up everything if your partner weren’t around.

  1. Invest in a Binding Financial Agreement (aka a ‘Prenup’)

This is particularly relevant if you partner up later in life, when you already own assets or are on an upward career trajectory. But it’s not a bad idea in any situation. A BFA is a legal document, prepared by a lawyer, which sets out how your property would be shared in the case of the relationship ending. Sure, they aren’t water-tight in every situation, but it’s way better to have one than to not have one.

Don’t believe the tired trope of the gold-digging woman taking the man ‘to the cleaners’. I know several women who have ended marriages with men who have plenty to gain and nothing to lose by bleeding them dry.

I learnt the hard way, when I was forced to give up one-third of my superannuation in my divorce, and received less than half the the property proceeds, just because I earned more – and that was with no kids.

As with any relationship, the key is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. This applies just as much to de facto relationships as marriages – the law sees very little difference between them.

Sure, love is great, but not giving up a huge chunk of your personal wealth is even better.

  1. Get professional advice

Related to the point above, if you are about to get either married or divorced, professional legal advice is an essential investment in my view. As I point out in my divorce series, family and friends all think they are experts on family law because they watched an episode of Suits once. They are not.

But I am a fan of professional advice in general. I had a great conversation with my tax agent yesterday. Liz from Trojan Accounting is the best – she’s part accountant, part counsellor and part voice of my conscience. When we chatted yesterday about my tax return, she also helped me to see I am leaving money on the table if I don’t hit my super contribution cap (because super is the best tax break y’all!).

I don’t have a financial adviser person, but I do have a roboadviser, which is all I need, since I only invest in the index (versus a fancy personalised portfolio). But if I had a more complex life and/or knew less about finance, I would certainly not rule out the value of an adviser.

Getting an expert opinion on things can really make the difference in the long-term.

  1. Get serious about your superannuation

The retirement gender gap is both real and alarming.

Women currently retire with 47% less super than men, even though we live five years longer on average.

It’s because we get paid less in the first place, take more breaks to do unpaid care, and work part-time more often.

So, if you don’t want to be poor in old age, make sure you have done everything in your power to maximise your nest egg. Head on over to Super Fierce to see if you could pay lower fees (hot tip: you probably can).

Check your policy to see if you’re paying for the right amount of life insurance. And make sure you consolidate multiple accounts into one, so you don’t pay unnecessary duplicate fees. Check out my super webinar if you want more on this topic.

If you aren’t working because of caring responsibilities, look into super splitting, which allows your partner to contribute some of their super into your account. And look, if you’re dealing with snotty noses and toddler tantrums, the very least your partner can do is share their super with you.

And if you’re the one in your relationship with more super, make sure it’s protected in the case of divorce. Super is viewed by the courts as part of your joint assets, unless you’ve spelt it out otherwise.

Remember, NOBODY cares about your money or your future more than you do. No husband, wife, adviser, accountant, or government. Take charge and protect yourself.