State of Women·10 min read

How to Put Yourself First Financially, According to Skimm Readers

Woman checks her phone while shopping. Tired of being short changed at work and in relationships, women are taking action to secure their finances.
April 10, 2023

The pandemic laid bare so much that isn’t working for women: being the country’s default, unpaid caregivers; minimal or nonexistent societal support for that caregiving; resulting levels of stress that were and are untenable. It also gave women time to reflect on a financial gender gap that is not due to less pay for the same work but rather what is known as the motherhood penalty: When men have children, their financial outlook remains the same. When women do, their financial trajectory falls off a cliff. And for many women, it cast in stark relief how romantic relationships cost them financially. 

In our 2023 State of Women Report, a study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of theSkimm, only 28% of millennial women surveyed reported “good” financial health. 45% said their financial health is “somewhat poor” or “poor.” 80% of millennial women surveyed said they are worried about how the current economy will affect their finances. 60% are worried they will have to support family members financially during the downturn. 

This worry hasn’t paralyzed them, though. Across the board, women told us they were taking action to strengthen their financial futures, or plan to, from paying down debt to following a financial plan. 24% said they have shifted career paths for higher earning potential, and 46% are thinking about doing so. 38% said they are thinking of asking for a raise or promotion this year. Nearly half own a home, and a third said they are saving to buy one. In other words, they are prioritizing their financial wellbeing, some for the first time. 

To get a better sense of what this looks like in practice, we asked Skimm readers to describe one thing they’ve done to transform their lives in the last three years. For many of them, that action was financial. Or as many readers told us, sometimes you're better off buying the house without him.

Women are paying attention, and educating themselves.

Cortney, 37, park ranger

Great Falls, Montana

I started tracking my net worth. It was painful at first because I was deeply disappointed at how few assets I had. Eventually, that ache turned into motivation to take control of my financial life. Three years later, I've doubled my net worth, captured a raise, and am financially confident enough to donate 5% of my net income. It was hard but that's what makes success so sweet!

Jenna, 35, global digital marketing

Houston, TX

My husband and I started working with a financial planner. They helped us take small steps today so ensure a better future for us and our family. In just two years, my spouse and I have paid off all debt, set up a college fund [for] our new baby, and have doubled our net worth.

Macel, 26, academic advisor for student athletes

Boone, North Carolina

Over the past three years, I have dedicated time and effort to learning about money, saving, and investing. I have created, maintained, and stuck to a budget plan that I take pride in. In 2022, when I started my first salary job after graduate school, I readjusted my budget to automatically set money aside for a new car. I also learned about investing and selected a specific investment for my retirement funds.

Women are asking for more, or switching jobs.

Whitney, 27, communications coordinator


I began looking for a remote work job, and when I got one, I negotiated with my current company. I now work from home for the same company I've been with since 2019, and I achieved a raise in the process. With a commute eliminated from my day, I've saved a significant amount of money on gas and lunches since I'm able to cook at home. And of course, the raise has increased my ability to save and pay off debt. 

Cassandra, 32, business process consultant


Committed to my dreams by applying and obtaining a new job that has better pay and benefits, allowing me to be more present for my family to be able to care for my grandfather with dementia and enhance my ability to provide for them as the primary breadwinner. [Also] renting out my house, buying land to eventually build on (having a hobby farm has been a dream of mine since I was 12), which works towards my dreams and enhances my investment portfolio/retirement nest egg.

Women are making hard choices.

Erica Wadas, 31, manager of sales analytics

Lakewood, California

After identifying my ideal lifestyle, I identified activities that will help me make progress towards achieving [it] and the activities that are [keeping] me from getting there — for example, “always saying yes to spending time with my family, partner, or friends” [or] “having the new trendy handbag.”  After this mindset shift, I [ask] myself, “Does this … help me make progress or is it a detractor?” 

Lindsay Mercier, 32, land development specialist


I quickly learned I wasn’t cut out to be a nurse - professionally, mentally, and financially. Taking out loans, the stress of COVID healthcare work, and earning a fraction of what I was [in a previous career] was not feasible. I was suddenly in a terrifyingly bad financial spot, [which] forced me to reset my thinking.

I went back to my previous industry. It took a year and a half at a crummy job, juggling payments, selling furniture and clothes, sleepless nights full of tears and worry, cutting out any extra or mindless spending, borrowing money, and saying no to a lot of social and family activities. Eventually (and thankfully) I clawed my way out, landed my current amazing gig, and am on a stable, boss-lady (hopefully!) path now.

Women are accepting help, and letting go of the guilt.

Anonymous, 35, UX designer

Clarksburg, Maryland

After having a baby, my husband and I decided to move in with my in-laws so that we could: 1.) receive help caring for the baby, 2.) save money on housing, and 3.) live and work in a larger space. This was particularly beneficial because my husband has a disability, and we both work a lot. Living with my in-laws may sound either terribly old-fashioned or nightmarish (depending on your point of view and family dynamics), but it's enabled us to have so much more free time and money than we would if we were trying to manage everything on our own. 

Emily, 30, early intervention occupational therapist

Buffalo, New York

I stopped feeling guilty about spending money on myself, and I started trusting that I’m doing alright, even if I don’t have money like I want (who does). I started to work out in the morning and got a therapist. Life can be good.

Erin, 35, finance

Cincinnati, OH

Realizing that my time is also worth money — delegating and outsourcing the things I don't like to do (cleaning, grocery shopping) help me get time back in my day to focus on other things or simply to relax!

Greta, 39, English coach

Seoul, South Korea

After decades of mental health struggles, I went to see a psychiatrist for the first time [and] was diagnosed with ADHD and severe anxiety. I've always had trouble completing small tasks, making phone calls, and keeping my room or apartment in any kind of order. So actually, I took two steps: I started taking medication to help manage my symptoms, and I hired a house cleaner to come twice a month and do what I literally CAN'T do. My house cleaner is an older woman from the Philippines who sends her money back to her family to pay for her kids' education. Both have HUGELY improved my life and my relationship with my husband and dog and everyone else.

Women are establishing financial independence or equity in their relationships.

Anonymous, 28, aerospace engineer

Newport News, Virginia

I have decided to NOT combine finances with my partner in order to have my own financial independence. With this independence, I feel a lot more in control of my financial health. Plus, I really like being able to choose what I'm putting into savings; I have fun with it! Also, I am choosing ways to put my mental and physical health first, like having a "me day" with a massage or something else, going on a vacation without my partner to take a break from work, which is very stressful, and a break from this crazy world we live in.

Krista McCarty, 38, marketing manager

Traverse City, Michigan

My spouse and I changed our direct deposit to point to one account and [pay] recurring charges that I was solely responsible for in the past (daycare, cleaning service, online grocery) out of that account. When I downsized my job during the pandemic, I still needed childcare, occasional grocery delivery, and help cleaning, but my cash flow tanked. My spouse’s cash flow improved after a promotion, and he would have to bail me out. Rather than transferring funds from my spouses account when my balance ran low, it’s automatic, shared more equitably, and I felt more secure and confident in my decision to switch jobs in 2021. 

MJ, 29, business development specialist

Sonoma, CA

I got divorced! We started dating in college, and he kind of took over my life in every aspect. He wanted to be "the man" and handled everything down to the point where I had no idea where my money was going, what it was being spent on — I couldn't even have my own amazon account because he always ordered everything for us. Once COVID shut everything down and we were quarantined at home, he became even more controlling and abusive. That was my last straw. I packed up my things one afternoon and never looked back. 

Since my divorce, I made a career change and have become completely financially independent. I even purchased my OWN home (and have my own Amazon account now lol). Things are looking UP UP UP!

Christina, 40, dental hygiene student (grad in May 2023) and part-time cashier at HEB, full time parent


I divorced my husband of 16 years and went back to school to become a dental hygienist. He was the type to say, "Baby, I'll take care of you," and he was a good financial provider. He just didn't offer any help with the household or our children. 

Working at HEB part-time (shout out to the best grocery store in Texas) and going to school full time and raising two kids on my own has been exhausting and financially rough. Even with everything I have going on, ours is still the house where the kids hang out and share meals and I offer practical help. I do stuff like going to the appointment to get birth control with the young adults who don't have a supportive mother figure available or even just offering hugs to the kids who live alone. 

I went from being a homemaker who was coddled but in a cage, to an independent woman who has little but is always looking to improve the lives of those around me.

Kathy, 35, life insurance operations manager

Bountiful, Utah

Divorce, coupled with finally spending my money the way I actually want to (mostly on worldwide travel).

Women are buying the house without him.

Allison, 39, senior claim professional

Cambridge, Iowa

My three children and I were living in a 2 bedroom apartment after I ended my engagement which was not an ideal situation, especially when the world shut down in March 2020, but it was [all] I could afford at the time. However, despite a CRIPPLING amount of student loan debt, a sexist realtor, [and] the insane daily changes in mortgage requirements during the pandemic … , I bought my family a home! Here's the kicker: My mortgage payment in my 4 bedroom house is less than the rent in the 2 bedroom apartment.

Shannon, 30, vendor engagement manager

Selden, New York

I decided to stop waiting on my indecisive boyfriend to prioritize me and our future together. I bought my own house in March 2020, and although it was a rough 3 months in an empty home during the early days of the pandemic, it was the best investment I could have made for myself. I now have a level of independence I didn't consider possible and love living and curating my own space.

Kasey, 31, counselor

Grand Rapids, Michigan

After leaving a relationship that wasn't progressing, I stopped waiting until it was the "right time" and bought a house I could afford by myself. It was worth every penny to be financially free... even if mowing the lawn every week is the worst. 

To access our complete State of Women Report, please click here.

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