Expert Q&A: A personal finance site for women

By Emma Lunn

In her career as a personal finance author, journalist and broadcaster, Sarah Pennells has noticed many differences between men and women when it comes to spending money, saving money, thinking about money -- and worrying about money. Yet few websites take these differences into account, leaving many women with unanswered questions.

That's a void Pennells has been trying to fill with SavvyWoman, a site that aims to help women get more from their money. spoke with Pennells to learn more about SavvyWoman and how it can help women manage their finances.


Sarah Pennells
Photo credit: Simon Brown Why have a website directed at women?

Sarah Pennells: I set up SavvyWoman because there didn't seem to be anything online that talked about financial issues and assumed the audience was female. Too often "female finance" articles focused on childcare issues or divorce, whereas I think that many women approach a lot of money decisions in a different way to men. For example, if you talk to financial advisers, they'll often tell you that women think about investment risk differently to men and have different concerns. But that wasn't really being reflected in the information that was available.

I've had some lovely feedback from women who've used the site. One said it was the first finance website that didn't scare her, and another said it talks about money in a way that she thinks. What are some financial concerns women have that men don't?

Pennells: I think women can be more reluctant to lock money away -- particularly in something like a pension. Not all women have children, but they still tend to be the ones who take time out to look after them, so their working lives can be less predictable. There's also research that shows that women find financial jargon more off-putting than men. You mention on your site that women are often less confident and more worried about money than men are. Why do you think that is?

Pennells: I'm not a psychologist, but having written a book about couples and money, when I interviewed about 30 couples (or former couples), there were definitely some differences in how men and women seemed to relate to money. Certainly debt advice charities say that women often owe less than men but are more anxious about it when they seek advice.

Years ago I used to write a "money makeover" column, and over 90% of those who wrote in for advice were female.  Many of them were professional women holding down demanding jobs, but they seemed to believe they couldn't manage their money well. I think women make great money managers, it's just that the financial industry has spent too long not explaining things clearly. What made you get into the personal finance field?

Pennells: I used to work on economics and finance radio programmes but moved to Money Box on BBC Radio 4, and, when I did, it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. I loved being involved in a subject matter that made a tangible difference to people's lives, and I soon realised how liberating a bit of financial knowledge was. I was supposed to work on the programme for just a few weeks, but I ended up staying for six years. What's your top financial tip for women?

Pennells: I'd say there are two tips. Firstly, don't let the financial jargon put you off. Many financial decisions aren't that difficult once you understand what's at stake. If your financial company or adviser isn't explaining things clearly, ask questions and keep on asking until you're happy with the answer. And do your own research as well. The great thing about the Internet is that you can find information that's relevant to you without being sold to.

My second tip would be not to ignore your retirement. I know that many people don't trust pension companies -- or the stock market. But the fact is that you have to do something to ensure you have money when you retire, otherwise you could find yourself living on around £20 a day (the level of the flat rate state pension).  I don't necessarily want to go on holiday every month when I retire, but I do want to live on more than £20 a day.

See related: Women 'face higher online card fraud risk'; Credit cards: who wears the trousers in your household?

Published: 15 February 2012