Why Women Spend So Much Money — and How They Can Reverse the Cycle

You can recognize the stereotype: woman with dozens of shopping bags, store clerks running after her with more. Women are often understood to be society’s biggest spenders, dropping hundreds of dollars on designer shoes every other weekend. The truth is that annually men spend on average 19 percent more than women do — but their expenditures are usually devoted to functional items, like cars, rather than luxury personal items.

Typical female spending habits are preventing many women from realizing the life they’ve always wanted. On top of the already exorbitant costs of being a woman — including additional health care and career concerns — many women are spending above and beyond their means unnecessarily. Only women who are dedicated to saving can interrupt the spending cycle and earn the lifestyle of their dreams.

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The Costs of Being Female

Believe it or not, simply being born female resigns most women to spending on average $849,000 more than men over a lifetime. This study included expenses incurred due to a woman’s longer life expectancy, during which health care costs are immense and necessary, as well as women’s statistically lower salaries and increased time off work to care for family.

On top of this, one study found that female-targeted products usually cost more than the same items marketed to men. This discrepancy can range from tens of cents to tens of dollars. For example, women’s deodorants usually cost at least 30 cents more than men’s, though the only discernable difference was the color of the packaging. Though a 30-cent gap may not seem significant, the costs accumulate to about $1,300 every year.

Finally, the so-called “soft costs” of being a woman add up, as well. These include everyday expenditures to maintain femininity, including grooming, staying in shape, clothes shopping, and more. Clothes for one woman alone usually total about $6,000 annually, and other items (including feminine care products and services) add up to well over $3,000 every year. For the most part, these estimates err on the conservative side, which means that plenty of women spend even more.

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The Dangers of Retail Therapy

There is no doubt that shopping can be delightfully fun, but spending precious funds on superfluous items will only drive a woman deeper into her financial hole. More than 50 percent of Americans admit to engaging in retail therapy, the pop-psychology term for shopping to mitigate negative emotions. Indeed, feelings of loss, anxiety, insecurity, stress, and more can be diminished with some shopping — but usually, it is the removal from the negative situation and the focus on a certain goal that eases tension and improves mood rather than the items women buy.

Worse, retail therapy can unnoticeably spiral out of control. When spending is a primary mechanism for coping with stress, and the stress arises from rampant spending and subsequent credit card bills, women can be caught in an unending, unhealthy cycle. Ultimately, it is much financially safer and more stress-free to find alternative forms of release, like spending time at the gym instead of spending money on new clothes.

The Keys to Frugality

Already, society is adapting to diminish the absurd costs women face. The Affordable Care Act has provisions for equal premiums for men and women, and feminist groups are encouraging the acceptance of a lower-maintenance version of femininity. This means that women who do not enjoy the putting on makeup and styling hair can abandon those costs and any others that aren’t personally worthwhile.

After women cut down on as many costs as possible, they have additional opportunities to live a more frugal lifestyle. By enjoying a shopping spree only during sales and armed with coupons, women can slash their expenditures on clothing and other soft costs. Indeed, retailers offer coupons for more than food and toiletries; online coupon providers are excellent resources for women looking to lead a more frugal lifestyle.

Then, once spending is fully in check, women can begin to focus on saving and earning. Financial experts advise splitting a single month’s paycheck into three parts: 50 percent for essentials (rent, food), 30 percent for lifestyle (nights out, Internet subscription), and 20 percent for finances (bills, savings). However, frugal women can easily cut into their lifestyle allocation to overcome debt and sock more away for the future. With wise investments and a healthy savings account, many women will be able to break the female spending habit for good.