On Your Own Two Feet by Helen Baker

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Financial adviser Helen Baker’s latest book is billed as “The Essential Guide to Financial Independence for all Women”. That sets a pretty high bar but, with some reservations, she manages to jump it. The first challenge is to whittle down a huge range of possible topics, while still appealing to a diversity of readers. The second is to provide sufficient detail to be useful without resorting to encyclopaedic length.

A couple of disclaimers. This reviewer is not a member of the author’s target gender nor someone with an entirely positive view of financial planners.  But I am partial to financial planning and have participated in all but one of the chapter headings (the “super soft years” of the over 70s). That may sound like a precursor to some criticism, but the theme of this review is quite the opposite. In fact, this book has much to commend it to all genders, whether single or coupled.   

Helen Baker is eminently qualified for this topic – both academically and vocationally. The range of topics in the 24 chapters reflects her experience and a certain wisdom. She has experienced the ups and downs of financial (in)security and has had to live with the financial inequities confronting women. Her aim is that “women will realise that there is a plan and purpose for each and every one of us, based on our unique gifts, talents, goals and values” (p.xvii) and she is realistic about what the book can achieve:  “No matter where we are in life, we can all do with a little insight into how to make money go further” (p.xviii).

The opening chapters provide a roundup of the basic concepts that “your parents and teachers probably never spelled out”. Some are societal – the gender pay gap, housing affordability – and others are financial – planning, superannuation insurances, debt. These basics are referred to throughout the book, in different contexts, as they relate to subsequent topics. The next four chapters cover different life stages for women, from young adults to the over 70s. The bulk of the book covers the financial impacts of different “life events” ranging from parenting to pets. The 13 chapters cover a diversity of subjects that explore many issues ignored by many financial guides.

The chapters are surprisingly brief. For example, house buying is just five pages. But there is some useful information, particularly for people who may have not experienced a particular life event. For that reason, I found that the chapters on aged care, widowhood and estate planning offered some valuable advice.

Commendably, the final chapter does not try to formulate an omniscient blueprint but opts for “Finding options that suit you”. This is very much in keeping with the style of the book – posing questions, suggesting possible ways forward and emphasising planning as a continuing process. The idea is not to become an expert, but rather to know when you need one. The glossary delineates professions who should/could be consulted – such as stockbrokers, lawyers and accountants.

Helen’s approach is not anti-male, but a telling piece of advice is that “a man is not a financial plan” [p52]. She strongly encourages women to be financially literate and in a position to make financial decisions – whether alone or in tandem.

If this goes to a new edition, it would benefit from more reference materials for readers wanting more detail and perhaps to do their own research and planning.  An index and an expanded glossary of terms would also be valuable additions.

In evaluating this book as a male, I asked two questions. Would I recommend it to my wife/daughter/ sister/mother?  Would I recommend that they engage Helen Baker as their financial planner? The answer to both was an unequivocal yes. This book is targeted at women who have not had the opportunity to learn about all things financial and who may aspire to independent control of their financial affairs. And plenty of men should read it as well.

On Your Own Two Feet

(2021)

by Helen Baker

Ventura Press

ISBN: 978 192072 778 9

$26.90; 221pp

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