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Examining Women's Financial Style

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Women are often said to be the household's "chief financial officer." The mere conferring of this honorific, though, tells us little about how they approach the role. We get a more detailed look from a report by Harrison Group and Fleishman-Hillard, based on two rounds of polling -- one at the end of the summer (before the financial meltdown) and one in November (post-meltdown).

The report emphasizes women's sense of themselves as decision-makers. Seventy-nine percent said that "In the end, my opinion determines family financial decisions"; 74 percent are "primarily responsible for buying groceries and basic supplies"; 55 percent are "primarily responsible for paying the bills."

But this doesn't mean women perform the job in a unilateralist fashion. Fifty-three percent cited their spouse/significant other as a key influencer of their most recent $100-plus purchase decision. Others pay heed to online reviews (37 percent), friends (30 percent), other family members (26 percent) and expert recommendations (23 percent). Kids also play an influential role. Many of the women with children under age 18 said their offspring help make household choices on clothing purchases (62 percent said so), vacations (44 percent), when to dine out (42 percent) and groceries (37 percent).

Half of the women said they "love to shop." But in a bad economy, spending money is apt to be more a source of stress than a salve for it. When the women were asked in the later polling to cite activities they employ to help manage stress, the top vote (54 percent) went to "staying within my budget." Just 13 percent picked "going shopping," leaving it far behind "building a better financial plan" (32 percent) and "paying cash only for purchases" (31 percent).

Such responses reflect the hit women have taken from the recession: "59 percent say they are worse off financially than a year ago, and 57 percent are worried they will run out of money." Happily, 64 percent think 2009 will be better for them financially than 2008 was (dream big!). Staying solvent will entail austerities, though. In the post-meltdown polling, 47 percent said they're using coupons more. Forty percent said they're shopping more at discount stores, 33 percent "buying the lowest-cost item in a category" and 30 percent "buying in bulk to get the lower price."