Days after we published our interview with a public defender about the impact of February's Supreme Court takedown of Washington's strict drug possession law, the legislature reset the drug law, making simple possession a misdemeanor and setting up a framework for treatment. It's a stopgap that expires in two years; those who support full decriminalization (that's us) are hoping this will provide time to get more people on board with that idea.

Shoutout to moms for this upcoming Mother's Day—we wouldn't be here without you!—but to those without moms, those with difficult relationships to moms, and those without children who take care of people in all sorts of ways: we see you and appreciate you.

May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Show your support to businesses in the Chinatown-International District. The Wing Luke Museum is also open to limited capacity in-person visits. Get your tickets and check out some of their great programming this month (and any month).
Reminder, if you like our work and support our mission of valuing the work that womxn do, please
consider contributing, if you're able. Every little bit boosts our efforts to provide original, quality journalism and helps us grow in order to bring you more voices and stories. Thanks to those who've already pitched in!

This issue, we're thinking about tax season (and, like everyone, mulling that Bill and Melinda split) and it all has us considering the financial impacts on womxn of things like partner death, divorce, or just plain retirement. Nia talked to financial consultant Alicia Singer about how to protect ourselves in a system that—surprise!—still has plenty of biases. And Niki talks to a local fashion designer who focuses on sustainable, custom pieces.

Money Matters

Womxn have come a long way when it comes to money, but conscious and unconscious biases in the financial world can still hold us back. A financial consultant explains how we can protect ourselves and what to plan for.

“There needs to be a place where women can come and feel like the culture is their culture, that they’re understood, they’re welcome, they’re supposed to be there. Because right now, the culture is so not for women," says Alicia Singer, founder of Singer Wealth Management. Image by Set Line Vector Icon.

“The finance industry was started by men for men,” says Alicia Singer, founder of Singer Wealth Management. The financial consultant and divorce financial analyst knows a thing or two about navigating finances, and the industry, in a system designed for men.

With taxes due on May 17th, money is top of all of our minds. The pandemic has significantly, and negatively,
impacted jobs and income across the board for womxn, especially womxn of color. When it comes to finances, womxn can (literally) not afford to be uninformed or disorganized. With longer lifespans than men, womxn have to survive longer, often on fewer resources. We’re often caregivers, subject to the “pink tax,” and earn about 20% less than men, according to Singer. “We’re earning less, we’re spending more, and we’re putting less towards our retirement. So we have to make wise and informed choices with our money throughout our lives.”

Singer’s interest in finance was informed by her initial studies in anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder. She was fascinated by how people use resources to solve problems. “I gravitated towards finance because, in financial planning, that’s all you do: you help people use their resources through space and time to solve financial problems and reach financial goals.” She didn’t get there right away, though: The Portland native moved to Seattle 20 years ago and spent 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. It was during that time that she and other moms discussed money on the playground: saving for their children’s education, managing money, and the impact of divorce. That got Singer interested in financial planning as a career and she re-entered the workforce when her third child began school.

Singer took certification courses through the College for Financial Planning and landed a job at Merrill Lynch, where she first noticed sexism in the industry as an employee. “They gave you more of a junior role when you’re starting out and they pay you a very small salary. I was noticing that the women, in particular, were being held in these more junior roles longer, being paid smaller salaries longer.” She also observed how the financial world primed men to succeed and pass power to each other: “Since it’s a place for men to really thrive, they do. They hold senior roles, they start brokerage firms, they start RIAs [Registered Investment Advisor firms]. They continue to hold those senior roles and groom the next generation of men to take over that senior role.”

It wasn’t just inequality in the industry that propelled Singer to strike out on her own, starting her business in 2019. She could see how sexism applied to clients, too. Many big firms, for example, require that clients meet their minimum investment threshold—that can be at least one or two million dollars. “For a lot of the women I was working with, you start out in a marriage and you have a pile of assets you accrue over 20 years. When you get the divorce, that gets cut in half, and then all of a sudden that client’s not eligible. So I couldn’t take these women that were divorcing clients and get paid.” That type of model leaves out many womxn and people of color, since they do not collectively hold the most wealth in this country. It motivated Singer to open a different kind of firm that aligned more with her values.

“Women are really able to own all types of assets now,” says Singer. After all, they no longer need a male cosigner to open a bank account, credit card, or apply for a business loan anymore—all changes that were
more recent than we’d like to admit. However, that doesn’t mean that womxn are on equal financial footing. The bias lies in the fact that many womxn aren’t taught money management and the workings of financial industries, and don’t always know the jargon or the right questions to ask—which people and institutions can take advantage of. “If you aren’t aware or informed on how to approach those finances, you might get a bad deal,” Singer explains. “If you don’t know that you can negotiate a mortgage rate, you might go in and take the first thing that you’re offered.”

Specific events in a womxn’s life also require them to be on their toes when it comes to financial plans. Divorce can have one of the biggest impacts on a womxn’s assets. Singer cautions against taking a 50/50 split when divorcing in Washington and suggests a 70/30 split may be more equitable in some cases instead: “It’s a no-fault state; everyone has to walk away from a divorce having an equitable share of the marital assets,” she says. Splitting all assets down the middle is not equitable for some womxn for a few reasons: For one, the labor that often falls on them, such as home care and child raising, is not valued monetarily. In addition, with womxn overall earning less in the workplace, they’re likely looking at supporting themselves (and possibly children) on a single income at a lower salary starting point than their husband. All of that has to be factored in when considering a truly equitable division of assets.  

“We’re earning less, we’re spending more, and we’re putting less towards our retirement. So we have to make wise and informed choices with our money throughout our lives.” 

Womxn whose spouses have passed away must also diligently advocate for themselves. Not only do finances change—“You go from a two-household income to a single household income. That affects your taxes [and] how much you’re paying for insurance—so immediately you should reevaluate your financial plan at the loss of a life,” says Singer—but because there is no grace period with financial institutions. “At end-of-life, you have to do certain things the first week, the first month—you have to file taxes [within] the first nine months. And if you miss an RMD [Required Minimum Distribution] payment, you get a 50% penalty. So there’s a lot of penalty for not being informed and not being aware of where all these investments are or how to transfer them.

There are other disadvantages to not knowing the ins and outs of finances, as well. A deceased husband’s financial planner may not engage with surviving spouses the same way. Inherited portfolios can sometimes be risky or disorganized, leaving the surviving spouse, who may not have the same financial expertise, at a huge disadvantage. Womxn who don’t push back may be talked into expensive annuities or long-term care policies, says Singer, which could have negative impacts due to their high expense and not being liquid. “Understanding what her options are, understanding the investment strategy she’s inherited, and finding a planner she can relate to and talk to is huge,” says Singer. After all, a womxn’s remaining years may depend on it: “Maybe he was building this portfolio, but now she needs to maintain it and live off of it.”

Womxn need to revisit their financial needs and priorities well in advance of retirement, not just right before. Singer notes that housing and healthcare are the biggest expenses for her clients during that stage, and after age 65, careful financial planning is just as, if not more, important for womxn in same-sex marriages.
There are only so many things that Medicare covers, and vital services, such as dental and long-term care, aren’t among them.

“When you have two women living off of one pile of resources for a long period, it’s a much different conversation than one person living off of that marital pile of assets for the same amount of time,” she says. Men die younger, whereas womxn have to stretch their resources to an older age past retirement without a full-time job income (unless that isn’t feasible and some do return to the workforce.) 
Factor in pay disparities between men and womxn, as well as obligations towards care (of a child or an elderly or ill family member) that womxn are more often saddled with, and it becomes clear that there are significant biases that womxn in same-sex marriages face when it comes to accumulating a reassuring amount of income and assets that must be shared and available until the end of life.

Though managing finances can seem daunting, it is possible to get on track, no matter what stage of life you’re in. It’s important to start saving and wisely investing sooner rather than later—but, also, it’s important to find someone that can help you, says Singer. “A fee-only fiduciary every single day!” exclaims Singer on who to look for. She explains that fee-only fiduciaries lay out all your options and help you understand them, as well as help you implement and monitor your finances. Having a partner to navigate changes is also essential, because you may not have an awareness of how certain laws, such as the SECURE Act, affect planning—but your fiduciary will.

Tax codes also impact finances, of course—and they’re ever-changing. During any tax season, there are some important things to keep in mind. “Max out those retirement accounts,” says Singer, such as IRAs and SEP-IRAs. Additionally, “If you max out your 401ks and your Health Savings Accounts at work, that is deferred income, and what that means is it lowers your taxable income.” Singer also advises gifting appreciated stock to a child or charity. “If they have to cash that out, they pay long-term capital gains on that, but if they gift it to a child, the gain is a lot less, and same for a charity.” And start thinking about next year’s tax strategy and rebalancing your stock portfolio.

Ultimately, it’s important for womxn to understand their options and to find someone they trust with their finances. That should be someone who is going to really listen and understand their needs. It may take talking to a couple of people before you find the right fit, but that’s OK. As Singer says, pay inequity and discrimination are significant barriers that womxn and people of color face—and your financial planner needs to understand that and not disregard those realities. “Those two factors alone have a massive impact on women’s financial plans and their ability to reach financial goals.”
By Nia Martin

Interested in diving into managing your finances, but unsure where to start? Alicia Singer has a few suggestions:

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle

Morningstar & Financial Times

Singer also recommends looking over the Dow, New York Stock Exchange, and the year-to-date return of the S&P 500 for 10 minutes a day. After a month, you’ll have a good beginner’s grasp, and can expand your time the following month onward.

For a sounding board, or a specific interest, such as green investments, reach out to a financial planning advisor. Ask other womxn in your circle for recommendations, or find out if your bank offers free consultations. 

She Made It 

Who’s the local designer who has been creating timeless and gorgeously modern pieces since 2017? Tap the image to find out.


What we are seeing and doing this week/end

Washington state is currently subject to Governor Inslee's Healthy Washington—Roadmap to Recovery plan until further notice (be sure to check the latest Washington State Coronavirus Response Guidelines). We're highlighting ways to engage and support the community safely.

The Black Tones will be rehearsing, writing, and experimenting with their blues and punk sounds throughout May for The Engine Room Residencies at Henry Art Gallery in an exhibit space intended to support and center Seattle's Black creatives. Check out the live public dates or online stream options.

This is the final month for Uplift APA, a relief fund for artists of Asian and Pasifika descent in the Puget Sound area who are experiencing hardship. Donate, and enter to win original artwork, cooking classes, dance lessons, and more with Asian Pacific American creatives who are partnering with the fund. It runs through May 31

We can all use beautiful things made ethically. Wend Jewelry touts sustainable mine to market, handmade, gender-neutral pieces; Wendy Woldenberg just opened up shop in West Seattle, adding to a mightily growing stretch of small businesses on the north end of California Avenue powering through the pandemic.

Catch Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival starting today through May 9th, hosted by Three Dollar Bill Cinema. The 16th annual film festival will showcase over 40 films and is one of only ten festivals of its kind in the world. While I've got you here, add your name to petitions trying to stop anti-trans legislation around the country.

Anyone else need a cookie? I thought so. Sophie Handler's recently opened business, Sophie Bay Biscuits, not only offers treats from linzers to almond orange pillows, but has complementary teas, cocoas, and house-made spreads to boot. Go ahead and online order the dozen!

The toll of COVID-19 in India has been devastating. Founded by Shravani Salgaonkar, ChangeSpark is a Seattle-based enterprise that raises awareness through different initiatives. Join their Yoga for India fundraiser this Saturday to raise money for grocery kits and oxygen cylinders, and check out their fun, ethically-made wares while you're at it. 
We love what we do here at P&L—and hope you do, too! 


Financial contributions help us bring you original reporting, research, points of view, and photography. This year, we'll be focusing on ways to sustainably continue and grow our efforts here, including with this option to donate ($5, $10—whatever you can), once or on a regular, subscription-style basis (via PayPal). Thank you for supporting local women in journalism!
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