Here's the biggest fear women have about money

There's no question women have come a long way when it comes to making money. We're leading in graduation rates, starting twice as many new businesses and have regained all the jobs we lost during the recession (men have 2.1 million to go).

And yet women still lag behind in a lot of important ways. The wage gap, when coupled with the fact that women often take breaks to raise kids and care for older parents, means that when we hit retirement, we have less money saved and need it to last 7 years longer.

Women also have less financial confidence and greater fears. In a TODAY.com survey, 20 percent of our viewers said their biggest fear was having too much debt, and 19 percent felt it was outliving their money.

We're kicking off a new series, Her Two Cents TODAY, with what you told us are your greatest fears — and how to overcome them. Here are some of them:
FEAR No. 1: Running out of money before you run out of time

Over the past three decades the average lifespan of women has increased from 77 to 83. There's no escaping the numbers when it comes to dealing with this fear. By the time you retire, you want to have 10 times your annual income socked away. That, coupled with Social Security, should enable you to maintain your standard of living for at least another 30 years.

If you look at your numbers and you see there is no chance of getting there, look at the categories where you're spending the most — typically housing, transportation, and food/eating out — and challenge yourself to make big changes immediately, then put the money away for tomorrow.

FEAR No. 2: Losing a spouse or partner

When the fear is financial, it's because we've become too dependent, either on the person's income or the fact that the person is running our financial lives. If it's income, make sure you have enough life insurance. Generally, a term insurance policy (much cheaper than permanent life insurance) that covers 8 to 10 times your annual living expenses plus enough to pay off the mortgage and pay for college will do it.

If you're petrified because that person is running your financial life, it's a sign that you need to start playing a bigger role in managing your own money. Sit down with your spouse or partner and ask to have a discussion about where the money is and how it's being managed. Read a book, make an appointment with a financial advisor, or listen to my new podcast to help bring you along.

FEAR No. 3: Becoming a 'bag lady'

"Bag Lady Syndrome" is a term that's been around since the 1970s. Twenty-two percent of respondents to our TODAY.com poll said they fear becoming a bag lady — and research from Allianz puts that number even higher among women who earn more than $200K a year.

If you have it, chances are it's because you saw someone you know — a parent, aunt, older friend — struggle with money toward the end of life. Use data you know to be true about your life to see your situation clearly: retirement savings, mortgage payments, credit card debt, emergency cushion, your job and family support. If your data points to areas in which you need to improve, make a plan to do that.