In some households, the man of the house is the main financial planner. In others, the lady of the house does this important job. Either way, the other partner is at a disadvantage in the event of death or divorce.

Because it's more often the man who does the financial work, women should determine whether they are in a position to do it when his illness or some other factor puts the job in their hands.

Single women comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population in bankruptcy. In 1999, 40 percent of those filing were women, according to Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and co-author of The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt (Yale University Press). It's not that they are poor. More than half have college and graduate degrees and have been homeowners.

Because women tend to have lower incomes, as well as medical bills and children, they are more financially fragile. Warren recommends these steps for women, but men should consider them carefully as well.

* Establish a financial identity. Have an IRA, credit cards, and checking and money-market accounts.

* Hire a network of professionals. Build a trusting relationship with a financial adviser, accountant, attorney, and real estate agent.

* Create monetary discipline. Track spending. Avoid credit card balances.

* Continue your financial education. Take classes, subscribe to financial publications, read books, and surf the Internet.

Learning to live within your means and having a team of professionals to turn to in a crisis will ensure your financial future, not to mention keep you away from bankruptcy.