Women in Finance

07/23/2004 12:00 am EST


Welcome to our special report on women in finance, who are increasingly taking their long-deserved role among the best and the brightest on Wall Street.  At the Money Shows, we are very fortunate to have many of the nation's leading women as speakers and participants.

On a personal note, I would add that the idea for this report was inspired by Nancy Zambell, who in addition to her editorial and financial advisory roles, has made it a personal quest to help educate women about their financial needs. I'd emphasize that the information in this special report is not specific to either gender. The common aspect of all the articles in this report is simply that the advisors themselves are women. And later in this report, we do feature Nancy's stock market commentary. However, I thought this issue was also an appropriate place to share a special report that Nancy wrote specifically geared towards women investors, to help them better understand the importance of taking control of their own financial lives.

Zambell, NancySays Nancy Zambell, "Some 15 years past, when I worked in the banking industry, I often found myself comforting and assisting a recent widow who had absolutely no idea how much money she and her husband had in the bank, what kinds of accounts she could access, or if they had a brokerage account. I became increasingly frustrated that these women had not taken charge of their financial futures - either because their husbands wanted to 'take care' of them or because the women themselves had no interest in finances. Unfortunately, both choices left women in a bind when their husbands predeceased them. Women are not dumber than men about finance and numbers; many just haven't been as exposed to them. Parents talk much more readily to their sons about such things. And then our husbands generally take the lead. Although we appreciate that, it's just not a good idea. Why?

  • At some point in their lives, nine out of 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances.
  • The average age of widowhood in the U.S. is 56.
  • On average, women live seven years longer than men.
  • Women live more than 19 years in retirement.
  • The median income for elderly women is $8,189.
  • Women collectively earn more than $1 trillion a year.
  • Nearly 70% of women say they have no idea how much money they'll need for retirement.
  • 53% of women are more likely to spend rather than save for their future.

"You can see that although women are earning money like never before, we are spending, rather than saving it. But we will need more money tucked away for retirement than the average man. These are reasons enough to begin learning about finances -- and sooner, rather than later. I've been researching this issue for a number of years and it didn't take me long to realize that although men and women need to reach the same place (retirement with a comfortable income), we often have dissimilar goals and go about fulfilling them in very diverse ways:

  • Women often don't set a monetary goal for where they need to be at retirement. On the other hand, most men I know will readily tell me exactly how much money they think they will need upon exiting the workforce.
  • The last person women tend to take care of is themselves. We generally start saving and investing later (usually after a crisis like divorce or death) and don't have as many working years as men. For example, the average woman spends 15% of her career out of the paid workforce (the "sandwich generation" -- caring for children, then elderly parents).
  • 76% of women are too conservative when it comes to investing, while only 64% of men consider themselves conservative investors (from my personal experience, I truly believe that number is too high). Thus, women often pass up excellent investment opportunities because they are too afraid to take the leap.
  • Just 53% of women, versus 82% of men, feel confident in their investment know-how. That often stops women from making necessary decisions, thereby limiting their returns.

"Arming myself with these statistics, I try to scare women into jump-starting their investment portfolios, pressing the need for action right now. For women readers, here are some things you should do. First, make a list of what you own: Bank accounts, stocks and investments, real estate, retirement plans. Then, determine how much do you owe. Consider all of your bills: Automobile, credit cards, school loans, house payments, etc. In addition, determine how much do you pay out monthly. Here's where it gets a little tricky because most people would count only the large bills like mortgage, utilities, and car payments. But I caution you not to forget about groceries, clothing, dry cleaning, hair styling, subscriptions, insurance, and entertainment. Oh, yes, don't forget your daily Starbucks habit!

"Once you've accomplished this, you should have a pretty good idea about how much you have left over each month. What now? Start investing. The following steps are essential for any investor -- male or female:

  • Determine your risk profile and your investment goals. I talked about this in UnDiscovered Times a couple of weeks ago, so if you haven't done this already, do so now.
  • Investigate investment opportunities before you jump into them. Hot tips are just that -- tips. It's up to you to research them thoroughly. Most women won't have a problem with this. If you are like me, you go to every store in the mall just to make sure you are getting the best price, so do the same thing with potential investments -- check them out first!
  • Invest for the long-term. Again, most women are like this anyway. Statistics show that men trade stocks 45% more than women. And, sorry guys, but all-women investment clubs outperform all-men clubs by 11% and co-ed clubs by 5%. Why? Because we research more and trade less often!
  • Buy only investments that you can explain to your 85-year-old grandmother. If you don't understand it that well, stay away.
  • Set aside funds to invest every month and discipline yourself to follow-through.
  • Diversify your portfolio by size of companies, as well as industries. This is the "don't put all your eggs in one basket" rule.
  • If you don't feel comfortable beginning your investing life on your own, consider starting or joining an investment club.

"In the meantime, please get started. But remember, this is your financial future, and although you should consider all tips and sources of knowledge, it's up to you to determine which is the best investing strategy for you. Go get 'em!"

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