If you do an online search of the latest trends in financial planning you will find endless articles about a so called developing niche in the investment market: namely Women! Typically when we think of a niche, we imagine a small and unique portion of a larger group. However, women made up about 51 percent of the U.S. population…hardly a niche! Women also control about 30 percent of global wealth, and are the sole head of 32 percent of U.S. households. Nonetheless most advisors remain male, and most investment marketing is targeted to a male consumer. For goodness sake, the symbol of the stock market is a giant bull!
This begs the question, are women really different than men as investors? While there are some statistical differences that should matter when a planner sits with a female client, what is more remarkable is the pervasive characterization of women as different somehow in their style of investing.
It is a statistical fact that women still don’t earn as much as men. While that is a fairly simple statement, embedded in it is a lifetime of circumstances that must inform how a woman plans for herself. A recent CNBC article stated that women earn 76 cents on the dollar compared to men. In addition, women tend to leave the workforce more often and for longer than their male counterparts for a variety of reasons. We can’t forget that with a divorce rate around 50 percent, that women are far more likely to be full time single parents. And, women are more likely to care for an aging parent. Finally, women live longer. So, the net effect is that women tend to arrive at retirement with less social security, and less in retirement savings. While young women entering the workforce today may not face these same circumstances because of dramatically shifting cultural expectations, tolerances and norms, it will be many years before the effect of economic gender disparity has been erased.
What is harder to assimilate are the many sweeping generalization that are made about how women plan and invest. There are books, articles, marketing campaigns, lectures, blogs, and more, all focused on the values that drive a woman in her financial decision making, versus her male counterpart, and what impact that might have on what she should do in her own planning. This distinction is a bit insidious. While statistics show us that men trade more than women, men understand financial terminology more, and certainly that most advisors are male, it sells the female investor short to continue with this idea that somehow women are disadvantaged by their gender in the investment realm. When 51 percent of the population is female, these qualities are aren’t the behaviors of a niche, but the behaviors of half of the population.
So where does this leave the female investor. Here are the things that not just women, but all people facing financial planning should do:
1. Understand what you earn, and what you spend. Examine your paycheck, your tax return, and other sources of income. Are they fair? Are you getting all of the benefits available to you at the right price? Could you be saving more on taxes now and in the future? Where do you spend your money? Examine your checkbook, credit card statements, and track your cash.
2. Create a team of professionals who you trust completely, who can help you meet your family’s needs. That would be an attorney, a CPA and a financial advisor. If it doesn’t feel like a fit, change advisors. Ask for referrals from friends, do professional check-ups online, and meet with them regularly. Remember that these professionals work for you.
3. Avoid unnecessary debt. Credit cards, car loans, mortgages, and student loans all create risk to your financial stability. While it is unrealistic to navigate modern life without debt, it’s important that what you are using debt to your best advantage. Also, be very weary of cosigning loans of any kind for others.
4. Put yourself first. Think of the airline instructions to put your air mask on before helping others. If you aren’t financially stable, you can’t be that rock for your family. Women are said to fear the “bag lady” syndrome. The best defense against this fear is good and thoughtful planning. You cannot rely on someone else to do this for you.
5. Make sure your estate plan is in order. That means a will, some form of medical directive, and probably a limited power of attorney for financial matters. Everyone is a little different, and might need additional or specialized arrangements.
6. Save and invest early and often. Nothing is more powerful than investing in the market consistently over a long period.
7. Remember that you earn over a limited period of time, but you have expenses over your lifetime. Be realistic about how long you will need to fund retirement, and what types of extraordinary expenses could come up to derail you: illness, big expenses, college education, investment downturns, and more. When you think ahead about these things, you can decide with a cool head what you really can afford, and what your risk tolerance truly is.
8. Define and quantify what is most important for you and your loved ones to be financially secure and communicate that to your advisors. That could mean having long term care insurance, having your house paid off, or producing enough income to independently meet your needs. The blend of goals will be unique to your needs and desires.
9. Finally, never ever be embarrassed about what you have or don’t have, owe, don’t understand, want, or fear. We aren’t embarrassed when we don’t know how to perform our own medical procedures and need to seek a doctor’s help; financial matters are no different!
Women, we are not the niche, we are the norm. Over the next decades we will come to control more than half of the world’s wealth. We are the heads of families, owners of businesses, primary caregivers and more. We are also investors, planners, budgeters, earners, and more. It’s time to step forward and plan for ourselves, and reject the concept that somehow we are different than “most investors” which is meant to mean male investors. In the end, most men and women want the same thing, which is a lifetime of financial security for ourselves and the people we love. It’s less about choosing the next investment that will beat some arbitrary index but instead about achieving that elusive peace of mind. With good planning and good advisors, you can make that a reality.