Q: My husband and I often argue over whether or not men or women are worse than one another when it comes to saving and investing. What’s your take on this?
A: Men and women both have it bad when it comes to spending money. Women will go on a shopping extravaganza and come back with bags of stuff. Men will just blow a few thousand dollars on that new motorcycle, Jet Ski, boat; you name it and not think twice. Yet, when it comes to investing, women often face significant inequalities when it comes to finances: they usually earn less, have shorter careers, and live longer than men.
According to the 2012 study The Simple Truth About The Gender Pay Gap, released by the American Association of University Women, the average female graduate just one year out of college working full time will earn only 80% as much as their male counterparts. According to the same study, 10 years after graduation 23% of the women who had children were out of the work force, while 17% worked part-time. Those same stats for men with children were only 1% and 2%, respectively.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women in the U.S. have a life expectancy of 80 years from birth, compared with fewer than 75 for men. That means women must save for an average of at least five years longer than men. But it also means five more years of investing – time that can be used to close the gap.
Reversing the Trend
While all the inequalities of the working world can’t be erased over night, there are some things that can be done. The first is to wake up and realize that you have to do something. Barbara Stanny, author of several books on finance for women, including Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money and Secrets of Six-Figure Women offers the following advice:
“Our attitudes to money are inherited from our parents,” she says. “My father honestly believed he did not want me to worry about money. But I think he knew on some level that it was time for me to grow up.” Stanny believes strongly that taking financial responsibility is a rite of passage into adulthood. “Women, even young women, still have this dependency or believe that someone will take care of them. It’s insidious.”
Don’t be so conservative. Studies show women are more conservative investors than men, when in reality they need to be more aggressive. Taking an overly conservative approach increases the chances that inflation will erode your retirement savings. Take the extra time that longevity has given you, and don’t be afraid to invest in growth-oriented stocks. The longer you have to invest, the easier it is to ride the market’s ups and downs.
Since 1925, according to Wachovia, the chances of losing money invested for any one year has been 28%. But hold an investment for five years, and the chance you will lose money falls to 10%. More than 10 years, and it’s 3%. Over 20 years: 0%.
Get yourself a financial adviser. You don’t have to navigate your financial course alone. A good adviser will do more than just tell you how to invest; he or she will sit down with you and discuss your life’s goals and come up with a clear, sound strategy for achieving them. And, just as importantly, they can help take the fear out of finances.
A little bit can add up. You don’t have to have a lot of money to invest. Some mutual funds have minimum investments of as little as $50 a month. Setting aside even a small amount for your retirement on a regular basis will pay off in the future.
Stuff your 401(k). If your employer offers a retirement plan, participate as much as you can. If your company matches, try to at least invest as much as the matching limit to get the most “free money” from your boss.
Think of yourself first. Almost any parent’s instinct is to think of their children’s well-being ahead of their own. While this is laudable, it doesn’t apply to saving for retirement; you should do this before you save for your kids’ education. There are all kinds of ways to borrow money to pay for school, but no one will lend you money for your retirement.