When it comes to investing, women still lag behind men in terms of getting started and that means we miss out on years of compound interest. Investing is important because it allows your savings to grow considerably more than they would if you kept all of your money in a savings account.
A recent survey by the investing app Stash found that a whopping 85% of Millennial women don’t invest! Why not? They find investing confusing, they don’t think they have enough money, and they think investing is something only old white men do.
This way of thinking is outdated and downright dangerous. Both men and women need a solid financial plan for short and long-term goals, and specific actions to take to meet those goals. This is especially important for women, for a number of reasons.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Men and women are, in many ways, on more equal footing than they were in previous generations. Millennial women’s salaries are catching up with their male counterparts — until they have kids, that is. While men enjoy a bump in salary and reputation when they become fathers, working moms aren’t given the same treatment.
Working part-time or leaving work to be a stay-at-home parent, even for just a few years, can affect your overall career advancement, and therefore your lifetime earnings. And it’s women who disproportionately choose to put their careers on the backburner as they step back to care for children or elderly relatives. The lack of paid parental leave and affordable childcare for many parents doesn’t help, either.
Add to this the fact that women live longer on average. We need to prepare as best as we can for life’s eventualities — both the good (retirement) and the bad (serious illness or divorce).
Where Should You Start?
The best place to get started as an investor is by contributing to retirement accounts. If your employer offers an option where they match your contributions, contribute enough to get the full match (that’s free money!). If you contribute to a pre-tax retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), you will also save on taxes each year, which is a nice added bonus.
Remember, you can contribute more than what your company will match. It’s possible to defer up to $18,000 per year in taxes with these plans. Keep in mind that, if you qualify, you can also max out a Roth IRA with an annual contribution of $5,500.
Move from Saver to Investor
While it’s important to have emergency savings, you don’t want to let too much cash sit on the sidelines. You should also keep your savings for near-term large expenses (like a car or home) in a savings account so they’re easy to access.
But if you have money available to invest after covering your expenses, you can get started by buying shares of low-cost index funds or ETFs. This is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to invest — no finance degree required! I also recommend that you link your checking account and set up monthly contributions so that you get into the habit of dollar cost averaging.
My favorite place for new investors to start investing is with an account at Betterment. They choose the low-cost ETFs so you don’t have to research the investments. Instead, you choose how much of your portfolio you want to put in stocks versus bonds (this is called an asset allocation).
Get the Right Person on Your Team
If you decide to work with a financial planner, make sure to find someone who understands you. Unfortunately, women are often taken less seriously in the financial services industry, especially if their husbands take the reins of working with a planner.
Take the time to interview several potential financial planners, and choose one who treats you with respect — not someone who ignores you in favor of talking to your husband, or brushes you off because you’re “too young” to work with a financial planner.
Educate Yourself — And the Next Generation of Women
Even today, in many families, parents teach their sons about money. Meanwhile, they teach their daughters to get a good education and marry well. This is why so many more investors (and people who work in the financial services industry) are male!
You can close the gap by learning what you weren’t taught as a child (my ebook is a good place to begin!), and if you have a daughter or niece, teach her some money basics, too. Ron Lieber’s book The Opposite of Spoiled offers great tips for starting those tough money conversations with kids.
No one cares about your money more than you do. This is a very important concept to understand. I take the position that my clients are the experts in their own lives. Educate yourself, seek guidance from a professional with your best interests at heart, and start investing. Beginning today will give you options and flexibility so you’ll to be able to handle whatever life throws your way.
If you’d like more guidance as you weigh your retirement account options, take my online course, Smart & Easy Retirement Planning for Millennials!
Want to work with a financial planner who will help you match your money habits to your values? I can help! Apply to work with Gen Y Planning today!