Editor’s Note: Nela Richardson is an investment strategist at Edward Jones. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
Although women have made great strides toward gender and income equality in the workplace, too few have addressed another challenge that hits even closer to home: providing for their own long-term financial security.
Feeling insecure about their level of financial acumen can deter women from making empowered life decisions, according to new research from Edward Jones’s female empowerment survey. About 38% of women said choices such as starting a family or buying a home were more difficult because they lacked confidence in their financial knowledge. Even more worrisome is that this trend was also prevalent among the younger generation, with over half of millennial women saying they lacked the confidence to make positive financial decisions to achieve life goals. Yet, 40% of women said they hadn’t taken and didn’t plan to take any steps to increase their financial knowledge and become more empowered in their financial decision making.
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Two powerful forces affecting women make it even more imperative for them to become empowered investors. Statistically, we know that women live longer than men. Secondly, over the next 25 years, nearly 45 million US households will transfer $68.4 trillion in wealth to heirs and charities, according to Cerulli Associates. Increasingly, a portion of these funds will flow through the hands of women, who may eventually run the family’s finances even if they didn’t in the past, due to demographic factors like longer life expectancy and higher divorce rates among those 50 years and older.
What’s holding women back?
As the primary family care givers, women’s long-term financial goals often fall low on a list dominated by more immediate household concerns, like saving for their kid’s college education or helping aging parents. Only a quarter of women surveyed said that saving for retirement is their most important goal in the next three to five years.
Another problem is that many women appear to be waiting for that next big raise — or worse, an emergency — to spur them into action. The top four motivators for creating a financial strategy, according to the survey, were higher incomes (49%); an unexpected emergency (20%); a significant life event (20%) and/or a market correction (12%).
However, waiting for a raise, a significant life event or an emergency is not a financial strategy. A sound financial strategy should anticipate both tailwinds and headwinds in life and be flexible enough to adapt to changing situations so you can meet your long-term financial goals. For women, those goals often include caring for family members, and making a meaningful contribution to their communities.
Additionally, women (and men) tend to want to wait until the “perfect” time to invest. But there is no perfect time. Markets are unpredictable, and even the pros can’t time the market. It’s not necessarily when you invest, but how long you stay invested that matters most when it comes to building long-term wealth. And waiting usually makes it more challenging to reach important financial goals, not less.
And finally, women aren’t asking for help. Our survey shows that 66% of women have never consulted a financial adviser.
As women, we know that education is key to empowerment. That’s one reason women now earn more post-secondary degrees each year than men. But when it comes to our financial future, we often fail to educate ourselves by seeking professional advice and tend to go at investing alone, if at all.
Achieving financial empowerment and ensuring a long-term financial future may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little time, effort and professional guidance, the process can be broken down into small, positive steps that are not so overwhelming.
The most important step is taking the first step. Many people put off investing for the future because of time — either they are waiting for the perfect time to begin or they let it slip in their list of priorities because of lack of time. But putting off investing until the time feels right will hurt your ability to reach your long-term financial goals.
Begin with modest investments
Although the ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive financial strategy, you don’t have to wait to get started. Starting small with modest investments is better than waiting until the time is right or your strategy is complete. It can be as simple as contributing to an employer-sponsored 401(k) or opening another investment account that allows you to automatically deposit a set amount each month. Starting sooner rather than later will help you accumulate enough assets to meet financial and life goals.
Develop a long-term financial strategy
One of the easiest and most effective ways to develop a sound, long-term financial strategy is to start by looking at your goals. By thoroughly examining what you would like for you and your family — now and in the future — you can map out a plan to achieve financial goals. If you’re not confident doing this on your own, partnering with a financial advisor can help you analyze what you’re doing today and stay on track as things change. Of course, no strategy should be cast in stone; things often change and your strategy should be flexible and adaptable.
Women have broken many barriers over the past few decades — at work, at home and in society in general. Female financial empowerment should be next on the list.