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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

Women urged to plan personal financial future

By Michelle Guido
Knight Ridder News Service

Simple steps to start investing

You want to start investing, but you can barely make ends meet. Here are some simple steps you can take to get started:

• Set your goals. Decide what you want to achieve.

• The best way to become financially independent is to save at 10 percent of what you make.

• Examine your spending habits. For three consecutive months, list every penny you spend. Then review the data and determine what you can give up.

• Test your limits. Cut back on spending as far as you can. If you find you've gone too far for your comfort zone, add a small amount back in.

• Take it slow. If you try to change too quickly, you could become frustrated and give up. Be sure you can live with the changes you make.

• Work with one or more friends who also want to be more frugal.

• Pay down debt. Then begin investing money in a retirement plan. Investing in stocks is more risky but has higher potential rewards over the long haul compared with bonds, annuities or money-market funds.

• Diversify: You should own at least 10 stocks in different industries. An easy way to do this is to invest in a mutual fund.

• Max out your tax-deferred retirement accounts, especially if your company has a matching 401(k) program.

Web resources


www.womensinvest.about.com, Gail Buckner, Putnam Investments

Knight Ridder News Service
Most women have no qualms talking about deep emotional issues, the trials and tribulations of motherhood or hitting the glass ceiling.

But when it comes to money, women often either can't discuss it — or won't.

"I have met with so many brilliant, wonderful women who are very successful, but when they sit in my office with the door closed, they fall apart when it's time to talk about money," said Rita Rothstein, an associate vice president with Morgan Stanley in Cupertino, Calif. A former social worker, Rothstein also volunteers her time to give seminars on the topic.

Why is it important for women to not only talk about, but also pay close attention to, their finances and money goals? Because so many find themselves — after a divorce, death of a spouse or other life transition — woefully unprepared to proceed alone financially.

During a recent presentation at a gathering of Silicon Valley Women in Business, a chapter of the National Association for Female Executives, Rothstein brought up some startling facts:

• Women put the same percentage of their salaries into 401(k) accounts (company-sponsored retirement savings plans) as men do, but they end up with far less money because they make less.

• They are typically out of the job market for some time while raising children, which limits not only their income but also their contributions to retirement plans.

• On average, women live seven years longer than men.

• According to Business Week magazine, the average age of widowhood is 56 years.

• The average widow goes through her husband's life insurance in 2 1/2 months. That sounds shocking, but many people only have life insurance — which averages $50,000 or less — through their workplace. The amount goes quickly when funeral expenses need to be paid.

• Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.

"One way to look at this is that chances are you will either get divorced or be widowed," Rothstein said. "Either way, you are probably going to have to handle your money at some time in your life — why not start now?"

Loretta Chappelle of San Jose, Calif., got divorced eight years ago after 30 years of marriage and raising three children. At age 50, she found herself starting over not just emotionally, but financially as well. Just after the divorce, she went into high-tech sales, which was great for her economically, but when the market went south, so did her portfolio.

Now 58, Chappelle has started another career, as a real estate agent. But divorce taught her some valuable money lessons.

"He was the major breadwinner and though I've always worked, he was transferred a lot, so I just picked up whatever jobs were available," Chappelle said. "When the marriage ended, I literally had nothing."

So with her first high-tech sales commission check, she put a down payment on a townhouse in San Jose. When that piece of property increased in value, she bought another. And another. Now, Chappelle has three homes, a 401(k) and IRAs (individual retirement accounts).

"I didn't look after myself financially when I was younger," she said. "And when I was forced to look after myself, it was later in life, so now I'm playing catch-up."

Chappelle has some advice for younger women: Always plan for your own financial future — even if you're happily married, but especially if you're single.

Rothstein of Morgan Stanley said many women she talks to think they can't afford to invest in an IRA or 401(k). But she tries to convince them it's quite affordable by asking them to pay close attention to what they spend to see if there isn't as little as $5 a day they could save.

That alone is more than $1,800 a year they could be putting into an IRA. Or even putting $25 a month into mutual funds is a place to start. The point, she said, is that everyone can afford to put something away for the future.

Rothstein, 54, gives free monthly seminars called "Smart Women Finish Rich," based on a book by David Bach.

"There are a lot of women my age who end up divorced or widowed and all of a sudden they are forced to be responsible for their money and make sure they can retire and be OK," Rothstein said.

"When everything's falling apart, that's not the time to start learning about this stuff because you're so emotionally devastated, and you don't make good decisions."