This is an excerpt from “Mind The Gap — And Close It: The Ellevest Guide to Dominating Your Financial Future,” our guide to closing gender gaps. Psst, you can read it all here.
If there’s one gap I’ll work to help close if it’s the last thing I do, it’s this one: the gender investing gap. We’ll dedicate a good chunk of space to it, because it’s got the potential to alter the course of your life.
Have you recently read any of those articles on “top mistakes investors make?” You know, the ones about over-trading, falling in love with your winners, panicking in market downturns, over-trading some more, overconfidence, or checking your account too often and then over-trading?
Well, those are the mistakes men typically make in investing. The mistakes we women make? They’re completely different, and they don’t start with investing. In fact, they start with not investing in the first place. Of all the assets controlled by women, 71% is in cash — aka not invested. When you leave your savings in cash, you may miss out on market gains that could be earned over time, and even worse — inflation actually lessens your purchasing power. This is the precursor to the gender investing gap, and it’s not our fault. Honestly it’s not.
The financial services industry is filled with jargon and complexity...when, in fact, investing doesn’t have to be that complicated. We’ve busted our tails at Ellevest to build an investing experience for women, based on hundreds of hours of research into what women are looking for.
What’s a future-focused, debt-free Boss B to do?
Start Where You Are
A question I commonly get is “Where do I start?” The answer is different for everyone, and depends on your unique situation. Here’s a rundown:
The very first thing you must, must, must do is pay down your credit card debt. Even better, pay it off entirely.
Pay down or refinance any other debt with an interest rate in the double digits.
Set up an emergency fund. This can be in your checking account, or better yet, in a separate savings account. (I don’t know about you, but the balance in my checking account tends to go down as fast as it goes up.) Three to six months of your take-home pay is a good guideline here. Why is this so high on the priority list? Because water heater, because refrigerator meltdown, because car transmission. Capeesh?
By this point, you’ve gotten rid of your high-interest debt — congrats! The rule from here on out is pay yourself first. Put away a percentage of your after-tax salary every month...before you figure out how much rent you can afford or how big your spending allowance is. The breakdown should look something like this: 50% for needs/30% for wants/20% for investing. I’ll trust you have plenty of insight on the needs and wants, so up next is what to do with that 20%.
Get that 401(k) match (if your company has one) by investing part of each paycheck. A match is free money; don’t leave it on the table.
Once you’ve contributed enough to get your match, invest in an IRA. Not sure which type of IRA is for you? Read more here.
Invest in an outside brokerage account. Brokerage accounts should be your last option after you’ve maxed out your retirement accounts because they don’t have the benefit of growing on a tax-deferred basis.
Another way to think of where to start/what you should be doing is age, which typically correlates to different stages in our careers and personal lives. Here’s a look at the basic milestones most people in each age group are aiming for.
Pay down high-interest debt, build credit, start emergency fund, begin to invest for retirement, invest for other goals.
Save for/buy home, pay down debt, increase retirement plan contributions, invest in other goals such as a college savings plan (529).
Max out retirement plan contributions, pay down debt, invest in your nest egg, get life insurance, invest for other goals.
Max out retirement plan contributions, avoid debt, invest for those once-in-a-lifetime trips, get long-term care insurance, invest for other goals.
Consolidate retirement accounts, avoid debt, max out retirement plan contributions, keep investing for other goals.
70’s, 80’s, and possibly 90’s (you’re a woman who lives longer, after all):
Retire well, live like a boss, and get your Golden Girls on.
Need more motivation to invest? Read “Mind The Gap—And Close It: The Ellevest Guide to Dominating Your Financial Future” to learn about the different gender money gaps we face.
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