Fidelity survey finds many unmarried women doubt their financial smarts, don’t plan ahead and don’t invest. Here’s how to fix that.
Single ladies are so money – and many don’t even know it.
A new Fidelity survey looking at the financial planning and investing habits of single women — which includes women who never married, who have gotten divorced and who have outlived a spouse — found that fear is keeping many of these 58 million independent women from accumulating the wealth they deserve.
And the three biggest hangups holding women back are:
- Self-doubt. Single women are less likely to consider themselves as knowledgeable as men or married women when it comes to basic financial topics like saving for retirement and investing.
- Not planning ahead. While 1 in 3 single women are worried about their finances (compared to just 1 in 5 single men), almost half (48%) admitted they often spend freely day-to-day without thinking about the long-term, and only 28% have a financial plan in place to reach their future goals.
- Clinging to cash savings. More than a third (35%) of single women keep half or more of their savings liquid rather than investing, meaning they’re missing out on potential growth or running the risk of falling behind inflation over time.
Kerry Sweeney, vice president of women investors at Fidelity, told Moneyish many females fall victim to long-held stereotypes about women lacking the same money smarts as men.
“When women do engage in their finances, they actually do really well,” she said. “In fact, across all income categories, women save a greater percentage of their paycheck than men do. And in terms of their investments, we find that women actually earned better returns than men over the last five years.”
She also noted that many of the women she works with are so busy taking care of their families, working their careers and running the household (since women still spend six hours a week doing chores – more than three times as much as men) that many put financial investments on the back burner.
“Women tend to not invest a whole lot of time when it comes to investing because they are in the driver’s seat in so many other parts of their lives – even more so for women who are single – that sometimes they find themselves in the backseat when it comes to investing,” Sweeney said. “We want to change that, and we’re not trying to add another thing to women’s plates. We’re not saying you have to become an expert day trader. Let’s start with some small steps to get you in the front seat.”
Sweeney walked Moneyish through how to overcome these obstacles so you can manage your money like a boss.
Know what you own. Look at your different accounts to see how much money you have, including your savings account, your 401(k), your 403(b), your home, your investments, etc. “How are you investing your money right now?” asked Sweeney. “Many employers offer free financial guidance from retirement plan provider, so you can start there to get a sense of your financial health. Or you can come to Fidelity or another investment center.”
Know what you owe. Tally up any student loan or credit card debt, mortgage or auto payments, etc. These monthly payments impact how much you can spend and save, since you want to pay these off sooner than later.
Set goals. Now that you’ve got a bead on your assets and your debts, you can set realistic mid-term and long-term goals to work toward. “For some people, retirement is far off on the horizon, and for others, it’s looming front and center,” said Sweeney. “So what are you thinking about in the next two years? Buying a car? Or do you want to buy a home in 10 years? Those goals will drive the way that you save and invest.”
Adjust spending habits. Sweeney suggests following a 50-15-5 plan to reach your goals: 50% of monthly income covers essentials like rent, bills and food; 15% goes toward retirement; and 5% goes into your emergency fund. The remaining 30% is discretionary spending, like ordering Seamless or saving for a vacation. But Sweeney recognizes that those living in expensive cities, where rent alone can eat up half your monthly income, may have to tweak the ratio. Or you might want to put most of your 30% discretionary spending into savings. “These are just benchmarks to aim for,” she said.
Do annual financial checkups. The same way you get a yearly health physical, make sure you check what you own, what you owe, and if you’re on track for your goals. Sweeney subscribes to the “10x Guideline” for savings for retirement: By age 30 you should have one times your salary saved, and by 35 you should have two times your salary saved, etc. But don’t panic if you haven’t hit those marks yet. This tool gives you a guideline to see where you need to start or pick up the pace.
Invest! The Fidelity report found 8 in 10 single women keep a portion of savings in cash. Many singles said they wanted to keep savings on hand in case of an emergency, but single women are also twice as likely as men to say they keep their savings in cash simply because they don’t know where to invest it. Problem is, your savings account is probably accruing 1% interest – so if you put $100 in savings, it earns $1 over an entire year. But the compound growth of investing $100 at 7% for example gives you $7 extra bucks at the end of the year. Within five years that $100 has grown to $140.26.
“You don’t have to pick stocks to start – make sure you are enrolled in your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan,” suggested Sweeney. “If you want to retire by 2050, set a target date fund, which is a mutual fund tied to a certain date, which does all of the allocation for you.” If your job doesn’t offer a 401(k), you can open an independent retirement account (IRA) and automatically deduct a portion of your paycheck toward it, so if you don’t see it, you won’t spend it. “Your money starts growing with every paycheck,” she said.
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