“Non, je ne regrette rein,” sang France’s national chanteuse Édith Piaf. She was warbling about letting go of past emotional heartbreaks to embrace a new romance, yet a recent study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave showed that for many women their biggest regret is not a relationship with a stronzo, (a no-good guy), it’s a financial one: “not investing more”. Wake up Millennials—we’re especially talking about you.
Millennials and Investing
According to research by Quartz, “Millennials choose to put less of their money into stocks than previous generations – much less.” In 1998, those between 25-39 held on average about 10% of their financial assets in equities, an amount that was consistent a decade later. However, in 2016, (after the financial crisis of 2008), the same-age cohort held only 3% of their assets in equities.
While this data is not exclusive to women, it’s clear that Boomers and Gen Xers got off to a stronger start in terms of investing, compared to Millennials who tend to save their money in “plain-old bank accounts”, perhaps as a response to the financial crisis, as well as structural changes in the economy and job prospects.
Millennials, and millennial women in particular, need to be aware of the opportunity cost of staying out of the stock market. Today, interest rates are only moving up slightly from historical lows while the S&P 500 has almost doubled since 2009. Investments need to outpace the rate of inflation in order for us to maintain our standard of living. Keeping most of our money in low-interest-bearing accounts means we take on the unacknowledged risk of falling behind in the cost of living.
SAKS splurge vs. RRSP?
We all have to make financial choices and sometimes that comes in the form of a splurge at Saks versus what a respectable RRSP contribution. As the internet meme goes, “Where did my money go? I’m either wearing it or I ate it.”
Most of the time though, the choices are less… shall we say, optional. Juggling mortgage or rent, childcare costs, spiraling grocery bills, car payments and so forth, leaves many women with a depleted cash flow to invest. And then there is the sheer fact of income gaps. Age Wave estimates that “Women spend 48 percent of their adult lives outside of the workforce vs. only 28 percent for men, including time spent in retirement and caring for children, aging parents and spouses… By retirement age, a woman taking typical time out of the workforce will accumulate $1,055,000 less than a typical man.” That is a whopping differential that should impel women to become more open to investing their savings with a long-term view.
Confidence Comes with Practice
It’s not uncommon to find the woman of the house managing the household finances. Yet, when it comes to making decisions about the family’s investment portfolio, that’s less likely to be in mom’s job description. Why? Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report that, “While women’s confidence in other financial matters is greater than men’s… when it comes to managing investments, only 52% of women say they are confident, compared to 68% of men.” Reporting that one feels confident is not the same as actually being competent in investing. Ideally, everyone should have at least a basic understanding of investing and be able to make rational financial decisions. Neither men nor women are natural financial geniuses—we’ve got to educate ourselves.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Stock market investing is never without risk, but the risk of not being invested and missing out on the opportunity to substantially grow one’s investment portfolio is much greater. For those women who feel they lack confidence to start investing, just do what smart women do in other important life areas of life, like health, home, and childrearing: enlist professionals to advise and mentor us. Then pour yourself a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on practicing good self-care.