Julia Pistell didn’t start investing until this year when she turned 33.
Before then, she was aggressively paying off a graduate debt of $30,000. Once she was debt-free though, she opened a Roth individual retirement account and a mutual fund. In seven months, she invested $15,000.
“I would love to retire whenever I can,” said Pistell, a freelance writer in Connecticut.
Pistell may have only started investing this year but the instinct to save each month was always there.
But no one assisted her when she was ready to invest. Instead, she taught herself how to invest. She is not alone.
Many women are good at budgeting their money each month but they need guidance when it comes to investing.
“Women are great savers,” said Kelly Lannan, director of women and young investors at Fidelity. “They are earning money and they are saving money but they’re missing out on the investing portion. They don’t know where to start.”
Millennial women need to invest in their future as soon as possible because women on average live longer and earn less than men. Women’s earnings average is $0.79 for every $1 earned by men. That’s a lifetime of $300,000 less than men.
Start a conversation about finance.
“My biggest concern is having the education of how to invest,” said Terese Hubbard, 26. “I don’t have family or people around me that invest. It’s all new and unknown.”
Hubbard works as an EMT dispatcher in the Los Angeles area. She wants the financial freedom to travel with her future family and retire by her mid-50s.
A 2015 Fidelity Investments survey found that 92 percent of women want to learn more about financial planning. The study also found that 65 percent of millennials view their parents as financial role models but only 35 percent of them feel comfortable speaking to them about finance.
“That’s a tremendous gap,” Lannan said. “Try to open the conversation by asking your parents about their past experiences.”
Look for a trusted source to speak to, someone you can confide in: whether that is a parent, a friend that works in finance, a professional financial advisor or even your employer – many of whom offer retirement advice. Some employers often offer a “match,” or monthly payouts for an employee’s retirement fund.
Oftentimes, a lack of confidence limits women from opening up that conversation. Eighty-two percent of women feel comfortable managing their budget but a third of them don’t feel comfortable planning for retirement or investing, a Fidelity study found.
“More women are apt to talk about their health over their finances,” Lannan said. “We have to stop letting money be a taboo topic.”
Amanda Falk, 31, was fortunate in that her grandfather and father encouraged her to invest in her future at an early age. When she was 23, Falk opened a Roth IRA account. But only recently did she start investing as much as $250 per month.
“Before I saw investing as something I had to do and now it’s something I’m actively concerned about,” Falk said. “Some day I’d like to retire and I’d like to do it before I’m 60.”
She also opened a mutual fund account and a housing fund a few months ago and hopes to purchase a home in five years.
Create a viable future plan.
Women are more likely than men to be alone in their latter years, be single parents or become caregivers, so the chances are high for women to be solely responsible for their own finances.
Only 19 percent of women after the age of 85 have a living spouse. A woman reaching age 65 today can expect to live until 86 while a man can expect, on average, to live until 84, according to the Social Security Administration.
A study this year by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that women are more likely than men to become caregivers (60 percent are female) and single mothers (80 percent of 12 million single-parent families surveyed).
“You should think for the long-term,” said Nevanka Vrdoljak, director of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management CIO office. “Have a plan that takes into account that you’ll have to take care of yourself later in life.”
Before you take time off from work to raise a family or otherwise, evaluate your finances first.
“If you have kids, you have to work that into the plan,” said Michelle Tessier of Fidelity Investments. “Anything you do that interrupts your work life or income stream, take a step back, look at your finances and put a plan together.”
Know your monthly budget.
Pistell uses Mint.com to keep track of her expenses, lives below her means and puts away any extra cash in her retirement savings.
It’s crucial to know how much money you have, how much you can spend and how much you can save every month.
“You just have to be involved in your finances,” Lannan said. “Even if it’s saving $25 a month or $25 every two months, that’s important.”
For starters, try the 50/15/5 rule of thumb by Fidelity Viewpoints. It means allocating 50 percent or less of your post-tax income for essential expenses, 15 percent of your pre-tax earnings for retirement savings and 5 percent post-tax for short-term savings.
But how much you save is relative to your personal needs – as is how you invest.
Lannan recommends creating an investment portfolio after evaluating your current age, when you want to retire and if you are risky or risk averse.
Find free online tools and resources.
Fidelity Investments has two online resources without financial jargon, targeted at women and millennials. A Fidelity landing page for women features articles, webinars and checklists that pinpoints situations that women might be facing: from a career change to marriage to having a family. The other site, My Money, is aimed at young investors with advice on renting vs. buying or how to evaluate a job offer.
Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement also has investment guidance for women.
Julia Pistell did her own research, reading the Mr. Money Mustache blog and the book, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.”
Pistell said that prior to this research, “I had a vague idea that investing was for people who had more money than I do.”
“Get in the game and get started early and often,” Lannan said. “Challenge yourself by giving up that Starbucks coffee in the morning and putting it into an investment account. The returns on it over a significant period can grow into a very good investment.”
Photo: Kara Chin