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Are Women Reluctant to Talk About Money? A new survey says yes. Is it telling the whole story?

With the start of a new year, I firmly believe that the usual setting of resolutions and aspiration for fresh starts will once again take place and last ohh,… maybe three weeks before old habits reassert themselves in our daily lives. Since investments and that boring money topic with numbers and stuff is almost always pushed off to the tomorrow to do list, I thought numbers will be exactly where we’ll start off this year.

Yay!! Why not pour yourself a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, and let’s look ourselves in the mirror :

A new study asserts that women feel uncomfortable discussing financial matters. The latest Money FIT Study from Fidelity Investments is generating some conversation within the financial industry. The investment giant commissioned an online poll of 1,542 female participants in its retirement plans, and 80% of the respondents indicated that talking about money matters was “too personal” or “uncomfortable” for them, even if the other party was someone they knew closely.1,2

If this were 1965, this kind of response might seem reasonable ... but in 2017?

Keep in mind that this was an online poll. The involved survey firm, Kelton, conducted it with the usual wide parameters. Responses were collected from both retired and working women. Respondents were aged 18 and up.2

Two other key factoids from the study seem incongruous with this first one. In the same online poll, 92% of the respondents said they wanted to learn more about financial planning within the next year. Additionally, 83% noted that they would like to take more control over their personal finances in the next 12 months. Accomplishing both objectives implies talking about money and personal finance issues.1

Another positive: female baby boomers seem to have more financial literacy. Digging deeper into the study’s findings, 70% of the boomer women surveyed felt confident about retirement saving and making a retirement transition, compared to 54% of Gen X women and 62% of Gen Y women. Also, 63% of women in this demographic said they knew where to invest; just 48% of Gen X women and 60% of Gen Y women did.1

Why do we see this disconnect in the data? If women want to learn more about money and/or possess reasonable financial knowledge, what accounts for their apparent reluctance to talk about money matters with spouses, partners and friends? Is there a lack of confidence, a fear of seeming ill-informed? Is the topic just boring?

Perhaps the answer to the last two questions is “yes.” The poll asked how likely respondents would be to discuss certain issues with their spouses or partners, and while 78% said they would likely have conversations about health issues, just 65% said they would be likely to chat about investment ideas. Fidelity and Kelton also discovered that 65% of these workplace retirement plan participants aren’t drawing on financial or investment guidance offered as a complement to the plan. In fact, just 47% of these women indicated they would be confident discussing money and investments in the presence of a financial professional.1,2

At the typical company, workers of both genders would rather head out for lunch than set aside a lunch hour for a meeting about “boring financial stuff.” Such a meeting, however, might help them see the big picture of what they need to do for retirement and might motivate them more than any website or article possibly could.

When financial professionals overcome that perception, employees awaken to the opportunity that a workplace retirement plan presents and see its value; the topics of saving and investing become much more compelling. When that perception remains in place, fewer employees ask for guidance and many effectively do not know where to start, and that may promote discomfort and awkwardness in chats about personal financial matters.

Women seem to invest capably whether they like talking about money or not. Fresh data from SigFig (formerly Wiki Invest) bears this out. In analyzing 750,000 investment portfolios, SigFig found that the median 2014 net return for a woman investor was 4.7%. For men, it was 4.1%. SigFig also made an even more intriguing discovery: while women tend to invest more conservatively than men prior to age 55, after age 55 they actually allocate a higher percentage of their portfolios to equities than men do.1

The new Fidelity study is a conversation starter, but it might best be taken with a few grains of salt. Structure a multiple-choice survey question (and its answers) two or three different ways and you may get two or three different responses. Your individual response to the challenge of saving, investing, and planning for retirement should be a confident one. Start this New Year with the one resolution that will impact your life in the future, set up a time to meet with a professional, and formulate a game plan for your cash flow, budgeting, and the growing of your net worth. Every journey starts with the first step.

Let 2017 be the start of a healthier financial life for you.

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