When I received my first $20 as a babysitter in my early teens, my dad took me straight to the bank where he insisted I save 10% of my earnings. Those $2 made a lasting imprint in my memory. I needed to stow away something of everything I made to ensure my future. I give credit to my parents for instilling in me this healthy mindset toward finances. But it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I actually got serious about investing. In fact, for most of my 20s, I had a singular, narrow perspective on saving: I like my money where I can see it … in my bank account. It took me many years — not to mention meditation and therapy — to separate my emotional attachments to my savings account, and understand that sometimes, risks are worth it.
If you find yourself using words like “anxiety,” “fear,” or “security” when thinking about your financial picture, you’re not alone. Considering many women are guilty of this practice. The approach isn’t all bad, but it could use a few upgrades. If you feel like you’re attached emotionally to your money, here’s how to notice some patterns and break free.
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If You’re Not Taking Risks When Investing
Depending on our age and lifestyle, as well as our income and retirement goals, how we invest can vary greatly. Speaking with a trusted financial expert can help us navigate our choices and diversify our investments. But many of us are nervous to take that first step.
Instead of looking at what we could accumulate, we focus on the worst case scenario and fear losing it all. Men, on the other hand, see it the other way around. They may even throw their money around in unnecessary ways since they have more confidence they’ll always see a return.
There are perks and downfalls to both of these approaches. You should consider parsing out short-term and long-term goals, and apply different investing strategies for each. Say you want to buy a beach house in retirement. We shouldn’t keep all our money in a basic savings account for fear of losing the money in investments. Rather, it’s more savvy to investigate ways we can reach savings goals faster with the right strategy. This may mean diverse portfolios across various stock markets, an array of retirement accounts, and other strategies. This sets us up for success in the immediate future and in the decades we can’t quite imagine yet. In other words, we have to let go of some of the fear around not reaching our goals and put that excess energy into setting up an account (or accounts!) that can actually improve our chances of making it happen.
You Value Money’s History, Not Its Future
To build my savings account, I worked full-time and hustled on the side for three years. I had roommates for longer than I would have liked, and I said “no” to expensive shopping sprees. To me, seeing the number in my account grow makes me proud. But I also get a bit of a mama-bear attitude. I know how long it took to build it and I want to take care of it.
While wanting to keep our money snugly in its place isn’t necessarily a bad thing, women can become overly resistant to change when it comes to our finances, says Jessica Landis, vice president at Janney Montgomery Scott. This can be especially true when we inherit a sum of money from a parent, grandparent or spouse. They don’t think of it as our money. Instead, many women think it’s their responsibility to uphold and nurture the legacy.
“Perhaps their dad worked for the company his entire life,” she says. “Maybe the family always spent their summers at Disney, and invested in Disney stock due to their love for the company. During those conversations, women have expressed guilt when thinking about parting with that stock because of what it has meant to the family.”
To combat this, Landis recommends looking at logic, rather than giving into nostalgia.
“I’ve seen portfolios lose significant value when women are not able to get past that sense of guilt, and focus on what’s best for their long-term financial picture,” she warns. Shifting our thinking to be more about making modern choices — whether letting go of a stock or moving money to a different account — is actually better for future generations.
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Consider The Source of Your Emotional Attachments
Carrying around constant worry over money can have a seriously negative impact on our sense of self. Psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D, says some of these attachments can be hard to shake — particularly for women. Since women still earn significantly less than their male counterparts, we may want to cling to what we earn more tightly. Other people may have emotional attachments to their money due to growing up in poverty, a previous job loss, or something else.
Dr. Thomas says the best way to combat emotional attachments is to address them head on. We can do it with a professional but a friend willing to listen can also help. Remember that these issues can arise at any point in your life.
“Be conscious of separating out what society or your loved ones think and feel about making and managing money, from your true beliefs,” she says. “Only then can you accurately determine the place money should have in your life. For example, if you want to be a stay-at-home mom, it is emotionally healthy and necessary to be at peace with your decision and with the concept that your partner will be the breadwinner, so that you don’t feel guilt, shame or confusion.”
Even As the CFO of Your Household, You Don’t Feel Confident Investing
Think about the large financial decisions women make every month. These include paying the rent or mortgage, budgeting for groceries and vacations, saving for retirement, and so on. Most women embrace the role of chief financial officer of their households. Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect when it comes to investing. Women often feel like don’t have enough information or education to make informed decisions when it comes to investing.
But women have been shown to earn 12% higher returns than men when it comes to individual investments. One way to retrain our brains is to remember that we don’t have to do everything all at once. We can start by creating a month-by-month blueprint, and simply invest small sums, which may be emotionally easier to process. Then, continue to grow our accounts as we gain confidence and get more comfortable.
“The key is that we need to help more women recognize the opportunity they have to grow their wealth through investing, and help them feel confident taking steps from saving to investing,” says Lorna Kapusta, the head of women and investing at Fidelity Investments.
“When women do invest, they tend to hold a more long-term, conservative view with their investments, meaning they’re less likely to move in and out of the market, which may lead to higher returns,” she explains. “Money is a very personal topic, which is why we all need to create a financial plan and ensure that our money is working as hard as we do.”
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