Personal finance

When it comes to handling money, many people aren’t sure exactly how to start.

Women are even further behind than men, making less on average and saving and investing less. They also don’t have as much confidence in investing as men, research shows.

With women living, on average, longer than men, it’s imperative that they catch up, financial experts warn.

“A majority of America’s wealth is in the hands of women; however, a lot of that is still in cash and liquid investments,” certified financial planner Brittney Castro said in a CNBC Invest in You Ready Set Grow: Women in Money Facebook Live on Thursday.

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“There is a huge opportunity for women to really understand investing, understand the risks and set up their investment portfolio to grow their wealth so they can have that income stream.”

In a 2017 study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, 52% of women said they were confident in managing their investments, versus 68% of men.

Yet studies have found that when they do invest, women investors outperform men by anywhere from 0.4% to 1%.

The good news is the pandemic resulted in women becoming more focused and engaged in managing their finances.

Before anyone tackles investing, there are a few steps to take to be ready, said CFP Carolyn McClanahan, an M.D. and founder and director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners, based in Jacksonville, Florida.

“You’ve got to take care of yourself first,” she said. “Women, in particular, are so good at taking care of everyone else, sometimes to their detriment.”

Build a base

In order to manage your money well, first make sure you have an emergency fund in a safe place, such as a bank account, even if it is not earning much interest, advises McClanahan, who is a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

Now is not the time for aggressive investing.

The best way to start saving is to make sure deposits are made automatically. Don’t simply put in whatever is left after paying your bills, Instead, define what you are saving and treat it is a bill.

As you are investing, know what your goals are. Is it to reach financial independence? Is it to buy a house?
Dr. Carolyn McClanahan
Certified Financial Planner

“You have to start with a plan; identify what your cash flow or budget is,” said Castro, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Financially Wise.

You can start small, saving $25 or $50 a month, and then increase it over time as you can.

Another important part of your financial foundation is disability and life insurance, which can protect you and your family if you become sick or die, McClanahan added.

Trading vs. investing

There’s a difference between trading, which is the buying and selling of stocks, and investing, which tends to have a long-term horizon.

“I don’t recommend anyone do trading, unless it is just a little bit of money and you are doing it for fun,” McClanahan said.

“You should start investing young and doing as much as you comfortably can.”

If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), and your company provides a match, contribute enough to at least get that match, McClanahan said.

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If you qualify, then look into a Roth individual retirement account. Contributions are made after tax; therefore, you’ll get the funds tax-free in retirement. However, there are income limits. You can contribute the maximum of $6,000 (or $7,000 if you are age 50 and over) if you make less than $198,000, if you are married and filing jointly, or less than $125,000 if you are single.

When you have a little bit of money, it’s important to be in a broad-based, diversified portfolio, McClanahan said. That generally means index mutual funds.

As your assets grow, you can begin parsing it out to things like international funds and small cap funds.

‘Don’t be a herd follower’

Once you start getting more money, you can put some into a brokerage account, in addition to your retirement savings.

Just remember to understand what it is you want to ultimately do with the investment.

“Money should be the tool, not the object,” McClanahan said “So as you are investing, know what your goals are.

“Is it to reach financial independence?” she added. “Is it to buy a house?”

It’s also important not get caught up in the day-to-day market moves, since your investment is for the long term.

“Don’t be a herd follower,” McClanahan advised. “When the market is doing poorly, don’t jump out, and when the market is doing great, don’t just then decide to invest.

“It needs to happen along the way.”

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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