Image via Chicago Women’s Liberty Union
Of all of the ways that “the man” or “big business” manipulates women, the financial industry is perhaps the most tricky (maybe tied with the diet industry
). Women have been conditioned to believe that money is far too complex for “little ol’ me.” Women are told that they need, at the very least, guidance- which is then a quick slide into having someone do it for them (for a fee). Women are told they need financial planners, investment bankers and advisors because investing is over their heads. Women are not only paid less than their male counterparts, they are told that they can’t handle the money that they do make. I’m here to tell you Sister that you can so totally handle it!
It might sound like crazy talk, but it’s important that you start paying attention to your money, and I mean positive
attention. Love your money. Love the fuq out of it. You should take the time to put your money to work for you because it will actually werk. Money is power, and you need it not only for fancy clothes or tropical vacations but because it buys you freedom. Should you decide one day that you can no longer stand to listen to your boss stirring his morning yogurt & sending you 47 emails per minute about TPS reports
, or that you want to go live in an ashram
for a year- you will have the ability to get up and walk out the door
. If saving seems difficult- then it’s time to get started on a budget (here
is a great post on that, and here
are some of the things I do to cut corners). Make a savings goal.
Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you should invest what you can. It’s a common mis-conception (especially with women) that you have to have a lot of money in order to invest. Only 54% of Americans invest
, and I believe it’s because most believe they can’t afford it. It’s okay to start small, investing should be a part of your life for the long term. Over time compound interest
will be the fruit of thy investment womb. Compound interest is essentially interest on interest: the money that you invest earns interest, and when you re-invest that
interest (instead of cashing it out), that interest earns interest, creating a big beautiful snowball that will roll you into happily ever after land. You may be wondering how in the actual world to invest, so let me break it down
But first! a lecture.
I’m sure you’ve been told the dangers of debt, and if you are still living with debt here is
a good roundup of how to get rid of it. Paying interest to banks is a koo koo loco waste of money. Putting a pair of Balenciaga shoes
on a credit card and then paying the minimum payment is like buying 2 pairs of shoes and throwing one off of a cliff. You will wind up paying equal (or more) in interest as you paid for the shoes. Don’t do it. If you have money in savings- use it to pay off your debt post-haste! If you don’t, get that budget rolling & get to work on on that debt. I maintain my credit score by using a credit card for my monthly spending, and I pay the balance off every month. That’s all that it takes to keep my scores up.
Let’s Talk Ca$h
. What you keep in cash should be an emergency fund (here is a basic calculator
for that). This is money that you will need to access right away (or in the next year) to cover your living expenses & bills in case shit goes haywire in your life. I keep mine in a Money Market Marcus savings
(which pays 1.5% interest- last I checked this was the highest out there).
After the emergency fund is retirement. While you have surely been lectured, let me re-iterate: if your employer offers any kind of matching- use it! To the fullest extent that you can. Free money is free money, dude. You’ll need to consider what type of plan
your employer offers (if any), and if you are able to open an a IRA on your own (more on this later), but your retirement is included in your total portfolio of investments, so let’s dive in:
Knowing how to invest your money has to do with how long or short term you are going to be in it for & your comfort level. As a general rule of thumb: subtract your age from the number 110 in order to determine your target stock allocation. For example: if you’re 35, this rule says that approximately 75% of your assets should be in stocks. The logic there is that as a 35 year old, you have time to build your empire (or Balenciaga shoe wearing, ashram dwelling money). Most call this the “wealth accumulation phase” of life. Once you have built wealth and are approaching retirement- you enter the “wealth preservation phase.” But you may want to retire at 45, or you might have a business you know will be going for the next 20 years (even if you’re 50). So age ain’t nothin’ but a number. Rather: while you’re working hard & accumulating wealth you might have 80%+ of your money in stocks (higher risk=more reward potential) with the rest in bonds (lower risk=less reward potential)/cash. As you get closer to retirement & the need to preserve that wealth, you might shift that to more bonds/less stocks. Your personal comfort with risk will play a role in how you invest, but it’s important to keep in mind that investing should be long term. Market fluctuations WILL HAPPEN throughout your portfolio’s lifetime. But if you have time, keep your head down and your chin up (?) and power through the market shifts because there is money to be made.
So first, why stocks? Because stocks, over time
, provide the biggest return of any investment out there. How should you invest in the stock market? What I hear consistently from actually wealthy investors is: do not invest in individual stocks – invest in low-expense index funds that support your targeted asset allocation mix (that’s that percentage of stocks/bonds we were just talking about). ETFs and Mutual Funds are where it’s at. Let’s break it down:
An ETF (Exchange Trade Fund)
is an investment that attempts to track the performance of a specific index- like the S&P 500 Index, Nasdaq Composite Index, or Dow Jones Industrial Average. An ETF buys all (or a representative sample) of the stocks or bonds in the index that the fund tracks. Did I lose you there? It’s not as complex as it sounds: essentially you are investing in the entire stock market
, or the entire bond market
, instead of individual stocks or bonds. Wise JL Collins
(and Warren Buffett
) recommends Vanguard’s VTSAX
(Total Stock Market Index Fund) because it has the lowest fees (or expense ratio
, if you’re nasty). It also requires almost zero effort on your part. If you can’t swing the $10,000 minumum, Fidelity has a similar low cost fund
with a $2,500 minimum. Vanguard’s fund invests in over 3,600 stocks (closer to 3,000 for Fidelity’s) across all sectors and across all sizes of companies within the U.S. market (including biggies like Apple & Amazon).
So why invest in the entire stock market instead of individual stocks? Because picking individual stocks is like gambling- timing when to buy & sell is way, way more luck than skill. Historically, the stock market itself has “always gone up”
. Selecting individual stocks is an actual crap shoot. When you invest in the entire stock market you’re investing in companies with employees who are working hard to make their businesses succeed– thousands of them. I like those odds a lot better than one company or 20 even.
So what’s a Mutual Fund? A Mutual Fund is a pool of money from individuals or businesses that a firm then invests in various securities. When I first read about this I thought, “Isn’t that what Bernie Madoff did?” And the answer is sorta- Madoff ran a Hedge Fund (big money, big fat crazy arsed risks). Mutual funds are actually transparent (not just sending your money off to Mr. Wall Street and hoping for the best). You can choose how you want to invest your money within a mutual fund. Essentially, you can have a diversified portfolio (a mix of different asset classes & securities- i.e. stocks & bonds) within one mutual fund. Easy peasy. To me, these funds make Financial Advisors obsolete. Why pay an Advisor to do what you can do with an ETF and/or Mutual Fund?
Let’s talk bonds
(and I don’t mean Barry
). To quote, again, JL Collins (full breakdown here
): “In the simplest terms: When you buy stock you are buying a part ownership in a company. When you buy bonds you are loaning money to a company, or to the government.” Bonds are a safer/lower risk investment because they aren’t subject to as much fluctuation as stocks. Having a portion of your portfolio in bonds can offset the volatility of stocks and give you reliable income. You can buy bonds in ETFs as well- Vanguard’s Total Bond Market Fund
is a good, low cost option. This, like the total stock market fund, gives you a piece of the entire bond market.
It has an 80% stock & 20% bond allocation, and it also has some international funds included. Although I agree with the other JL Collins that the US stock & bond markets are a great place to invest, I do feel a bit nervous about our President (just a bit!) & what effects he might have on the economy over the next year or two. So this fund feels safer to me- more diversified with international stocks & bonds in the mix.
What about retirement funds?
We know that as much as possible is the way to go, but how do you allocate that money? When the market crashed in 2008 my dad advised me to put my 401K into a Target-Date Retirement Fund
. These are mutual funds that invest in both stocks & bonds, gradually shifting their allocation from more stocks (more risk) to more bonds (less risk) as you get closer to your target retirement date. You pick the year you plan to retire- and select the fund that matches that date. There are relatively low-cost options available, and they offer a simple, hands-off approach to your retirement.
Apart from my employer 401k, I also have an IRA
, which I do my best to contribute the maximum (currently $5,500 if you are under age 50) to each year. As far as IRAs are concerned there are two kinds: Roth & Traditional, and I believe this breakdown & suggestion by the Mad Fientest
to be excellent. Please read it. Your retirement fund- be it 401k, IRA or a combination, should hold the bulk of your money, simply because it’s not taxed (until you withdraw it, but you can avoid taxes on those funds with a Roth Conversion Ladder
). I should note that you are allowed to contribute $18,500 per year total to all of your retirement accounts, so if you are able- put as much of your pre-tax pay into that sucker as possible.
What about the kid? “They” tell you to start saving for your child’s education as soon as you have them (Before they are born actually. When there’s not even a twinkle in their mother’s eye!). There are a couple of tax-deferred options. First is a Coverdell Education Savings account. These can be used for K-12 education as well as higher education. Anyone can contribute (Grandparents, Trusts, Corporations, etc.) as long as their Adjusted Gross Income for the year that they contribute is not above $110,000 for individuals, or $220,000 for couples filing jointly. The total contributions that can be made to one account per year is $2,000. Anyone who makes an excess contribution will have to pay a 6% tax, so it’s super important to stay on top of it. You can change the beneficiary of the account as long as the new beneficiary is under age 30 (this can be handy if you have more than one child & want to pass the extra funds on to a sibling). The distributions are tax-free as long as they don’t exceed the beneficiary (your child)’s education expenses for that year. There is a tricky formula for calculating what tax you must pay on distributions that exceed the total educational expenses for the year, but a rule of thumb is that the money will be taxed as income and you’ll pay 10% additional tax on distributions not used for educational expenses. Once the child reaches 30, the money must be transferred to a new beneficiary or distributed.
Another option is a 529 Plan (or QTP)
– a State-maintained program that was designed for higher education costs, and up until 2018 it couldn’t be used for anything but college. This was updated with tax reform for 2018 to include “tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.” Qualified education expenses can include no more than $10,000 paid for elementary or secondary school tuition. However, states have yet to update their tax codes to account for this change. “They” are warning not to use 529 funds for K-12 tuition
until states have updated their tax laws. That aside- anyone can contribute to a 529, no matter what their income, and it has a higher annual contribution limit than Coverdells: any individual can contribute $15,000 ($30,000 for couples filing jointly) per tax year. You can also “front load” a 529 plan by making 5 years worth of contributions at once. Lifetime contribution limits depend on your state’s plan, but can be as high as $500,000. Like Coverdells, if funds are used for anything but education expenses they are taxed as ordinary income and have a 10% additional tax. Unlike Coverdells, there is no age deadline for taking distributions, anyone of any age can have or use one for educational expenses and you can change beneficiaries to any family member. The account owner (you), not the beneficiary (your 18 year old), calls the shots on how the money is distributed. Firms like Vanguard offer age based options
that work like Target Retirement funds- with asset allocations that adjust over time, and you can choose conservative, moderate or aggressive options.
Another option is using your IRA to pay for college. You can take a distribution from your IRA before you reach age 59 1/2 and not have to pay the 10% early withdrawal tax if, for the year of the distribution, you pay qualified education expenses for yourself; your spouse; your or your spouse’s child; or your or your spouse’s grandchild. This money has to be used for higher education, and can’t be used for K-12 tuition expenses.
If you have made it to the end of this post without falling asleep, bless your heart. I so so recommend the book The Simple Path to Wealth
by JL Collins because it’s so easy to understand and he has such a refreshingly no B.S. attitude. Now go make that money.