Building wealth is not a gender-specific pursuit, but women often find themselves at a disadvantage in more ways than one. For example, women who work full-time earn 21% less than men and bring home lower wages, on average, in nearly every occupation. Confidence is also an issue, and according to a 2015 study from Regions Bank, only 54% of women say they're comfortable making investment decisions without the help of a financial advisor. (For more, see Investing for Safety and Income.)
Women who've achieved a higher net worth require a sound wealth management strategy to continue growing their portfolio over the long-term. If you've been looking at your investments and you're concerned about hitting a plateau, here are some key steps that will help you maintain forward momentum. (For more, see Women: Invest in Your Financial Literacy.)
Consider Your Time Horizon
Time is an important factor for female investors, considering that they earn less than men and typically live longer than their male counterparts. Using your age, the amount you’re investing and your portfolio’s performance can help you gauge how likely your assets will be able to sustain you given your life expectancy.
For example, let's say you're 40 years old and making $150,000 a year. You routinely invest 15% of your income annually, divided between your 401(k) and an IRA and you've accumulated $200,000 in assets. You plan to retire at age 65, at which time you'd have approximately $2.5 million in investments, assuming a 7% annual return.
Now, assume that you live another 20 years in retirement, withdrawing 4.8% of your assets each year. That would yield a monthly withdrawal of $10,000, which is equal to 80% of your current income. The general rule of thumb is that you should plan to have at least 70% of your current income in retirement so in this scenario, you'd be covered. (For more on retirement withdrawals, see: Top Tips for Maximizing Retirement Plan Withdrawals.)
If, however, you were to live another 30 years instead of 20, you'd need to whittle your monthly withdrawals down to 3.4%, or $7,083 a month, to avoid running out of money. That would put you at roughly 57% of your current annual income, well below the 70% mark. Running the numbers can point you toward the adjustments you’d need to make, if any, to ensure that your investments are sufficient for the long term.
Move Outside Your Comfort Zone If Necessary
Women often approach investing differently from men, and the result in many cases is a tendency to be less aggressive in their strategy. In the aforementioned Regions Bank survey, 41% of women said they preferred conservative investments compared to 24% of men.
If you favor a conservative approach, you have to consider how it fits in terms of your overall asset allocation and time frame. While playing it safe can minimize risk, you may not be giving your investments enough room to reach peak performance. The younger you are, the more opportunity you have to try a growth investing approach. (For more, see Introduction to Growth Investing.)
You should also have an eye on diversification. If your portfolio is heavily concentrated in bonds, for example, or it's dominated by one particular asset class, branching out adds diversity and spreads out risk. This puts you in a better position to pursue more lucrative investments that you otherwise wouldn't, such as real estate. (For more, see Introduction to Investment Diversification.)
Rethink More Expensive Investments
Fees can significantly diminish the value of any investor's portfolio, and they can be particularly troublesome for women. A SigFig report on gender and investing found that women are more likely to favor expensive investments over men. According to the report, older investors who have already reached retirement age fork over double the fees that Millennial investors pay.
If your portfolio includes mutual funds or other pricey actively managed investments, switching them out for low-cost investments, such as an exchange traded fund, allows you to keep more of your earnings while increasing your tax efficiency. (For more, see 7 Ways to Create a Tax-Efficient Portfolio.)
Let's go back to our previous example of a female investor who reaches retirement with a $2.5 million nest egg. If she invests in funds with an expense ratio of 1.5% and takes withdrawals for 20 years with a 6% annual return, she could expect a yearly income of around $131,000. If she were to switch to a fund with an expense ratio of 0.3%, that would generate an additional $16,800 in investment income annually, which is a good reason to reconsider the fees you're paying.
The Bottom Line
Preserving and growing wealth as a female investor can be challenging, but it’s worthwhile if you're equipped to meet those challenges head on. Being aware of what you're paying for your investments and being unafraid to broaden your horizons in terms of your portfolio are the most effective ways to safeguard your net worth.