Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finance Takes Hold

Following up on my previous posts about work, I really should admit to being disappointed in myself for still being employed by a company that is trying to walk all over me. I'm committed to actively looking for a new position elsewhere.

Why am I disappointed in myself? For a number of years, I've advocated to the women around me that they should be in charge of their own financial situation. Their lives, their jobs, their careers. Women, in general, make less money than their male colleagues. While this is unfair, it is rooted not necessarily in blatant gender discrimination, but in the circumstances of a woman's life. Women tend to take time off of work during their careers, while men do not.

What do you mean? Men take vacations too, I can hear you say. But that's not the type of "time off" I'm talking about. What I'm talking about are the years that women stay home to care for their children, for their parents as they age, for their in-laws, etc. Few men do this.

These are noble causes to take time off from their career, and worthwhile causes. However, the fact remains that women are paid less because during the number of years they spend taking care of others, the men who are their colleagues are continuing to work, and continuing to get raises and cost of living increases. Meanwhile, when a woman goes back to work after an extended absence, she hires in at close to what she was making previously - which is now less than the men around her.

What brought about this need to advocate for women and finances? A class in college. The teacher was very good, she was the reason I went into the Marketing field. But what happened was that one of her class lectures really changed my perspective on work and money.

Prof. Bennett was a very interesting teacher. She had a semester long project, where we picked stocks at the beginning of the semester, and tracked their performance for about 10 weeks. We were to pretend we had $2,000 to buy stock, and then record how many shares we "bought," and their closing prices each day. At the end of the semester, we all wrote extremely boring essays on how our stocks performed. Then, Prof. Bennett talked to us investing for retirement.

I remember she started off talking about the math behind compounding interest, and the point that stuck with me had to do with IRAs. If you invest $2000 per year in an IRA from now (age early 20s) until you're 55, and you earn 10% to 12% interest, you can retire a millionaire by the age of 55.

What stuck with me was how she turned it around on us, saying, "I know you're thinking, what bank is going to pay me 12% interest? But here's the thing: your stock game? Most of you made 8% to 10% on your investments."

And that was how she related it back to me, that you can't rely on a bank, but because we were young enough to ride out the ups and downs of the stock market, we could eventually retire.

I wasn't ready to invest right at that point, but about 2 years later my dad retired at 50, because he had done exactly what Prof. Bennett talked about: he invested in a 401(k) plan from the time he was young, and he was actually able to retire comfortably, while still young enough to enjoy it.

This is when I decided I needed to expand my reading beyond fiction. I did some research, then went out and bought some books on women and investing. The best one, in my opinion, was a book by David Bach, called Smart Women Finish Rich.

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