Smart moves can help women achieve financial goals

All of us face challenges in our efforts to achieve our long-term financial goals, such as a comfortable retirement. But if youÕre a woman, the unfortunate truth is that you may have more hurdles to overcome than a man. However, knowledge is power, and as long as you are aware of what you are up against, you can take steps to boost your chances for success.
What are the special issues facing women? Here are a few to ponder:
* Longer life expectancies than men – No matter when you were born, your life expectancy is going to be longer than that of your male age-group peers. Obviously, these ÒextraÓ years of life mean more expenses.
* Lower earnings than men – In 2006, women who worked full time earned, on average, 81 percent of what their male counterparts earned, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the future, this gap may narrow, because the earnings of younger women entering the work force today are very close to those of men. But if youÕve been in the workforce for many years, thereÕs a pretty good chance that your earnings trail those of your male peers.

* More time out of the workforce – To raise their families, women spend far more time out of the workforce than men. During those years away, women are not contributing to Social Security, pension plans or 401(k) plans – which means theyÕll have less retirement savings than men.
These figures may seem somewhat depressing, but they donÕt have to lead to gloomy results. You can actually do quite a bit to improve your financial fortunes. Consider these suggestions:
* Take an active interest in your investments. Whether you are single or married, make sure you are familiar with your investment portfolio. Know what you own and why you own it. Work with a financial advisor who understands your goals and risk tolerance and who can help you make the right choices for your individual situation.
* Contribute as much as you can to your retirement plans. Each year, put in as much as you can afford to your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan. And when you get a raise, increase your contributions. Also, if you donÕt have a Traditional or Roth IRA, open one – and try to fully fund it each year.
* Invest for growth. Some evidence suggests that women may be more conservative investors than men. Of course past performance is not an indication of future results, but if youÕre going to achieve your long-term objectives, youÕll need to invest for growth – and that means youÕll need a certain amount of your portfolio devoted to stocks, which have traditionally outperformed all other asset classes. ItÕs true, of course, that you can lose some – or even all – of your principal in stocks. But if you purchase a variety of quality stocks and hold them for the long term, you can potentially reduce the effects of market volatility and inflation and potentially earn a rate of return that can help you make progress toward your objectives.
You may not be able to single-handedly change the social and institutional forces that can create problems for women striving to achieve their long-term goals. But by becoming an informed, active investor, you can better improve your chances to go a long way toward achieving the financial freedom you deserve.