Money, money, money

Money is a complicated topic. We all need it, we all have a different relationship with it, and we certainly manage it very differently.

 

If you’re like many women my age (late 30s) you probably have a savings account that you may or may not be regularly topping up, and you probably have a pension but the details are pretty hazy. If you’ve been lucky enough to get on the housing ladder your disposable cash has been poured into a deposit-shaped black hole. 

If you’ve had a baby then your earnings will probably have taken a hit, as will your pension contributions too. And, you’re highly likely to have had your earning situation affected by the shit-show that is Covid 19, which has had a brutal impact on women, and other people facing inequalities, in so many tragic ways.

So, there’s a lot going on. However one part of the picture that is more likely than not to be missing for you is investing. That is, buying funds or shares in companies with a view to growing your money over time. This is why I’ve written this article and why I’m running events to break down the basics of investing.

Most women aren’t investing (although if you have a pension you are an investor by default). Only 10% of women hold a stocks and shares ISA compared to 17% of men. Some of us are curious but don’t know where to start, others might have a more “Wolf of Wall Street? No thanks” kind of outlook.

No reward without risk

But here’s a hard pill to swallow. Sticking your money in a low interest savings account means you’re actually going to lose money over time, because of inflation. Investing in the stock market is probably the best route we have (bar property, but that’s a whole other article) to building our wealth. 

The biggest realisation I’ve had in the last year is that what I do with my money now has the potential to determine my future. 

For a long time I had assumed that becoming wealthier was down to getting a job that paid more, saving up, and hoping for the best with my pension. My attitude was passive at best, neglectful at worst. Over time I have learned that getting serious about investing, as well as actively managing my pension, could make a substantial difference to how much wealth I build over the course of my lifetime. 

Like many millennials, I am yet to own my first property, despite saving for many years. The reason I started investing in funds via a stocks and shares ISA was down to my boyfriend (who worked for a bank) showing me how, when I was complaining about my lack of equity in the housing market. I was sceptical at first, but compared to saving the returns I have made are considerably higher.

“It’s not your fault if you are born poor, but it’s your fault if you die poor”

I find it astounding that growing up that many of us get next to zero financial education. Men get more financial education growing up than women and they are overrepresented in senior roles in the financial services industry. 

People from wealthier families that invest their money are a huge advantage, and those from backgrounds where money is either scarce or not discussed at all remain less likely to become financially secure.

We shouldn’t have to rely on the chance that people already ‘in the know’ will help us manage our money. 

I have started listening to more money podcasts and, on a recent one I heard, the host quoted someone saying “it’s not your fault if you are born poor, but it’s your fault if you die poor.” While I totally disagree with this, I do now believe that we have far more agency than we think when it comes to building up our financial security, but that many of us don’t realise it. 

I now know that if I can put away enough each month into the stock market, that money is likely to grow many times more than if I’d stuck saving, and it will help to give me a comfortable retirement. Plenty can go wrong, the stock market will crash again at some point, and hopefully recover in time for me to cash it in! But not taking an active role in managing money will produce far worse results. 

Paying back the favour

As usual, when I learn something life changing like that, my first instinct is to let others know too. Just after Christmas I asked people on Instagram if they invested, aside from paying into a pension. Only about 20% of the 100 people that responded to my survey were investing, and many wanted to change that situation. ‘Democratising Investing‘ was born. Me and my friend and fellow investing enthusiast, Hannah Pinnock, ran our first workshop in February and shared the basics to help people get started.

We spent time explaining how saving isn’t such a safe bet, and that the stock market is not like gambling, particularly if you invest in diversified funds. Nor is investing solely the domain of rich people; it’s possible to invest as little as £20 a month, and the earlier you start, the longer your money has to grow.

When we asked people (mainly women) at the workshop what was getting in the way of them investing there were a few common responses. Not understanding investing was one. A fear of losing all your money was another. And another real concern was how to use your money for good, and avoid the risk of inadvertently investing in bad stuff, like arms and fossil fuels (which is actually quite likely to do if you don’t carefully choose your investments and pension fund). And finally, life often gets in the way when it comes to getting started, amidst the many, potentially confusing routes to investing.

Can you pay my bills?

But let’s not forget the major societal reasons that women in the UK for example, save on average £100,000 less in their pension pot compared with men. For a start, women earn less than men (the gender pay gap between all employees was 15.5% in 2020). If you also take into consideration that a lot of women have gaps in their lifetime where they are not working or working part time (largely because of caring for people, young and old). We tend to outlive men, meaning we need our money to last us longer. Coming out of the pandemic, far more women are in debt and dependent on benefits from a system designed to punish rather than support people in need.

So, both our current earning potential and their future wealth (linked to pension and investing contributions) create a double whammy of a set back.

Many women in particular have also internalised the belief that they are crap at maths and therefore not capable of understanding finance. Or that wanting to accumulate money is greedy. Or all manner of beliefs that we inherit from our families, with some saying that these beliefs become fixed at the age of around 7.

In 2020, I was a host of an experimental project called Own It, started by Friends of the Earth, where small groups of women came together to figure out how to use their finances to tackle climate change. We egged each other on to change to ethical bank accounts and sort out our pensions while drinking wine and eating pizza. To date, around 140 women involved in the programme have moved nearly £1.5m into more sustainable banking, pensions and investments. I truly believe that we owe it to each other to share our money knowledge so more of us can become financially independent, and create a positive impact for people and planet as we do it.

For those reasons I’m so glad we ran that workshop. One person said afterwards “I think it’s actually been life-changing for me, especially as someone who didn’t grow up with much financial education or people to learn from.” There are others out there doing this kind of thing, Vestpod being an excellent example. But we have a LONG way to go, and lots of people to reach. The more of us that are working on this, the better.

That’s why we are sharing our knowledge on investing, so that more ordinary people discover that, if they act now, they can make a massive difference to theirs and their family’s financial security. Our next event is on 11th July and we would love to see you there. 

To find out more about investing, here are some resources I recommend you check out:

Where to find me

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Sarah Tulej

Sarah Tulej

About your author

Sarah is a sustainability consultant and an advocate for equality, especially when it comes to closing the gender wealth gap.

You can find out more about Sarah and her business here.

 

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