Battle of the $exes
March 2, 2000: 11:10 a.m. ET

Men and women differ, often radically, in their retirement planning habits
By Staff Writer Jennifer Karchmer

We've all heard that men and women are from different planets when it comes to communication and relationships. And apparently they are polar opposites when it comes to money, too.
    Women are more likely to seek professional advice, while men tend to be more aggressive in their retirement investment choices, experts say.
    "Women are the great researchers," said Linda Barbanel, psychotherapist and author of "Sex, Money & Power." "Men would rather get a tip on the golf course than to look it up."
I say 'tomayto'; you say 'tomahto'

    Obviously, these are generalizations. Plenty of men do their homework and plenty of women invest aggressively. But it might help you plan your long-term portfolio knowing some of these investing stereotypes.
    "Men feel like they can do it themselves," by reading books, and by getting information off the Internet on retirement planning, said Dr. Richard Geist, a psychotherapist.
    And women are more likely to walk into the financial adviser's office than men are, Geist added.
    A decade ago, this wasn't necessarily the case. Women would sign up for financial planning courses with the intent on meeting single men, Barbanel said. Today, though, women are attending those same seminars, often run by other women, to work on their retirement portfolios.
Would you like some risk with that portfolio?

    "Men are more prone to taking high fliers and women go with more conservative mutual funds," Barbanel said. "Women would rather take consistent annual returns than an IPO and see it fly."
    Lenny Castro, an emergency room worker in New York City, agrees with that sentiment. He says the men he knows tend be more aggressive in their long-term plans.
    "Men usually pick more stocks than funds," said Castro, 42, who contributes to his company's retirement plan.
    Dr. Tahira K. Hira, a certified financial planner and professor of personal finance and consumer economics at Iowa State University, said men are more likely to choose international, emerging markets or other high-risk mutual funds in retirement plans such as 401(k)s and IRAs.
    In her recent report, "A Study of Financial Beliefs and Behaviors," published in the February 2000 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning,Hira also found that women are more willing to learn about financial planning.
    "Men take a tip here and there and just go with it, using a little trial and error," Hira said.
    Despite the trends, some women are full throttle ahead with an aggressive long-term financial plan.
    "I'm in the techs, the biotechs, the emerging markets -- although in small percentages," said Lois Laughlin, 38, a computer programmer. "I'm still young and have a long way to go to retiring, so I'm taking advantage of the bull run."
Proceed with caution or up the ante?

    So maybe you've been tiptoeing around the riskier mutual funds your 401(k) plan offers. It's time to take the plunge and increase your exposure to danger, experts say.
    Or you've been keeping mental notes on fund picks overheard from conversations at cocktail parties and the locker room. Maybe it's time you sought out professional advice and devised a more systematic plan?
    "Once you get started investing, you pay more attention to the news, Web sites, TV; you talk about it more," said Barbanel. "The more involved you are, the more you learn," she said.

    Women may have an easier time today finding a financial planner specifically designed to meet their needs, said Noel Maye, communications director with the CFP Board of Standards in Denver.
    More and more planners are catering to women who are faced with different social issues that affect their retirement planning behavior.
    For example, women tend to work fewer years in their lifetime than men, because of taking time off to raise children. Also, women are more likely to work at part-time jobs that don't offer retirement plans. And, women, on average, live about seven years longer than men, requiring them to have a larger retirement nest egg.
    "My bias is to remind women: You can't be too conservative in your investments," said Sharon Rich, financial planner with Womoney in Boston.
    Men tend to re-allocate their retirement mix more often than women, which isn't a bad idea. But reviewing your plan annually is sufficient, supplemented by reviews when you've made changes in your life, such as get married or have a child, experts say.
The gap narrows

    Despite some of these differences, men and women are in similar orbits concerning their retirement planning habits today than years ago, said Hira, who has been in the financial planning business for 27 years.
    In the last several years, investing has become a cultural phenomenon for both men and women educating themselves through the Internet and the media, said Geist.
    "Talking about the stock market is like talking about the Super Bowl or March Madness," he said -- referring to the championships of pro football and college basketball, for those men and women who aren't aware.

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