Time Is Now for Women to Take Control and Start Investing

Did you know that women in America earn more than $1 trillion a year?

Almost 60 million women are in the work force, and they own more than half of all US businesses. It's no doubt that we are emerging as a major economic force with money to save for our futures.

But do we have the will and the know-how for investment decisions, to make our savings work for us? One thing is for sure, we have the need.

About 90 percent of all women will be responsible for their own finances at some point. Single, widowed, and divorced women, single-mother households, and the like are quickly becoming the rule more than the exception. And even in dual-income families, women often control both their own and the family finances.

So the answer to "who is going to take care of me," is clearly, you.

If saving or investing your own money makes you think "I can't," take a reality check. If you don't do it, no one else will.

Divorce terminates nearly half of all first and second marriages, and the average of widowhood is 55.

Prepare for your future by enforcing a habit to save. Automatic payroll deductions into a savings account offer one good way to start. Here are a few others:

US Savings Bonds. Not the highest paying investments, but if held to maturity their returns beat current long-term CDs (certificates of deposit). Plus they're backed by Uncle Sam's full faith and credit.

You can buy savings bonds through automatic payroll-deduction plans at work or through bond-a-month plans at many banks. They cost as little as $25 each. Plus, the interest is free from state and local taxes, although Uncle Sam takes his share when you cash in the bonds.

Make sure you register the bonds in your name so you can get the tax benefits.

Dollar-cost averaging. The strategy is simple: Invest the same amount of money on a regular basis - for example, $50 on the first day of every month.

It's cheap; it's painless; and many experts consider it one of the smartest ways to invest, because you end up buying more shares when prices are low.

Mutual fund families often waive their minimum investment requirements, typically $1,000 to $2,500, if you dollar-cost average. Be sure to ask.

An example: Founders Funds, (800-525-2440) a no-load fund company in Denver, allow as little as $50 per month through automatic investment plans, taken directly from your checking account.

Investment Clubs. Groups of people, often women, sometimes band together for the purpose of investing. The amount required is sometimes as little as $25 a month, each. Members take turns researching various stocks and the entire group votes on what to buy.

It's a great way to learn about the stock market and to follow your hunches in the hunt for good stocks. Maybe there's a financial professional in the group with access to research reports.

The National Association of Investors in Michigan (NAIC; 810-583-6242) reports that more than half of all investment clubs have a better average annual return than the overall stock market, measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

Call the NAIC for information about starting or joining a club.

* Christy Heady is a financial journalist and author of the best-selling book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Money on Wall Street.

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