It was six weeks before my wedding, and I was preparing a spreadsheet that listed all my assets for the prenuptial agreement my fiancé and I had agreed to sign. (It was his second marriage and my first.)
I carefully listed each account: the two individual brokerage accounts, the 401(k), the Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA), the Rollover IRA, the Roth IRA and the 529 college savings plan that I had established for my soon-to-be stepdaughter. When I added up the balances, my mouth dropped. They added up to just over $1 million.
I sat at my desk in a trance, staring at the document, and retraced in my head all the steps I had taken over the past 15 years that got me to this point. Not that long ago I was a 24-year-old woman buying 40 shares of Starbucks with a $1,600 inheritance that her poor Grandma Eda from the Bronx had left her; now I was a 39-year-old millionaire.
I celebrated it privately, but this was one of the proudest moments in my life.
When I give speeches on investing in the stock market, I usually share my story of how I built my own wealth. Everyone always wants to know how I did it. They want to pick up tips and tactics to build their own wealth. Here are my top six:
- Start investing in the stock market at a young age
- Educate yourself by reading about investing, the economy and personal finance
- Spend less than you earn by living below your means
- Rent a small apartment you can afford rather than buying a home you cannot
- Invest a portion of every paycheck
- Max out on tax-deferred retirement vehicles such as a 401K and IRA
But what’s more important than how I saved over $1 million is why I did it.
I was raised by a mother who was financially dependent on her father for her entire life: She received an allowance until he died at age 97. Watching this example, I vowed early on that I would never be dependent on anyone but myself for financial security. After being laid off twice by the time I was 22, I knew I couldn’t depend on an employer for guaranteed income and set forth to grow any money I would subsequently earn through investing. I accepted the risks that come with investing and knew if I stuck with it, I could weather the ups and downs of the stock market.
Women have a complex relationship with money. For many professional and accomplished women, money is the last frontier of empowerment. These women know how to control many aspects of their lives, but money remains elusive. According to a 2012-2013 research study conducted by Prudential, Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women, “While women are more in control than ever of their finances, the study shows they are facing significant challenges when it comes to financial decision-making and admit to a lack of knowledge about financial solutions that can help them.”
Further, the study states that well over one-third of women who are bringing home more bacon than their male partners admit to having little-to-no understanding of the very building blocks I personally used to achieve financial independence. Achieving financial empowerment through investing was a highly significant milestone in my life, and my calling is to help thousands of other women reach the same summit. That’s why I founded The Options Lady — a coaching and education service that empowers women of all ages to become successful investors. I specialize in teaching women how to open up an online brokerage account, build a diversified portfolio through exchange-traded funds and individual stocks and use conservative option strategies to generate income and manage risk.
As a financial advisor, I also manage money for women and couples who do not have the time in their busy schedules to do it themselves. But I believe that even if you hire a professional, there is tremendous value in learning how to invest on your own by opening an online brokerage account in which you personally manage some of your assets.
No matter how large or small your account is, the exercise of being your own money manager gives you the foundation and experience to evaluate your current financial advisor’s strategies against those who compete for your business. Whether you choose to manage an account for a short period of time as a learning experience or continue to do it for the rest of your life, this is one of the single most important acts you can take to reach financial empowerment.
Laurie Itkin is the founder of The Options Lady and a financial advisor with Coastwise Capital Group. She’ll be answering reader questions each month as part of our Ask an Advisor series (email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org). To order a copy of her book “Every Woman Should Know Her Options: Invest Your Way to Financial Empowerment,” go to www.theoptionslady.com.