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What do men and women want from a plan?

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

When couples live together in marriage, domestic compatibility differences come to light – one leaves the cap off the toothpaste and misplaces car keys; the other may insist there’s just one way to load a dishwasher.

We’re not always on the same page as our spouse when it comes to habits and attitudes, but assuming that you have mutual financial goals, you need a clear roadmap for reaching them together. You might be surprised to learn just how differently men and women approach the journey of investment planning.

Men are generally much more comfortable operating with loose plans. Women tend to want written, detailed strategies they can use to measure their progress.

For couples, the differences go beyond whether one spouse needs to put important details in writing. A recent study by Wells Fargo Advisors, “Personal Investing Attitudes,” sheds light on just how men and women differ when it comes to long-range investment planning.

It’s critical for both spouses to understand the other’s needs and goals. How else will they successfully collaborate to create clear and cohesive roadmap for the years ahead? It’s not about adopting his style or her style. It’s about creating a plan that reflects each partner’s concerns and objectives.

Getting to Know You

So where do you begin? First, try to understand – from your spouse’s perspective – why he or she set certain goals and how important it is to stick closely to them. Men, consider these simple but illuminating findings about your women partners:

• They are more likely than you (97 percent vs. 87 percent, respectively) to feel a need for control over their financial futures.

• An overwhelming majority of women (96 percent) believe that having an investment plan relieves stress and anxiety. Men feel the same way, but to a lesser degree (83 percent).

These numbers confirm that women put a finer point on their investment needs than men. The numbers also reveal that women and men have separate views of what an investment plan is.

From a woman’s perspective, an investment plan is formalized, process-driven and results-oriented. Women are more likely to say, “How do we know if we are saving enough, or too much?” Men paint in much broader strokes. They tend to believe that a plan is simply about having investment instruments in place and making regular contributions.

Another gender difference is that women seem more inclined to consider the impact of key life events on their long-term investing goals. The percentage differences are substantial:

• 39 percent of women respondents say receiving an inheritance could strongly or at least somewhat affect their investing approach, compared with only 18 percent of men.

• 37 percent of women say the death of a loved one would have an impact on their strategy. Only 19 percent of men say their strategy would be similarly affected.

Let’s Work Together

At first glance, the genders appear to be far apart when it comes to thinking through their finances. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find common ground. There are three ways that couples can get their thinking in sync:

• Start with equal time. Begin the planning process by letting your spouse lay out his or her concerns and priorities. Women, you may prioritize saving for long-term goals such as retirement and kids’ education, while your husband might attach more weight to how best to allocate your family’s savings among stocks, bonds and cash. Don’t worry if you’re not on the same page. Simply getting these concerns and priorities out in the open is a good first step toward reaching common ground.

• Use current financial decisions as a springboard. If your different financial points of view have kept you tiptoeing around each other, start with financial changes that are happening right now, such as what to do with a tax refund, planning for a new school year or looking at your quarterly 401(k) reports. No one gets their entire financial future figured out in one conversation, so there’s definitely merit in breaking the task down to bite-size pieces.

• Keep it simple. There are plenty of software programs available to help create detailed plans with countless scenarios. But the objective is to get started, even if it means taking small steps. Try using the simple checklist on WellsFargo.com’s Retirement Planning page. You also can find online retirement calculators at AARP.com, Bankrate.com and other sites.

Remember, the goal isn’t to create the plan that’s perfect for just one spouse, who then winds up taking over the reins. 

Both of you are pulling for the same team. Neither partner should feel coerced into adopting the other’s approach. Instead, you should both have a clearer sense of the most important objectives for each of you and how you plan to achieve them.

• Patrick S. O’Connor, CRPC is the managing principal, senior financial adviser, PIM portfolio manager and a chartered retirement planning counselor CRPC at Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network off Randall Road next to the Hobby Lobby in Algonquin. He can be reached at 847-458-0142, emailed at p.oconnor@wfafinet.com or visit his website at www.algonquin.wfadv.com.

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