Women's Secret Wishes

This Fool classic originally ran on March 11, 2003.

Wonder what's on the average American woman's mind? We want legs as long as Gwyneth Paltrow's, dream of a career as best-selling authors, and wouldn't mind a fantasy date with Brad, Denzel, or George (Clooney, that is). Oh, and if we happen to be blessed with a million smackaroos, bring on the jazzy car and fancy digs.

This is a snapshot of our desires, ladies, according to a survey by Woman's Day magazine and America Online, where more than 800,000 women revealed what's on their wish lists.

Puhleeze. Don't get me wrong. I don't condemn -- or even disagree with -- my sisters for their pinings on matters of physique and love. (Though my ideal dream date is with Ralph Fiennes -- Quiz Show Ralph, not Red Dragon Ralph, please.) But I do take issue with their desires on the money front.

We've come a long way, baby -- too far to make rash, uninformed, impulsive decisions about our money. According to the survey, if made a millionaire, 40% of us would buy a nicer home and car. And nearly 20% would buy extravagant presents for family, friends, and ourselves (you can ship the baubles to me at Fool HQ, thanks).

Heartening, though, is that 31% of women say they would invest for their future. Whew.

These women are on the right track. It's no longer a question of if we are forced to make major money decisions on our own. It's when. Statistics show that between 80% and 90% of all women will at some point in their lives be the sole financial decision-maker for their households.

In recent years that reality seems to have sunk into our pretty little heads. The No. 1 investing goal for women, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, is a comfortable standard of living during retirement and to be adequately prepared for a financial emergency. We're doing something about it, too: Working women contribute the same percentage of their income to retirement accounts as men (about 7% per year). Way to go, girls!

But that doesn't mean that we're socking away enough. Our retirement accounts are worth less than half as much as the guy in the next cubicle. Participation in the workforce is one reason why. On average, women spend about 12 years out of the workforce raising kids or taking a stab at publishing stardom, compared to 16 months of time off taken by men. Salary disparity (yeah, that's still an issue) also plays a role in our smaller stashes. Yet according to the Woman's Day survey, 6% of us would give up half of our current salary to be thin for life!

Better think about that one for a minute. When it's time to start collecting our due from Uncle Sam, the average Social Security stipend for us gals is just $697 compared to $768 for the guys.

Girl power
Don't let those numbers get you down, though. With a little know-how and our instinctive feminine wiles, women are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to money management. Get us behind the wheel of a portfolio and -- pow! -- watch the magic, men! We're more persistent and consistent but less impulsive than the opposite sex. And our patience pays off in our returns -- on average, our portfolios better those of the hairier sex by 1.4%.

That bodes well for families where the missus is in charge of the checkbook. Women account for nearly half of all investors. According to a study by the Spectrem Group, a woman is the head of household and/or primary investment decision-maker in 2.3 million households that have total assets exceeding $500,000. It takes a real man to recognize the muscle his bride brings to the family portfolio.

My completely unscientific take on the state of women's finances is that a lot of us are on the right track. My single female friends own more homes than my single guy friends. They are cautious about their spending (save for the occasional Nordstrom annual shoe sale) and feel confident about making the tough choices. They are quick to remedy their bad money decisions and freely seek counsel when considering their options. The women I know want a life of comfort, not accoutrements. A marriage of equality, not excess.

When asked what one thing would make life better, 42% of respondents to the survey answered "more money."

While money may be on our minds, the truth is that we know that blowing dough on overpriced automobiles and overstuffed couches for a beachfront manse is merely a pipe dream. When faced with real-life money issues, more and more women are making the right choices.

Dayana Yochim is the author of Couples & Cash: How to Handle Money With Your Honey.


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