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We've Come a Long Way, Ladies

We've come a long way, baby. Women save money at the same rate as men, are burdened with less credit card debt, and on the whole are superior investors. Way to go, girlfriends!

So where's the "happily ever after" ending?

Just take a look at the results of a survey by Woman's Day magazine and America Online. If made a millionaire, 40% of the 800,000 women surveyed would buy a nicer home and car. And nearly 20% would buy extravagant presents for family, friends, and themselves.

Ladies, ladies. We've come too far to make rash, uninformed, impulsive decisions about our money. 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.

Don't get me wrong. I don't condemn my sisters for going on a shopping spree with a fictional million smackaroos. But I do take issue with the 69% of respondents to whom it did not occur to invest the windfall for their future.

She Spends/Saves, He Spends/Saves (More)
Thankfully, when faced with real-life money scenarios, women make more down-to-earth decisions. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, working women contribute the same percentage of their income to retirement accounts as men (about 7% per year). And though we may have a reputation as the over-spending gender, our debt levels are actually lower than the guys'.

Still, that doesn't mean 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 office raising kids, compared to 16 months of time off taken by men. Salary disparity also plays a role in our smaller stashes. 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. Yet according to the Woman's Day survey, 6% of us would give up half of our current salary to be thin for life!

And while the final tab we ring up at the mall may be lower than that tallied by the supposedly shopping-challenged gender (men age 30 to 44 years old carry on average $16,400 in debt compared with $14,575 for their female counterparts.), roughly 70% of those enrolled in debt management plans are women.

Girl power
Don't let those numbers get you down. 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 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%.

We're not just pretty faces who happen to be really good at fast math when calculating 33% of the lowest marked price plus an additional 15% discount taken at the register (with coupon).

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.

Bill Mann (TMF Otter) would have never discovered his first pick for Tom Gardner's Motley Fool Hidden Gems had he not noticed that his wife's shopping habits had changed dramatically since they had kids. He owes this company's success to his lovely wife, Judy.

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 marriage of equality, not excess. They seek a life of comfort, not accoutrements. When faced with real-life money issues, more and more of us make smart choices. Given the way life's deck is stacked, it's imperative.

Dayana Yochim is the author ofThe Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash.


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