As I've noted before, I'm ambivalent when it comes to the topic of women and investing, because I think investing is pretty much the same for both sexes. Women and men alike need to save a big chunk of their income for retirement, invested so that it will grow appreciably over time. Both women and men need to save for a home, for their children's education, for vacations, and for emergencies. And a share of a stock or mutual fund cares not who owns it.

But on the other hand, women are in a different situation, at least to some degree. In general, they earn less than men and work fewer years than men to care for children and/or parents. They're also more likely to work part-time and to live longer than men.

The brokerage firm ShareBuilder recently surveyed 2,000 men and women about their investing perspectives and found some interesting differences. For example:

  • More women (82%) than men (76%) are worried that they're not saving or investing enough to meet their retirement goals.

  • Fewer women (61%) than men (74%) said they think investing is "fun."

  • More than a third of women said they "think about retirement all the time and are worried about how they will make ends meet."

  • Still, only 26% of the women said they were very likely to invest more this year than last.

Women (and men) are worried
The bottom line I see is that women are worried -- as are many men. Should they be worried? Based on other data I've seen, the answer is a definitive yes. A vast chunk of the population is woefully underprepared for retirement -- and it may be a gruesome one for them as a result.

Even the Sharebuilder survey confirms this. Of the roughly two-thirds of people with retirement plans available at work, such as 401(k)s, only 37% of men and 35% of women are contributing the maximum that they can, while 10% of men and 14% of women are not participating at all! Only 53% of women younger than 35 managed to save at least 5% of their income in 2005, compared with 70% of men.

Part of the problem is that women are less confident about financial matters. Whereas 50% of men feel they make good investing decisions, only 35% of women do so. (Again, though, while this difference is quite significant, it's clear that many, many men feel that they're in over their heads, too.)

Good news
Fortunately, these stories can have happy endings. You may not feel confident about investing, you may not find it to be fun, and you may be putting off planning for your retirement. But if you just start taking a few small steps, you can change the direction of your financial future. Remember that more than 60% of men and women find investing fun. Those people likely know some things that you haven't learned yet -- such as the satisfaction of making good decisions and getting good results from them.

Many people are probably avoiding the stock market these days, having heard about or experienced big losses a few years ago, when the Internet stock bubble burst. I used to chase high-flying stocks, too, and I often got burned. But now I'm focusing on more stable, established companies, and I'm sleeping better at night as I look forward to many years of continued growth. I'm up roughly 20% on both PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) stock in fewer than two years. I'm underwater on my shares of Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), but I don't expect that to last forever. I'm also moving a lot of my money into mutual funds, in an admission that there are savvier stock analysts out there than I -- ones whose expertise can work on my behalf. For example, I'm interested in having some exposure to emerging markets, so I'm getting that via the Vanguard Emerging Markets Fund (FUND:VEIEX).

If you really don't want to tackle learning about investing and taking action on your own, you don't have to. You can find a professional advisor to consult face-to-face, and we'll help you do so in our Advisor Center. You might also want to tap the services of our own TMF Money Advisor service, which offers personalized, professional, inexpensive advice.

Be smart about money
My own favorite retirement information resource is our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, edited by Robert Brokamp. You can try it for free. It not only offers terrific general advice, but it also gives specific investment suggestions, such as stocks and mutual funds that look promising.

Here's a sampling of some very useful articles from past issues of Rule Your Retirement.

  • Reviewing bonds and bond mutual funds, the April 2006 issue recommended some specific fixed-income investments.

  • The February 2006 issue covered the effects of inflation on one's retirement, along with tips on how to plan for it. The same issue also reviewed Joel Greenblatt's "magic formula" for investing, which has helped him achieve eye-popping average annual gains of 40% over 20 years.

  • In the January 2006 issue, Robert tackled the topic of asset allocation and explained how we can "avoid Uncle Sam's grabby hands." He listed a host of popular investments, such as bonds and dividend-paying stocks, in order of tax efficiency.

  • In the May 2005 issue, readers were taught how to withdraw money prudently in retirement, in order to make it last.

  • The October 2005 issue delved into dividends and offered some recommendations on dividend-payers.

  • The December 2005 issue covered real estate investment trusts (REITs) in detail and recommended some promising investments.

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Home Depot and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Dell is a recommendation of both Inside Value and Motley Fool Stock Advisor.

Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club , Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of the Vanguard Emerging Markets Fund, PepsiCo, Home Depot, Dell, and Coca-Cola. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.