Advice From Confident Investors

Take advantage of publications, podcasts, adult ed classes and other resources, including family members.

A few months ago, I asked readers to share their stories about how they became confident investors (see How to Be a Confident Investor. What you told me is that the spark can come from many different sources — and that should encourage women who are still finding their way or who would like to inspire a new generation.

For starters, family members often play a key role. “When I was 25, my mother implored me to open a savings account,” writes Christina Andersson. “That got me comfortable with other saving and investing vehicles, such as 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs and no-load mutual funds.” Make yourself financially literate, advises Andersson, who read the classic A Random Walk Down Wall Street,, along with Kiplinger’s and Money magazines. “Life is short, so max out your 401(k) and learn to love the Roth IRA.”

Lisa Miller says she “never felt a lack of confidence” because she followed her grandmother’s example, “choosing to buy investments I knew and contributing as much as I could regularly and frequently.”

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Like Andersson, other readers often cited Kiplinger’s and Money as their investment primers. But Kari Beckenhauer didn’t stop there. “I went to the local newsstand and bought and read every investment publication I could find, including the ads,” Beckenhauer writes. Eventually, “people would come to me to discuss a 401(k) plan or IRA, and I even wrote a small newsletter for my nieces and nephews when they were heading off to college.”

Carol Stivers’s investment bible was a book she got in the 1970s, The Joy of Money: The Guide to Women’s Financial Freedom. At the time, Stivers was a divorced teacher with three children. The book made such an impression that when she received a $5,000 bequest from her mother-in-law, she invested it in a utility that “paid a big dividend and was selling at a price that let me buy a lot of shares for $5,000.” She held the stock until 2017.

Nowadays, there are plenty of other sources of financial information. “I have become a voracious consumer of podcasts,” writes Susan Murphy. “Listening to Jean Chatzky, Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman continues to further my knowledge and bolster my confidence, especially because their advice can be very different.”

Clara DiFelice advises women to take advantage of tried-and-true resources such as adult education classes. That’s what DiFelice did, and she “was fortunate to have a 15-week session on investing taught by a senior partner at a premium firm in my town,” she writes. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford his hourly fee for advice, but 45 hours of classes were offered at about $10 per hour.”

Married women often mentioned having the full support of their husbands. In fact, writes Cindy Ross, “my husband deferred financial decisions to me.” When an adviser recently reviewed the couple’s finances, “there were no recommended changes. We could retire early if we wanted.”

Different strokes. Readers generally focused on building portfolios of low-cost mutual funds. But some, like Carol Martin, chose individual stocks. Martin caught the stock bug after joining an investment club a number of years ago. The club folded in 2005, but Martin still owns, and tracks, shares in 18 companies.

Some of you diversify your portfolios by adding real estate. Following her rule never to spend all the money you earn, Marilyn Polen socked away her tips as a waitress while she was in college and cobbled together a number of small scholarships to pay for school. By the time she finished her master’s degree, she was able to purchase foreclosed duplexes in Florida, which she rehabbed herself and rented.

Now Polen’s daughter is following in her footsteps, having bought her first rental property at age 26. Writes Polen, “This is a single-mom, two-generation story of success because we are not romantic or emotional about money. It’s a tool to be used wisely.”

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.