They looked like deer in headlights.
After delivering the last of the content for the two-hour Women’s Money Group meet-up on investing basics, I actually said, “You look shell-shocked!” Normally, after the meetings, the room is abuzz with conversations and laughter as the women pack up their things and make their way out. This night was different.
The vast majority of the women looked like they had been drinking from a fire hose after the introduction to the concept of investing: What is investing? What are some investing options? What are RRSPs and TFSAs? We also considered a small range of basic products.
When the feedback forms came back, several said something like, “I loved the information and am excited to finally be learning about investing. There’s so much to learn and I know so little! Perhaps it just seemed a bit fast.”
There is doubtless a feeling that there is much to learn and that we need to take it slow. Check. But I think there’s something else going on, too.
In my book, I share a story about helping a friend with her Statistics course. She found the material impenetrable, insisting that it was impossible to learn. I had taken Stats at university and loved the course, so I offered to sit down with her and work through some of her homework. It didn’t matter which angle I took, I was met with, “This is impossible! I can’t learn this. I’m just no good at it.” I persisted for a while with an upbeat approach, trying to cajole and encourage her until I had heard “I can’t do this” one too many times. Frustrated, I blurted out that if she kept insisting she couldn’t learn, she would be right. She didn’t stand a chance of learning the material until she opened up her mind to that possibility.
I’ve seen this sort of thing with one of my daughters, who used to insist that she is terrible at math, until we proved her wrong. Sure, we got her help in the beginning for the actual pencil-to-paper bits, but mostly we worked on her mindset. It took a loooooooooong time, but we eventually got her to change her language, and thus her thinking, around math. Today, she gets A’s in math while insisting she doesn’t like the material.
That’s fine. You don’t need to like the material; you just need to get the heck out of your own way when it comes to learning it.
During my research project last fall, in which I talked to women across Canada about their financial strong and weak spots, there was near-unanimous agreement that investing is the weakest link in their financial chain. On the whole, women don’t do much investing, they don’t get it, they fear it, and they’re overwhelmed by it.
“Please teach me how to invest,” was the phrase I heard most often when I asked women what course they would have me teach first. Investing was hands-down the most popular subject.
Now contrast that with the behaviour I see when I speak casually with women about investing: eyes glazing over, nervous laughter, quick admissions that someone else in their life takes care of it because it makes them feel stupid, shoulders shrugging as they tell me they just don’t have the time or interest to learn.
What I see underneath all that? A protective brick wall to shield them from new, overwhelming, uncomfortable material. The wall is there for a multitude of reasons, but the fact remains that there is a barrier to learning when it comes to investing. And that barrier exists in the six inches of real estate between the ears.
When I launched the Women’s Money Group, the first meetup topic was Overcoming Money Patterns, Beliefs, and Barriers. I started there deliberately. During a decade of working with families to help them clean up financial messes, I kept seeing examples of people doing the right things initially, but not getting lasting results because they hadn’t tackled the beliefs underpinning their behaviours.
And so it is with learning about investing. Investing has been the preserve of men for so long that women have, on the whole, developed a fear of broaching “the guys’ area of expertise.”
Maybe we don’t know enough.
Maybe it’s too complicated.
Maybe it’s too risky; we could lose money.
Maybe there’s too much to learn and we don’t have the time.
Maybe they’ll do a better job than we will.
Or, maybe we’re scared. There is money on the line – hard-earned money – and we do need to learn how the system works in order to do well.
And that’s OK. It’s fine to be scared. It’s not fine, though, to remain scared or to blindly hand over the care of your money to someone else. Investing is far too important for your financial well-being to ignore it or leave it to chance.
Investing is not impenetrable. It’s a system that requires an understanding of the fundamentals which, by the way, are not complicated when you break them down into manageable chunks and use plain English to explain the concepts. Understand what the parts are, how they interact with one another, and what affects their performance, and you’re good to go to start investing. It does not need to be complicated unless you choose to make it so.
If you have read this far in the blog post, then you have everything it takes to understand how investing works. You have the brains to do it and the capacity to learn.
You just need to allow yourself to believe that you can.
“I can do this. I can learn this stuff.”
Repeat to yourself until no longer needed.