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Feminine financial finesse. Women take stock in investment literacy

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IT is the first night of a seven-week course called ``Investing for Women.'' The eight women gathered around a U-shaped table at the Wellesley Community Center are explaining why they are here. ``I know nothing about personal finance,'' says Winnie Williams, the owner of two day-care centers. ``Our kids are grown, and we're paying off college loans. Retirement is coming. It's time to think of ourselves.''

Roz Kaplan, who works at Boston College Law School, tells the group: ``My mother had been a businesswoman, but my father always handled the finances. When he died, my husband, an attorney, had to take care of her finances. I didn't want to be in that predicament.''

Another woman, newly divorced after 30 years of marriage, needs to know how to plan for retirement. Still another wants to learn more about the investments she and her husband have made.

But it is Marilyn Hobson who sums up the mood of the class. ``I do not want to be a money moron,'' she says firmly. ``I have seen older women in my family become financial victims, either through the kindness or the cruelty of others. I don't want that to happen to me.''

This determination to become better informed reflects a growing desire on the part of many women to play a more active role in their financial affairs. No longer content to earn minimum interest in a savings account or to watch their husbands make all the investment decisions, they are enrolling in classes, seeking the services of financial planners, and reading books.

For some women, it was the stock market crash last fall that heightened their interest. As Susan Haffenreffer, founder of Investing for Women, an investor-education company, explains, ``In a raging bull market, the likelihood of making money is very good, even for the inexperienced investor. Since the crash, however, perceptions have changed. Optimism has been replaced by fear and the growing awareness that there is no substitute for knowledge.

``You can't hide from economics anymore,'' she continues. ``These cycles affect us all. We're in danger if we're not informed.''

Yet for every woman who takes steps to become better informed, there are countless others still reluctant to admit their ignorance.

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