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Women step up hunt for financial advice

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When Ms. Owens asks women during financial seminars which they should put first, invest for retirement or for their children's college education, they almost always vote for the latter.

"I say, 'No! It's retirement! Kids have other options – they have their whole lives,' " Owens says. "Women make up 85 percent of the elderly poor, and it's because of the choices we make early on. It's OK to be selfish."

But it's not OK to be uninformed, planners say. Women, including well-educated ones with high-powered jobs, often avoid diving into money management, even when no one else is around to handle the decisionmaking. Patricia Ireland, a financial consultant at Salomon Smith Barney who leads financial-planning seminars for a New York alumnae group called Columbia College Women, says, "I'm constantly surprised by myself before I got into this business, and by my peers who are graduates of an Ivy League institution, who are women who are educated and have an influence but have no clue how to begin securing a future for themselves financially."

Jenifer Herrmann, a young advertising executive in New York, says she never paid too much attention to how her money was being invested until her father passed away four years ago. She describes the relationship she then had with her financial adviser as, "I won't call them, they'll call me."

"It was intimidating," Ms. Herrmann says. "I wouldn't talk about it because I didn't know what I was talking about."

Eventually she decided she felt more comfortable with a woman adviser, who helped map out her goals and a financial plan.

Breaking down bias

Women who grew up in households where their fathers made the money and the money decisions often feel comfortable leaving their own families' finances in their husbands' hands.

Barbara Reeb, a retired psychologist in San Diego, says her father controlled the money while she was growing up, and her husband made all financial decisions throughout her 35-year marriage. After her divorce, she felt ill-equipped to handle the financial management. "I knew I was going to have to do it, and I wanted to do it, but I didn't know how to go about it," Ms. Reeb says.

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