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For women, financial savvy is no fairy tale

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You couldn't miss the hot-pink envelope mixed in with the mail that arrived at our house one day last week. Addressed to me in a small, neat script and looking like an out-of-season Valentine, it begged to be opened.

"Special Invitation," the fancy lettering inside teases. But don't get your hopes up. This is no party. The subject at hand is strictly business – an all-day financial conference for women.

Even the enclosed "Complimentary VIP Ticket" sports a wide band of hot pink, as if to reassure recipients that the money talk at the seminar will really be girl talk – nonthreatening and even fun. This is the same electric pink, after all, that decorates the covers of romance novels and women's self-help books.

Is this what it takes to get women's attention about money and make the subject soothing?

If so, perhaps the feminine ploys have come not a moment too soon. Despite unprecedented wealth and power, 90 percent of women feel financially insecure, says a study released last week by Allianz. This despite the fact that they are more educated and more involved in financial decisions than ever before.

Compounding women's insecurity, the survey finds, is a "tremendous fear" of losing all their money. About half the participants express concern that they might become a bag lady. That includes almost half of the wealthier women – the ones earning more than $100,000 annually.

The bag-lady syndrome runs deep. Even Gloria Steinem, that paragon of independence and self-sufficiency, once voiced the same concern.

As if to echo the Allianz findings, another survey released last week also reports a lack of confidence among women. Almost half the men surveyed by Stowers Innovations say they feel in control of their finances, compared with just over one-third of women.

Still, one sociologist who studies women's financial issues cautions that surveys like these must be kept in perspective. This kind of self-reporting can lead to skewed conclusions. When men take part in a survey, she notes, they are more likely to say with confidence, "Yes, I know that." By contrast, women tend to sell themselves short. The sociologist herself is heartened by women's growing financial savvy.


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