High Drama In The Weight Room

By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie

Like many adults with time and a little money on their hands, I have a gym membership.  I discovered the gym back in college–and over the years, I have tried almost everything, from step aerobics to jazzercise, cardio machines and free weights, to yoga and “barre burn”–but I’m not naturally athletic.  When I was younger, my hard-working immigrant parents had the best intentions for me, but instead of enrolling me in soccer or volleyball where I could practice drills and build stamina, improve my social skills and maybe stop eating lunch by myself, they thought hours practicing the piano, flute and French in complete solitude would prepare me for life.  The end result was an awkward childhood.  So when it comes to sports, I have no skills, grace or eye-hand coordination.  I was reminded of this most recently when my temperamental Argentinian tennis coach stopped calling me back to schedule our lessons.

Tennis lessons always ended in tears for the both of us!

Tennis lessons always ended in tears for the both of us!

Thus, the gym has been the place for me to get some exercise, as long as I don’t have to serve, kick or dribble a ball.

For a long time, the one area of the gym that I felt was off-limits to me was the weight room, the area designated for free weights; this is the space that usually takes up an entire mirrored wall in the gym and is lined with weights from five to 500 pounds with benches facing the wall.  I’d always avoided that area because I thought I didn’t belong there.  For one thing, it was all men that hung out there, most of them with muscles up to their ears.  For another thing, the noises coming from the weight room would scare away Dexter Morgan.  Grown men stood in front of the mirrors or lay on benches, lifting huge weights.  Loud grunts, shouts and moans could often be heard, usually followed by someone dramatically dropping the weights to the floor.  I wanted no part of that action.

But eventually I joined a gym that kept all the free weights in the weight room, even my measly 7.5 pound hand weights, so I was forced to meander over to the weight area to retrieve them. At first, I was pretty intimidated by the meaty crowd at the weights.  I apologized a lot, thanked the men working out there, would move to the furthest bench to give them room.  Once someone dropped a towel and I scampered over to get it like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, handing the murky wet towel to a bald, tattooed, pierced ‘roid-head.  “You dropped your towel, sir.”

Am I in your way, sir?

Am I in your way, sir?

Soon, however, I noticed other women using the weight area, standing in front of the mirrors doing their reps, and they seemed right at home.  It gave me more confidence to stick around and do my reps, and it dawned on me how different men and women can be when we work out.  I’m not saying all men holler like they’re being waterboarded when they lift weights, but I’ve witnessed a lot of veins popping, red faces and childbirth grunts over there (and not from the women!).  On the other hand, most women lifting weights handle the stress quietly; I guess some of us think that if you’re grunting and straining from lifting weights, maybe it’s time to check your ego and lighten your weights.

Over time I’ve become a lot more comfortable in the weight room.  Nowadays, I stand my ground when someone eyes the bench I’m using, and I stake out my space in front of the mirrors.  Who cares if I’m just lifting 7 pounds next to a guy lifting 150??  And the weight-lifting screams?  I rarely hear them anymore.

This experience got me thinking about the differences between men and women in investing.  For years, men have dominated finance and investing, presumably because they were the major breadwinners, they spent the most time in the workplace and were more likely to be socialized to be responsible for managing the family finances.  Over the past few decades, however, as more women entered the workplace and climbed the corporate ladder, there has been a shift.  Nowadays, most women are as likely to invest as men, and are often better savers than men.

How Do We Invest?

How can we learn from each other?

How can we learn from each other?

– When it comes to investing, women tend to be conservative investors and prefer a buy-and-hold strategy rather than taking a more active approach to their portfolios.  Women will invest in a carefully selected portfolio of investments based on their saving and investing goals, and then make minor changes going forward. Men, on the other hand, have a stronger stomach for risk and are more likely to move in and out of various stock positions; thus they are more likely than women to buy at market highs and sell low, often miscalculating the market.  In fact, a recent Vanguard study showed that men that make frequent changes to their portfolios will miss out and often see returns almost 1% less than their female counterparts.

– Men tend to trade more, while women prefer to sit tight–but there are many factors for this and it’s not just about knowledge or confidence in the markets. Experts believe that the investing tendencies of men and women are partially biological. A study by John Coates, a former Wall Street trader, revealed that what triggers risk-taking behavior in men is not more knowledge or skill in investing but actually high levels of certain hormones like testosterone and cortisol.  This elevated amount of testosterone encourages men to take risks mainly for the rush of it.  Women, historically the mothers and caregivers, on the other hand, focus on protection and sustenance and these characteristics also extend to investing habits.

Trader talk

Trader talk

– Men are more likely to seek advice for their finances, using newspaper articles, the internet and are more likely to hire a financial advisor.  Women on the other hand are less likely to have  financial advisor.  Many may seek professional advice with a spouse but otherwise, most women more on friends and family to help them with their finances. And when they do have a financial advisor, studies reveal that many women are dissatisfied with their advisor.

– Confidence is an issue.  A recent Prudential study on how men and women invest, it revealed that men tend to be more confident when managing their finances than women, are more comfortable with different types of investments and strategies and make their own investment decisions.  Women, on the other hand, are less aware of investment strategies and feel less confident.  As a result, many women tend to make conservative choices and seek FDIC-backed investments–safety without the higher yields of the market.

Speaking The Same Language; How Can Men and Women Learn From Each Other?

– Because women live an average of 5-7 years longer than men do, longevity is a factor and retirement income must last.  Consider stocks and alternative investments to provide more exposure to the market.   In addition, while women statistically save more than men do, they spend less time in the workforce, and often leave work entirely or take many years off during their peak earning years (ages 35-50) to raise children and/or care for ageing parents.  Men are more likely to invest in equities but should think twice before moving positions.

Diversification is key.  Investing the bulk of your money in bonds or in company stock may seem safe but could be detrimental in the long run; the investment may plummet in value or fail to keep up with inflation.  When you hold a diversified portfolio that includes a mix of cash, bonds, equities and alternative investments, you’ll have  a better chance to achieve higher returns in the portfolio.

– Studies show that men learn independently about finances while women prefer to learn in groups. Education is crucial!  Both men and women could benefit from mixing it up once in a while.  Make sure you that you are using the right online tools and webinars, attending seminars and face-to-face meetings and getting the big picture from the experts.  While the internet is a great source of knowledge for financial literacy and investing, attending occasional live seminars give you the chance to ask questions and hear questions and answers from the group.  Be sure that the “expert” is a true expert and is focused on providing financial education rather then selling you products.

Have the right mixture of curiosity and confidence.  If you don’t already, challenge yourself to learn more about the financial markets by reading one article a day on Bloomberg.com or yahoofinance.com, and watch 10 minutes a day of market news.  Talk to friends and family about their investing behavior, impressions on the market or the economy.  The more we’re engaged in the markets, the more we learn and the more confidence we attain as a result.  However, while confidence is good, overconfidence leads to risky behavior, erratic movements and poor decision-making so remember to think twice and do a little extra research before taking the plunge.

Find the right financial advisor and meet (by telephone or in person) on a quarterly basis.  Make sure you’re  in touch with your advisor, ask questions, check on your  own investments and make changes when appropriate, and if they aren’t hustling for your business it’s time to find a new advisor.


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