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Bill Schultheis, The Coffeehouse Investor

“I don’t understand investing; I just manage the checkbook.”

A woman shared this comment with me a while back, and it got me thinking about how traditional gender roles relate to personal finance. Women have long been viewed as managers of the checkbook, along with the budgeting and purchasing of household goods, while men take a more active role in managing the household’s portfolio.

That notion, to me, is misguided. So I quickly responded to the woman, “Managing the checkbook is what investing is all about!”

OK, maybe it isn’t quite that simple, but I wanted her to know that the financial decisions we make in our everyday lives are much more important than trying to pick a few top-performing stocks and mutual funds.

Unfortunately, Wall Street, long a male-dominated industry with a condescending tone to boot, has led people to believe otherwise. With the prevalence of self-directed 401k retirement plans, financial literacy is more important than ever. This is especially true for women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of women when widowed is 59.4. With a life expectancy of 81, as pegged by the World Health Organization, many women should prepare to run their finances alone for two decades.

Financial literacy should begin not with a stock-picking assignment in high school, but with a renewed emphasis on the importance of “managing a checkbook” and the impact of day-to-day financial choices over one’s lifetime.

Women like the one mentioned above need not be intimidated by investing. Wall Street has a way of making our investment decisions more complicated than they need to be by bombarding clients with Monte Carlo simulations, standard deviations, 12b-1 fees, and Smart Beta funds. This information overflow either turns people away from investing, or lures them into seeking out and receiving the wrong type of financial guidance.

Fortunately, the least-intimidating portfolio is often the best-performing: one that consists solely of index and passively managed funds. From a performance standpoint, approximating the markets’ returns over your lifetime is all you should expect from your portfolio. Amid the inevitable bull and bear markets, this approach gives you complete confidence that you have made the right selection with your investments. No second-guessing yourself, especially during market declines when a stockbroker is whispering in your ear, “You can do better than that.”

Another benefit of adopting a Coffeehouse-type portfolio is that it minimizes, if not completely eliminates, the investing topic from discussion when working with a financial advisor. You can actually discuss what matters to you.

Over a lifetime, we will encounter numerous decisions that will have a significant impact on our financial well-being. For example, what is a healthy allocation between stocks and bonds? Am I saving enough? Am I properly insured? Should I pay off my mortgage? When should I take Social Security? Do I have an intelligent drawdown rate of my portfolio in place during retirement?

Addressing these types of questions, either by yourself or with a professional, is made easier when you aren’t dwelling on the one thing Wall Street loves to dwell on: the performance of your portfolio compared to the markets.

Taking charge of your financial future can seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of “425 Business.”

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