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“I discovered my husband’s mountain of debt” – meet the women taking on the stock market from home

Fifty years on from women being admitted to the London Stock Exchange, we hear from women who are taking financial control, and look at how you can become an investor too.

My financial world imploded when I was in my late forties. I was living with my husband and two children in a four-bedroom home. We had a manageable mortgage, I was debt-free and was even saving a bit every month. Then I found out my husband had a gambling addiction.

Instead of the comfortable existence I thought we’d created, we were teetering on a mountain of debt (more than six figures). My savings evaporated.

Over the coming years we split up, sold the house, and I moved into a two-bedroom flat. Just when I thought things had levelled off, the tech business I’d founded ten years earlier collapsed. My sister had to reassure me that if I couldn’t pay the rent we could move in with her.

This was not supposed to happen. I’d always been careful with money, living to a budget and saving up over time. However, my approach had not insulated me against unexpected crisis. To be honest, it hadn’t even insulated me against changes in the economy; even before the divorce I’d seen my savings decline as interest rates sunk.


What I’ve learned

It’s never too late to start, whether you’re 50, 60 or in your seventies.

Read the business and money sections of the papers for a foundation of knowledge – I always used to recycle it, along with the cricket specials.

By using a little bit of money you can afford to lose, you remove the pressure. ‘We think, wrongly, that you need a lot of money and specialist knowledge to start investing, when in fact you can start with £25 a month or less,’ says Claer Barrett, Serious Money columnist at the FT and author of What They Don’t Teach You About Money (Penguin). ‘Investing apps have features to get started quickly and put your money to work. Google “robo advisors” and “starter funds”.’

I like Money Matters by AJ Bell and The Which? Money Podcast.

Make financial housekeeping part of your weekly routine.

There are loads of tools, worksheets, sites and apps, for example SnoopMoney Dashboard and Emma, plus budgeting templates on Microsoft Office, Google Sheets and Money Saving Expert.

Do it with a group, so you learn alongside others.

I’d always thought of financial planning and investment as a boring necessity and left ‘money things’ to my husband, an accountant. That was his thing more than mine, I told myself. I’m not alone in that.

Yet women need to invest: we live longer, so need more money to last us through life; we typically earn less than men and take more career breaks so may have smaller pensions and fewer savings. Investing is one of the most important ways to build wealth.

Stock market-based investments tend to do better than cash or savings over the long-term, according to the Government-backed

This is the perfect time to re-evaluate your relationship with investing. It’s 50 years since women stockbrokers were first admitted to the London Stock Exchange (LSE). When those first six women walked onto the teak floor in 1973, it was a symbolic but also practical change.

Before then, women could work as stockbrokers, but without being members of the LSE, couldn’t become partners in their companies.

a woman in business wear surrounded by menCredit: Alarmy
Muriel Wood, one of six women first admitted to the Stock Exchange on 2 March 1973

I’ll never be a stockbroker, but I knew I had to change my approach and start to get serious about managing my money. So about 18 months after leaving my grand house, I began a new investment project with four friends also in their fifties, none of whom had any specialist knowledge.

We were tired of feeling financially out of control, so we set up regular calls, sharing tips and advice. We talked about our wins and losses and what we were investing in. And as we knew we weren’t the only ones feeling this way, we recorded our chats and turned them into a podcast called Women Take Stock.

There was an immediate response: women wrote to us with relief. They, too, wanted to change their financial story, but felt they didn’t know how, were embarrassed about lack of knowledge and ashamed they hadn’t done it earlier.

Women don’t invest as frequently or as much money as men, studies show. According to research by AJ Bell, a low-cost platform for the DIY investor, only a quarter of women think they’re on track to have the income needed for retirement; 15% have no savings or investments.

My new investing mantra is ‘Watch, learn, evaluate’ rather than my previous one of ‘Panic, feel guilty, run away’.

“When you talk about investing, people assume it’s all Gordon Gekko [from the film Wall Street] – alpha men in suits prepared to risk it all,” says Danni Hewson, a former BBC journalist, finance analyst and presenter for the AJ Bell podcast, Money Matters.

It’s true, women are more risk averse, studies show. Yet, we do more research and stay calmer when investments fall, which can make us better investors. Overall, our investments outperform men’s by a small margin, studies confirm.

For me, the prospect of losing a lot of money was scary. I chose 70% low-risk long-term investments such as mutual and index funds, with 30% higher-risk investments in well-researched growth stocks that are expected to grow faster than the market. I want to benefit from what I’ve learned, but with a solid base in case riskier bets don’t go my way.


For my first investment, I spent £100 on one stock in 2021 after following it for months. It went up a little and I sold. I got ambitious and invested more. My investment has lost 61% of its value. But whenever I go back to the company fundamentals, I still think it’s a money maker in the long term, so I’m sticking with it.

I even put a small bit of money in crypto. And after following the news about it, sold for a profit of £30. Woohoo! In the scheme of things it’s a small amount but the experience taught me that I’d prefer to stick to more traditional investments.

For investments I do make, I’ve taken the long view with an active trading account, a couple of pensions, an ISA and a self-invested pension plan. One is down £2,000 from a year ago. But I’ve got time to let the markets recover, and I feel comfortable with the choices I’ve made. My new investing mantra is ‘Watch, learn, evaluate’ rather than my previous one of ‘Panic, feel guilty, run away’.

It’s easy to get started: free online education abounds, with many investing platforms having easy-to-follow courses. “There’s opportunity out there for everybody to invest,” says Hewson. “You don’t have to see a stuffy investment manager or bank manager. You can do it on your phone.”

The woman beating professional investors

In 2000, a group of women in Dorset decided to form a small investment club. “The joke was that in 10 years we might have enough money for a facelift if we needed it,” says Christine Smyth, 68, a former hotelier and youngest of the group (pictured below, far right). Her sister Pam Stebbings is the accountant and treasurer.

The China Dolls Investments Club started with 14 members and has had nine for the past 15 years. Members put in an initial £100 plus £30, later £40, per month.

They can own different numbers of units in the club investments, but the results tell the story of their success: returns ranging from +46% to +86%. That beats 99% of professional fund managers. The China Dolls meet regularly at one of the members’ homes.

Eight women in businesswear standing in a lineCredit: China Dolls
The China Dolls Investments Club

A club has a formal structure, with rules, a constitution, tax requirements and a pot of money that everyone contributes to. They purchase stocks as a group and everyone owns shares (or units) of the club’s portfolio.

Gains, losses and dividends are reported to HMRC via a special Investment Club Certificate form. If you exit the club, it buys back your shares/units so they remain in the club’s portfolio.

“We can withdraw money whenever we like,” says Christine. Most have left all the money within the club, but some have taken out amounts for purchases such as a car or holiday. Some have bought extra shares.

As for what the club buys, “It’s a completely democratic vote,” she says. The women pay attention to trends, read the business pages of the papers every day and share ideas via a WhatsApp group.

Alongside core holdings like drinks company Diageo, there are small and medium-sized firms in their portfolio such as Genus plc and Fever-Tree, listed on the Alternative Investment Market, an exchange for smaller companies.

They’re looking now at private health providers because of the crisis in the NHS, plus technologies of the future, including firms that develop vaccines, hydrogen gas energy and wind turbines.

Among their picks: Agronomics Ltd, which uses cell cultures to produce meat without the need for animals, and tidal energy giant Simec Atlantis. They have 26 companies in their portfolio and hold their shares long term.

Christine says there’s no such thing as being too old to set up an investment club. “Normally in your twenties and thirties you’re leading a busier life. Your money situation may not be as flexible as when you’re older. I don’t think investing is age-related. It’s a mental attitude.”


Written by Jennifer Howze