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WIGS - An Investment Club For Women

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Several ladies, nearly all retired, sat in the non-fiction section of the Glenwood Public library recently for their monthly meeting. Minutes from the last meeting were read, a treasurer’s report was read and a presentation was given.  From the outside, it seemed like the monthly meeting of any social club in any small town across America.  Listening in, however, one notices their treasurer’s report does not include funds coming from a bake sale.

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    The Women’s Investment Group Society (WIGS) is a group of local women who take their finances seriously. Since fall 1993, these women have come together once a month to invest money.
    The group started at about the same time as a local investment group for couples called Munificent Order of Neophite Investors (MONI).
    “Retha (McGinnis) and I started with MONI,” said original WIGS member Jean Strom. “Unbeknownst to us, there was interest in a club for women only.”
    The group started with Strom, McGinnis, and current members Donna Bishop, Helen Tack, Carol Dean and Susie Plumer. They formed the group through the National Association of Investment Clubs, now the National Association of Investors Corp. (NAIC).
    NAIC provides guidance along with software and tech support to their investment clubs. During the boom years of the 1990s, NAIC clubs thrived. There were more than 400,000 NAIC members in 1999.  When the stock markets began to waver, so did the clubs.  By summer 2007, the NAIC estimated that there were approximately 105,000 members.
    WIGS has stayed with NAIC throughout the boom and the bust. Their members comprise approximately 20 of those 105,000 people. Each potential new member is considered by the group as a whole, then asked to join by a current member who knows that person.
    “Most of us join because we want to learn something about stocks,” WIGS member Marcia Forbes said.
    Learn they have. One person presents a stock each month. The presentation lineup rotates by the ladies’ last names.  The April presentation was made by Denise Hjelle, who discussed the financial viability of Disney. Following the presentation, the ladies debated the advantages and disadvantages of the dividends and percentages from different stocks.
    They purchase almost every month, using about $450 to $500 of available funds.  The member contribution is $100 initially, and $25 per month thereafter.  Periodically the members decide to purchase a more expensive stock, such as Berkshire Hathaway, and they refrain from spending for a couple of months in order to purchase that stock. Nancy Heaton is the club’s bookkeeper.
    The group has a diverse portfolio, with stocks ranging from the technical company Medtronic to two large box stores where many people shop. The ladies are looking for financially viable options, not socially-acceptable options.
    WIGS has invested more independently as they have gained investing knowledge.
    “In the beginning we had a full-service broker,” Strom said. “We would buy our initial share with the broker, which would allow us to acquire a DRIP (Dividend Reinvestment Plans) account.  As we have all become more computer-savvy, we decided we were ready to branch out, so we have now liquidated the DRIP accounts and have an account with Ameritrade.”
    Investing as a group is a benefit to each member.
    “As a group, we can develop a portfolio that we could not develop to this degree individually,” Strom said. “It’s also kind of a social thing. We were all acquainted before, but have become closer friends through this,” Strom said.
    Recent retiree Denise Crawford, one of the younger members of the group, joined in 1997 and has enjoyed becoming financially savvy through this group.
    “I did not know much about investing when I started,” Crawford said.  “Maybe it’s just my personality, but I was just more comfortable with an all-women’s group.  I knew all these ladies already, so I was comfortable investing with them. I’m more aware of financial things now. It has also given me a better grasp of the world around us. I did not realize before that if markets in other countries crash, it impacts all of us.  Belonging to the group has inspired me to start investing on my own.”
    The group does periodically lose members due to death or illness. If a member can no longer be a part of WIGS, the group has 90 days to liquidate her assets, according to  NAIC bylaws.  Strom said they try to liquidate as quickly as possible because “it’s of no benefit to them or us to keep the money tied up.”
    The group figures out how much money is due to that member, then decides what stocks to sell in order to get the money to pay her, or her beneficiary.
    As the group invests money collectively, they also try their luck individually in a year-long contest called, jokingly, “Get Rich by Christmas.”  Those members who are interested throw $5 into a kitty on a stock that they think is going to do well throughout the year. Members then keep track of how well that stock performs. In December, the group has a social outing for their December meeting, during which the member whose stock has performed the best is presented with the entire kitty.  Not every member participates, but those members who do always have fun with their choice.
    “It’s interesting to see what stocks people pick,” Strom said. “We usually have one person who has one stock that goes head and shoulders above the rest.”
    Crawford said Strom believes younger women would benefit from the group, but understands that with families, jobs and other responsibilities, they may not be able to devote their time to an investing group.
    “This is something we do not teach in school,” said Strom, a retired teacher. “We teach students about mortgages, we teach them about buying a car, but not investing. As Social Security and other programs go down, people will need to know about this.”