Love and Money Cloud Financial Security
Two days later, I was speaking about money and its role in our lives as women. As I looked around, I loved that the room overﬂowed with women of all ages from many walks of life.
I opened the subject by talking to this friendly gathering about my own relationship with money.
I began: “Ever since I was a child, I had a taste for nice things. And when I grew older, I learned to love beautiful clothes, excellent shoes, good leather handbags, and well-designed jewelry. But I certainly didn’t know how I would be able to afford everything I desired, nor did my parents. In fact, shortly before I graduated from college, I recall my father telling me, ‘Joan, you’re not going to be able to live on minimum wage.’ Boy, was he right! And it didn’t take too long for me to encounter my first money crisis, which surfaced when I decided to go to graduate school.
“My parents paid my tuition for college—Denison University in Granville, Ohio—where, thinking I would go to nursing school, I majored in biology. But the brewing feminist storm that influenced and changed women’s lives helped pilot me in another direction—business school. Without knowing exactly what the business world would be like, I sensed I’d have a lot more freedom and opportunity and different challenges than I would as a nurse. Today, it’s fairly common for women to seek an MBA. But i was in that early group of women who went to business school when it was a new frontier for females. And for graduate school, I was financially on my own.
“My pioneer days began in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, and that’s where my first money challenges began. My tuition, room, and board for the year came to about $10,000. I had borrowed part of the money for my grad school costs from the government’s student loan program, and I had received partial scholarships from Betty Crocker and Oscar Mayer. But the rest of the money eluded me. I lay awake at nights wondering how I was ever going to pay the school, and needless to say, I had one giant stomachache.
“I worked long and hard to keep aﬂoat. I held three jobs. I was a clerk in the dean’s office and an assistant in the school library. I also worked as an aide to the state treasurer in Tennessee reviewing state programs, like minimum-security prisons and group homes for troubled adolescents. But what I earned still wasn’t always enough to keep me going. I was very much alone. I felt insecure and frightened, and I remember thinking how nice it would be to have a trust fund—something that would regularly pay me cash without my having to work so hard for it.
“My money tensions threw my Wheel of Life into a skid. I didn’t eat properly and began losing weight. Emotionally, I became extremely uptight about practically everything and allowed little things to upset my peace of mind. I felt like I was struggling to survive—and I was. But my anxieties did not defeat me. In retrospect, although I considered myself poor when I was in grad school, I was really poor only in my thinking. And with poverty on the brain, I made some unfortunate choices. A few had long-term complications.”
Love and Money
“To begin with, I borrowed $2,500 from the guy I was dating so I could finish grad school and earn my MBA. It seemed like all the money in the world to me, and in my desperation to complete my degree, I allowed love and money to get hopelessly entangled. I wound up marrying this man, and in my heart of hearts I knew that one of the reasons I was marrying him was because I was afraid I couldn’t pay back my loan. That may seem silly now, but not too many women—even a woman with an MBA—were secure about their own abilities, despite the flowering of the women’s independence.
“Then I compounded the error by taking a wrong turn in my career, again allowing love and money to become entangled. I turned down the job I really wanted: financial analyst in the commercial credit department of a bank in the South. Instead, I accepted the same position for less money at a bank in the same state because my husband-to-be was working in the same city.
“Looking back, I now find it interesting that I never really considered the universe of available jobs. I could have worked anywhere in the world, and the opportunities probably would have been far greater in any of a dozen cities around the country, but I didn’t have the courage to seek out those jobs because I felt bound to go where my fiancé was. This was a strange time for women because it was well before many of the molds in which we were formed were still unbroken. And one of the assumptions I hadn’t shaken was that a woman “followed her man.” Negotiating a fair, equal compromise between partners wasn’t an option.
“We didn’t get married immediately. Instead, I began to carve out a career for myself in banking. I was earning about $25,000 a year. At the time, it was one of the highest salaries that particular bank had ever paid a woman. Unfortunately, business school didn’t teach me very much about personal finances, so I squeezed my paycheck to buy clothes, trinkets, and items for my apartment.
“Grad school had also neglected to teach me other lessons, too— lessons my first job taught me about the place of women in corporate America. Welcome to the world of sexual harassment and the glass ceiling—the world of corporate America—where the playing ﬁeld is built on male language and male rules. All of these, I discovered, can play havoc with a woman’s sense of well-being and financial security.”
Sexual Harassment and a Woman’s Sense of Financial Security
At this point in my talk in a room full of women, I could tell that others in the audience understood my message all too well. As my eyes darted about the room, I saw a sea of bobbing heads. And their faces told me that the story I went on to tell sparked some similar memories.
“The bank I worked for ran a credit school, where we learned all about lending, and I was the only woman in the class. At the end of the course, the participants celebrated with a party. I was sitting at a table with a group of other students when a top officer of the bank—let’s call him Jack—sat down next to me. At first, I was pleased to be noticed. But then I was stunned when, after some small talk, he leaned closer and whispered, ‘So, you live alone. Why don’t I come back and spend the night with you?’
“I was dumbfounded. It was immediately obvious to me that my job, which I badly needed, was at stake. But so were my integrity and self-esteem. I quickly scanned my mind for a response and asked, ‘Wouldn’t your wife miss you?’
“ ‘No,’ Jack replied. Besides, he boasted, he kept a change of clothes in his office.
“I’m not alone in falsely linking love and money. Nor am I the only woman who ever mixed up emotional insecurities with financial insecurities. But the problem was a consistent one for many years in my life. Looking back on my first marriage, I see how money became a lightning rod for emotional and psychological problems. Because my husband and I couldn’t talk about other issues, we always fought about money. According to a plan he devised, we were supposed to split all our bills. This wasn’t quite how it worked out, however. I earned about the same amount of money as he did in his marketing job for a steel company, but I gave up more than half my paycheck to the household expenses.
“Furthermore, like many women at that time, I also allowed my husband to take charge of paying the bills and making all our investments. Our money fights contributed significantly to my decision to end the marriage. By the time I left him, I had no idea what investments and cash we had or even how to access them”—the same bind in which Linette, the soon-to-be-divorced marketing specialist, now finds herself. “The truth is that when I left him, I became destitute—I felt what it was like to be on the streets and to wonder how my basic needs were going to be met. How could this happen to me—an MBA? My husband had controlled all the assets and I had nothing. Since I had left him so quickly, he was angry, and at that point, he wasn’t going to give me anything. The lawyers dragged their feet and wanted me to pay them before they made things happen. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Eventually, I had to depend on my family. Luckily, they were there.
“It’s ironic. Here I was, someone who worked in the investment world, and I was as dumb as a mongoose regarding my own money concerns. I still longed for a trust fund, but at no time had I stopped to ask myself, ‘What am I doing to make sure I don’t become a bag lady? What am I doing to ensure my financial future?’ I had surrendered control of my finances in the name of love, and now I had no game plan of my own. And I knew that my money confusion was limiting my options and preventing me from getting on with life.
“It’s interesting how love slows down the brain when it comes to money. I’ve had unmarried female clients tell me that, in their heart of hearts, they believed that if they had their financial futures all set up and were independent, they’d never attract a man. ‘How can a man care for me, if I can take care of myself ?’—their brains queried. It’s a peculiar slant in our culture: A man doesn’t want, or is threatened by, a woman who assumes what society traditionally has considered to be a man’s role—providing and controlling the cash. The corollary is that if you accumulate money before the love of your life comes along, you might make yourself less lovable. A woman might shy away from being more savvy about money than the man in her life so she won’t appear to be ahead of him in the money game. ‘Women aren’t supposed to do better than a man,’ we’ve been wrongly told.
“Where do all these weird ideas come from? And why do they persist after decades of battles on
behalf of the rights and freedoms of women? Who knows. Whatever the source, all of this antiquated thinking limits our sense of self and keeps us dependent. By confusing love and money, we put off making long-term financial plans. And without these plans, our futures will always be in doubt.” My hope, wish, dream is that this is changing for women. With more financial security we will have more voice, in a world that needs us to stand up and speak with heart and soul.