Women Talking Money Financial Evolution
I was at the Ranch in the hotel with other women as we talked money. I shifted around in the tub as an eager wind carried a slight chill and the cleansing fragrance of rosemary from a nearby bush. Ah, such sweetness. I was grateful that my life could embrace this simplicity. I felt happy to be with these women in such a joyful environment.
I hoisted myself from the tub before I became a human prune, bundled myself in a soft, thick terry robe, and took a long hard drink from my water bottle. The other women also began climbing out of the gurgling pool, and we ambled back to the locker room to shower and crawl into our sweats and sweaters. We had had such camaraderie in the hot tub and were just getting started in our conversation about money, so we decided to continue over dinner. We chose a large round table in the retreat’s dining room near an open hearth with a crackling ﬁre. After a while, June joined us when she spotted the big friendly table. She looked great, her cheeks rosy from her massage, a lift in her step. As she joined, our conversation flared, with Maggie, Linette, Rachael, June and Sadie all jumping in.
Growing Up Financially
“You know, taking care of your financial self is just as important as nourishing your body,” I said, as we began eating a spicy lentil soup.
Linette got the drift. “Women need to know more about their financial care, just as we learned more about our bodies and our health a decade ago and took charge,” the marketing expert said. Linette had a way of zeroing in on a target and getting to the nub— as long as it wasn’t her life.
She was correct in her assessment of women and money. Unfortunately, not many women are actively engaged in their financial life. That’s because, as Rachel noted earlier, no one teaches us—not at home and not at school.
Think about your own background for a minute. Did your father or mother expose you to the mysteries and realities of fiscal responsibility—discuss the importance of investing or how to plan for your nonworking years? Did your parents encourage you to save pennies, nickels, and dimes at an early age? Did your parents—or teachers—give you the skinny on how to stay out of debt, pay your bills, and meet other financial responsibilities?
“Whenever we went shopping, my mother would give me the money to pay the cashier. She used to tell me that I had to learn the value of a dollar,” Sadie said. “But she never told me how to earn that dollar and put it away and watch it expand.”
“I had a piggy bank—actually, it was a poodle,” Betty said. “My mom told me to put all my coins in there ‘for a rainy day.’ Of course, whenever it rained, I’d take out the money and buy some ice cream or go to a movie!” Everyone laughed.
“My parents didn’t speak to me about money until I got my first after-school job as a teenager,” Rachel said. “Then all they said was to open a savings account. I did, and I used it to pay for a trip to visit my sister in Baltimore. What about you, Joan? How did you learn about money?”
That was a good question—one I’d thought a great deal about and could readily answer.
“It took me years to fully understand and respect the power of money—and my power as a woman—and learn how to develop strategies for my personal money growth and health,” I said.
“I first learned about the importance of cash when I was nine years old. It was then that I ventured into my first moneymaking enterprise, running a ‘restaurant’ with a gaggle of other neighborhood kids in the backyard of a friend’s house in Decatur, Illinois. My friends and I made macaroni and cheese and hot dogs using food our moms had bought, and we sold the snacks to other kids and a few adults. On a good weekend, we could earn as much as $25. Believe me, we carefully counted those nickels and dimes and quarters! We divided our bounty, and I stowed away my share in a shoe box. I could buy whatever I wanted with my shoe-box stash, but what I most enjoyed was watching that cardboard chest ﬁll up with cash. I knew nothing of investing back then, and so it never occurred to me that I could earn money on my money.”
“When did you learn about investing?” Maggie asked, working on a salad of young greens.
“That happened a short while later, when my parents encouraged me to open a savings account at the local bank,” I said, smiling at the memory. “I remember that treasured little blue passbook and how I would watch the column of handwritten numbers grow every time I went into the bank to collect my interest.”
“Handwritten numbers?” Maggie echoed in disbelief.
“Yes. This was a small bank in a small town,” I replied. “Anyway, when I was twelve, my father gave me my own checking account. That was a radical move for the late 1970s. Even today, a seventh-grader with a personal checking account is a bit unusual. What makes it even more unusual, looking back, is that at the time, my mother didn’t have her own checking account—she shared my father’s account. It was a peculiar double standard.
“But my father wanted to teach me fiscal responsibility. And regardless of motive, his gesture did me a great service. To begin with, being one of the few kids in junior high school with a checkbook really enhanced my self-esteem. Second, as my dad had hoped, handling a checking account taught me a lot about responsibility. With my little account, which my father launched with a hefty fifty bucks, I was cautious and calculating. Each week, I looked forward to depositing my allowance and the money I earned from baby-sitting, and I happily balanced my checkbook each month, feeling oh-so-grown-up. Best of all, I had a sense that I could make some money choices—simple ones, such as what I wanted to buy for lunch, the kinds of pens and notebooks I should get, and how much I should keep in my account.
“At that point in my life, I had no idea that money could grow and vastly expand if you left it alone and didn’t spend it but invested it instead. But investing wasn’t the idea; collecting was. I liked to accumulate cash so I could spend it. As a kid, I worked a lot, usually as a baby-sitter or a lifeguard, just so I could fatten my account. I always had money when I was young. So I was very lucky. My parents gave me a strong work ethic, and my father gave me an early taste of financial responsibility.
More to the point, I found tremendous joy just by being in control. I had watched my mother struggle over money issues when I was a child. I remember how frustrated she was at times when we went shopping in St. Louis and she didn’t have enough money to buy the things she wanted. That convinced me that I wanted to be in a position to buy what I craved and not have to ask someone else—namely a man—to purchase it for me. After all, how were the men in my life going to understand that a woman needs a different pair of shoes—and the right color—to match each outﬁt?
“Later, my mother went to work, successfully launching her own travel agency and travel school. I look back on that now as one of the happiest days of my life, because she became much happier once she had some control over money matters. And I learned that having some money of my own was essential to my freedom as a woman. That’s the underlying importance of being financially sound: knowing that you’ll have a fruitful financial future. It’s as basic as being physically and spiritually healthy, because—let’s face it—cash and what to do with it are necessities of modern living and the wellspring of spiritual, physical, and mental health.”