Women’s health articles
Taking charge of your money — and your life
by Dixie Mills, MD, FACS
In recent years, women have begun making more money. There are more women listed
in the Fortune 500, and there are many more independent women now than a generation
before. Despite these trends, for many of us, money still remains a taboo topic.
While I cannot claim any intuitive luck in the market, or offer prophetic advice
on its direction, I can say that this is a good time to take stock of one’s
own money matters.
For years I resisted putting together any ten-year goals, including a financial
plan, blindly counting on fate and my own desires to direct me. I didn’t know
I had any or wasn’t interested in financial power, and in this way, like many
women I know, I gave mine away too easily. Recently, however, I’ve come to
see the wisdom of knowing more about money. Perhaps it’s because I’ve
seen too many women lose their partners to unforeseen circumstances, like death
or divorce, and be shouldered with new and unexpected financial responsibilities.
Or perhaps it’s because we now know that most women outlive their male counterparts
by seven to ten years. Regardless, what I’ve learned along the way is that
money matters can be interesting, and even fun!
So in this newsletter, I want to share my story, and hopefully get you started (or
restarted) on your road to financial independence, whether it is in the form of
opening a savings account or funding an index fund. Like that old adage, “There
is no time better than the present,” it’s incumbent on women of all
ages to know the state of their financial health as well as that of their bodies.
After all, this is knowledge that can help you to make the best, most informed choices
for yourself and your family.
Money and your family history
The lessons we learn about how to manage money begin early, and they can be hard
habits to break when we’re older. I grew up believing that money was pretty
much the root of all evil. It could be due to the fact that I grew up in the 60’s
with the “flower children,” but mine was a post-Depression household
of Scottish parents where we were taught to save, and not to spend. Now I realize
that I was somewhere between a penny pincher and cheap — some of my friends
were given whatever they wanted as children, while others I know were not as fortunate,
as their families had more financial ups and downs growing up.
The fact is, every family has its own comfort zone with money. Most stay within
their safe area, but once they realize that they aren’t betraying anyone,
some can reach past it with success. Families also tend to have certain hexes about
money. One of ours was that no one in the family had a “green thumb”
about money, or any luck with it (my father, for example, invested in land in Texas
that was supposed to have oil on it — well, it didn’t.)
So speaking with other members of your family about your family’s financial
history is a good place to start. There are usually some good stories to share,
and doing so will help you begin to move away from thinking about money as “the
root of all evil,” or even as a taboo subject.
Why am I afraid of managing money?
To help you begin the process of caring about your money matters, it’s extremely
important to understand where your feelings about money come from. We are all different,
and there are reasons why your approaches to money differ from everyone else’s.
Answering the following questions will help you identify your own ingrained ideas
about money, and will help you identify what approaches work, and what might have
- Growing up I thought money was...
- My father taught me that money was...
- My mother taught me that money was...
- In terms of money, I’ve always thought I would have...
- If I won the lottery, I would...
- My first memory of money is...
- I am smart about money because...
- What scares me about money is...
- I would risk a lot to have...
We all grow up surrounded by whatever is culturally valuable, and the way in which
men and women are viewed when talking about money can be very different. Many of
us avoid thinking about or managing money because when we were young, we were taught
that all this was information girls didn’t need to know. I don’t remember
any rich women role models growing up, and even today many people feel threatened
by rich and powerful women, thinking of them more as “mean queens ”
than benevolent, knowledgeable Warren Buffetts.
In many families, these gender differences can begin pretty much from the day we’re
born: girls play “house” with their dolls; boys learn about sports and
stocks. We all learned sometime in school how to balance a checkbook, but, unfortunately,
for most women that was the last of their real financial education. While some women
figure out how to plan a household budget with the family earnings out of urgent
necessity, most of us were not taught how to invest or grow money. Some may think
the best place for it is under the mattress or in the candy jar, but both of those
spots are like putting plants in a dark closet — they will never grow without
some sun and water.
The truth is that many women end up doing some pretty foolish stuff by accepting
less than they deserve. We are selling ourselves short by not believing in ourselves,
or downright fearing money management, and this kind of unhealthy fear can affect
every aspect of our lives: fear can keep us in a job or even a marriage for much
longer than we should stay, and it can prevent us from thinking that we can do better,
and seeing the many other healthier and happier options right in front of us.
Your money and your spouse
Now you may be thinking, “Do I really need to read this? I’m taken care
of. My husband and I have everything planned.” Well, if you have, you’re
one of the few. But do you really know what your circumstances would be if something
happened to your partner? How often do you communicate with your partner on financial
matters? Have you carefully looked over your mutual assets? Do you understand them?
In other words, will you know what to do if something were to happen?
Men grow up with very different assumptions about money — they never expected
a knight to ride in on a white horse and rescue them. So it may be easier to discuss
the basics of money and your insecurity (statistics say that only 1% of American
women would give themselves an “A” in finances) about the subject with
other women, or perhaps a sympathetic male.
And what you may not know is that most financial experts recommend that women now
have at least one separate account, either for their own pleasure, or for
the future. There are frightening statistics about how women (and men also) are
unprepared for retirement — but remember that women are the ones living longer,
and living alone. And taking care of your financial health is just as important
as taking care of your body, if for no better reason than because it affords you
the means to care for your body.
The good news is that you have taken the first step by reading this article, so
after speaking with your family about your history with money, the next thing to
do is a self-assessment: what is your education level about money? What education
plan might suit you best? Some of this you may know already, but hopefully you will
find something a little different here.
Educating yourself about money
I personally got bored a long time ago with balancing my checkbook. On-line banking
seemed a lot easier. But then I realized how I’d just been maintaining my
comfort zone — I’d only traveled to another English-speaking country,
so to speak. I knew the words “CDs,” and “savings accounts”
and “interest accounts,” but I’ve now started to see that looking
at stocks and other investments is like traveling to a foreign country: in order
to understand the basics, there is a lot I want to research, and there are a lot
of different terms to learn — if not a whole new language!
I try to learn about one new area of money a week — stocks, mutual funds,
index funds, bonds, T-bills, dividends, etc. My new goal is to enjoy reading
a financial prospectus, and I will admit I haven’t reached it yet! But I would
eventually like to understand the information rather than toss it in the recycle
stack, so I’ve found the following resources to help me reach this goal, which
may be of help to you as well:
- Enroll in a course at a local college.
- Take an on-line course on personal finances, and figure out your own net worth and
- Read a book on women’s finance — see later for some recommendations.
- Make appointments with a few different financial advisors, and get second opinions.
- Form a money club with a group of friends.
- Make a book club choice about a money book (again, see list at end of article for
The best money courses address our financial blueprint along with family and cultural
values first. If they don’t, they’re probably not worth the money, and
you’ll only get so far with them. So I’d like to share three of my favorite
female money experts’ advice in depth, and let you choose which one you like
to pursue further, though I’d encourage you to explore each.
Who are the money experts who can help me?
Barbara Stanny. The first expert I’d like to share
with you is Barbara Stanny.
I’m starting with her because I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting
her in person several times. Barbara tells her personal story of being the daughter
of the “R” in H&R Block, yet knowing almost nothing about money,
and having her first husband gamble away most of her inheritance right in front
of her eyes.
This was quite a wake-up call for her, so Barbara set out to interview women about
money (see her Secrets of Six-Figure Women), then taught herself
how to manage and grow finances. And now she is teaching other women. As she writes
in her book, Prince Charming Isn’t Coming, she has found
the Prince Charming Syndrome or “PC Syndrome” alive and well in the
new millennium. She first wrote that book in 1997, but with the new edition she
found that along with the Baby Boomers, even 20-somethings are seduced by this myth,
even if it isn’t exactly a shining knight on a white horse.
In her workshops Barbara provides many pearls, but three easy ones to remember involve
these simple steps you can take daily, weekly, and monthly:
- First, try to read something about money every day, even if it’s
just to peruse the headlines in the business section of the paper. Before long,
you can graduate to the Wall Street Journal.
- Next, every week talk about money. Form a club or schedule a professional
appointment or two.
- Then, every month, save some amount.
This incorporates the thinking, talking and doing aspects of any practice.
Kim Kiyosaki. Then there is the powerful woman behind
the man. Kim Kiyosaki is the wife and business partner of Robert Kiyosaki of the
Rich Dad, Poor Dad book series. She has a book out called Rich Woman: Because I Hate Being Told What to Do,
in which she shares hers and Robert’s story. But she also incorporates the
stories of several of her women college friends and their ideas about money and
finance, and what changes they need to make. On her website, RichWoman.com, Kim also discusses fears about money and how
to manage them, and offers lots of suggestions through multi-media to help women
claim their financial independence.
Suze Orman. Last but not least is Suze Orman, who is probably the mother of women’s financial
literacy. Suze offers up a wealth of information in her books, tapes, CD’s,
and on her PBS and other television shows. In her most recent book, Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny,
she admits that she never thought she needed to write a book for women. She thought
women could handle their finances as well as any man, and that it just plain wasn’t
Editor’s Note: We try to keep our articles updated with new and interesting
information that becomes available after publication. Recently, a new resource became
available that we felt would be of interest to the readers of this article. That
resource is the new book by financial analyst Brent Kessel. As a practitioner of yoga and a co-founder
of Abacus Portfolios, Brent has a unique perspective on how we handle our finances
according to our “money archetypes,” as explained in his book, It’s Not About the Money. He views money as a
form of energy that we use in accordance with specific patterns that develop out
of our individual life experiences. Our wants, needs, fears, and past experiences
have powerful effects on how we handle our money, whether it be spending habits,
saving patterns, or debt. Especially for women who have been accustomed to living
in a situation where a parent, partner, or spouse has control over finances, understanding
the patterns that characterize your relationship with money can be particularly
valuable when the time comes — as it almost always does! — for you to
take responsibility for your own financial life.
The good news for novice investors: women in general tend to do very well at investing
once they become empowered through education. “The feminine characteristic
of emotional intelligence when making decisions is one of the main hallmarks of
a successful investor,” says Brent. Women also more readily identify the emotional
drivers — fear, shame, envy, anger, or helplessness — that may steer
some of their financial habits or decisions into negative territory, helping them
to avoid those pitfalls. One helpful resource in the book is an exercise called
“The Worst Case Scenario”, in which you’ll take yourself through
a guided visualization of your fears about your finances. “What you’ll
find,” says Brent, “is that you have inner resources that you don’t
Then she realized that some of her closest women friends — accomplished women
she assumed should know better — were clueless about money. They weren’t
talking about it, and some were even hiding it, or just weren’t listening.
But then you can read the book to find out more. This is Suze’s eighth book
and she covers everything from A to Z, from every kind of insurance coverage, wills,
trusts, savings accounts, and getting out of debt to investing. You can learn more
on her website, SuzeOrman.com.
The link between your health and your wealth
There are many different ways that we can define how to be wealthy. Women have come
a long way to obtain power and rights to our own bodies and health, and we need
to realize that we can do the same with money. I’ve always been struck with
the funny similarity between the words “health” and “wealth.”
The words sound the same, and we all find different ways of defining relationships
between the two.
Although much of what creates both health and wealth are individual, day-to-day
decisions, all the money in the world can’t buy good health. Likewise, perfect
health doesn’t guarantee financial wealth, but it can help us appreciate what
we have, help us to learn more about our money and ourselves, and help us live wealthier
lives overall. But the ways to obtaining both health and wealth come down to the
formula I’ve discussed in this article:
- Get educated on your personal history.
- Look at your feelings and fears, and then learn the facts.
- Take some action — knowing that it will take time, and there may be some detours.
Once you start actively changing the way you approach and talk about money, you
can begin to understand the meaning of risk with money, and what your comfort level
is with it. We can think of learning about money as a form of smart shopping —
do some window shopping first, try on a few things, mull it over, perhaps purchase
a few, and rest assured you have some time if you need to return things that don’t
work well for you. Some items may sit in the closet for a long time, while there
are others you will wear every day. Remember that risk does not always mean loss!
Knowing your financial self-worth is an ongoing process, but even taking the smallest
action can only build one’s self-reliance and self-esteem upward.
Giving back and making a difference
In the last several years, I have spent some time trying to be more open about giving.
We women give so much of our time and energy to our families and friends, but I’ve
started thinking about being compassionate with my money also. We all have different
ways to “tithe,” and it’s a good practice. Many of us have been
taught that if we think about money too much, or if we learn about ways of controlling
our money, we will appear as the “mean queen,” or greedy and selfish.
The same idea hardly applies to men, who are rewarded for seeking financial independence!
Giving can be small and random, or bigger and calculated, or any combination. I’ve
found a few charities which I think matter and address issues out there which I
personally think are worthwhile. I’ve also researched them and found that
they do not have high administrative costs. Donations are tax deductible also!
Changing how you think about money
Have you ever thought, “If I’m so smart, why am I so dumb about money?”
You are in good company — but it’s time to start making a change in
your thinking. Money management can be learned, and it is very unlikely that anyone
will view you as greedy for taking charge of your finances. After all, understanding
money is a great tool for giving us more choices: it can help us take charge of
our lives, and it can help us protect ourselves, and those we care about the most.
Like anything else, it’s impossible to change your financial knowledge or
independence without first recognizing that change is possible. Though no one can
do it for you, you don’t have to do it alone! There are really no secrets,
but it does take some guidance and practice. It is probably just as simple as spend
a little less, save a little more, invest some, and then give back generously.
Thinking positively tends to breed positive results, and using any of the strategies
I’ve discussed will hopefully help you begin to visualize where you stand
in your relationship with money today, and more specifically, where you would like
to go from here. What better time than the season for giving to give yourself a
better education about money? It is a gift that is bound to grow.
Our Personal Program is a great place to start
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Related to this article:
References & further reading
on taking charge of your money
Last Modified Date: 04/19/2011
Principal Author: Dixie Mills, MD, FACS