Learning About Money
Pamela Yip (yet again) has articulated something I know deep inside, but never put into words. Her article, “Confidence: Women’s Key to Financial Literacy,” in the Dallas Morning News was written for me. And as usual I can’t help but think of it through the prism of “Making the Most of Maturity,” which is ElderAuthority’s tag line.
Even now, with all the progress women have made in earning and achieving, they are perceived as lagging behind men when it comes to financial planning. Women do somewhat better in the areas of retirement planning and estate planning, which some link to women’s need to care for the family.
Ms. Yip wonders if the way financial information is delivered could actually be the culprit. Men tend to absorb information better when it is direct and concrete, which is how most financial courses are taught. When financial information is taught within a context, such as long-term goals, women thrive.
Ms. Yip quotes Linda Descano, chief executive of Women & Co., a personal financial website for women, as saying ” Women readily admit what they don’t know. It really is that thirst for knowledge, that constantly raising the bar is how we think about money, and it creates this perception that we’re financial wallflowers when I think we are very savvy decision makers.” I am one of those women.
When I was growing up, my parents stretched my mother’s small salary in amazing ways to support the seven of us. We did not get an allowance. The money we made from baby sitting was contributed directly toward family expenses. I never recognized the power inherent in earning or enjoyed the pleasure of spending money. Neither did I recognize that I had any ability to make a living. Since I never kept the money, I just ignored it.
Oddly, my father forbade any of us to go out and get a regular job on weekends or after school. Perhaps his reasoning was that he wanted us to put all our energies into practicing music and doing well in school so that we would have a better future life. Perhaps he was proud and did not want others to perceive his children as needing to work. I experienced it as a control issue. While I did inherit my parents’ Depression Era values of frugality, I also developed a lifelong anxiety about financial independence. First because I had none, and later because I was afraid I might lose it.
Get Rid of Personal Myths
I have always perceived myself as numbers challenged. I hated math and was terrified of finance and accounting in school. I just could not learn the stuff and keep it in my head past the test. I always assumed that the men in my life knew it all. I would ask their advice about anything to do with numbers. In my first marriage I regressed to my childhood, had a direct deposit paycheck, and continued to perceive myself as both financially illiterate and unable to earn a living. I did not even acknowledge my ability as a breadwinner.
Today I understand money quite well.
I learned about real estate because I wanted to live in a better place than I could afford. I never looked at a house without thinking about how it would feel to live in it. Learning real estate math was easy because I wanted to understand it.
I have been making and losing money in the stock market for such a long time that it no longer makes me crazy. It feels kind like I have been studying a foreign language long enough that it is just a part of my thinking. I studied whatever I needed in order to learn how to make each investment as an educated guess, rather than as an uneducated bet.
I developed and managed my parents’ estate plan, which enabled them to live in comfort throughout their lives and preserved a surprisingly large inheritance for their children. My management of the family assets was my way of taking care of those I love.
Become a Financial Adult
I would go a step further than Pamela Yip. Just as there a plenty of women who have no issues with financial planning, there are also plenty of men who are intimidated by numbers and money. Adults learn when it helps them solve a life problem. Whether it is about how to stretch the paycheck to put food on the table, how to put your children through college, how to save for retirement, how to calculate the value of buying vs renting a home, or how to take over the family budget when a spouse dies or becomes cognitively impaired, we learn when we must.
Don’t wait until you absolutely must. Find ways to learn within a context that you enjoy or care about. You don’t have to learn everything, just the things that matter to you. Financial literacy givers you the tools to age with confidence and independence.