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it’s money, honey: how we gender financial security

Image: www.401kcalculator.org/ via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image: www.401kcalculator.org/ via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I was seated in a small, sunny room that smelled of dusty carpet. Across the table from me, looking at my upturned palms, was a man with a long beard and thinning hair around his temples. He traced a line along the meaty part of my palm, just below my fingers.

‘You’re not money-minded,’ he said. ‘You’re nurturing. You care more about what you do than what you get for doing it.’

I nodded, buying into his assessment of me in the way most people would buy into vague statements phrased in a flattering light. I would get married, he said. I would become a mother, he said. I would have three children, he said.

Okay, he lost me.

My reading was a far cry from my boyfriend’s, who had gone immediately before me.

‘You care more about monetary success now than you used to,’ David the palm reader had told Max. ‘Your career will take you overseas. You need more power to accomplish what you want to do.’

Funnily, my boyfriend is a professional activist who has devoted his life to helping others. Me? I’m a slave to the corporate machine. I have a degree in advertising and a haze of concern for my financial prosperity always in my periphery.

But money is gendered. Girls want love; boys want money – even palm-readers know it.

Writing this, and despite the clear gaps in David’s reading, there’s a part of me that believes the stereotype. Love is so much more important to me than money. You can’t eat money, it won’t keep you warm at night, it won’t make you friends, and it can’t make you happy. Money is merely a facilitator. Of course I would choose love over it.

Still, there are many reasons to value money, and they aren’t stupid reasons either. Economic independence has been at the heart of the struggle for women’s liberation. Much like having a room of one’s own, having one’s own money allows for increased independence and freedom. When a woman is granted economic liberty, she is granted the opportunity to make genuine choices about her life. A woman with money doesn’t need a man to “take care” of her.

The truth is that too many women choose love over cash. I saw financial lawyer Peggy O’Neal speak at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre for International Women’s Day a while back. She spoke about widowed women, too many of them, being taken completely by surprise after their husbands’ death. They were left with nothing, and had no idea it was coming. Worse than not having back-up plan, they hadn’t even considered needing one. One woman, Peggy said, was so out of the loop of her own finances that she had to be shown how to cash a check for the first time.

So while the idea of putting love before money appeals to the romantic in me, I don’t think it’s something I can, as a woman, do in good conscience.

There’s a flipside, though. I can be so money conscious that I download several budgeting apps, create numerous excel spreadsheets, and set my budget so tight that one moderately-sized night out with friends will inevitably bust through it. I’ve chosen not eating over spending $9.50.

‘You have exceeded your spending limit,’ Pocketbook, my budgeting app, tells me at least three times per week. I hate my budgeting app, but I also love it. I may often exceed my stringent budget, but it still helps me save in the long run.

Like an ill-tempered dog with a bone, I keep my money close to my chest. I become a hoarder, building my safety net up and up and up with no real purpose. And then, occasionally, I will spend a chunk of it and feel like the ultimate thrill-seeker, living life with utmost abandon. I usually regret this, and immediately start hoarding again.

My mother thinks it’s weird to be so money conscious at my age. I get where she’s coming from. I don’t know many people who can hold an interesting conversation and also think about consolidating their super on their lunch break. But I also believe more people should think about consolidating their super. Especially women. We’re probably going to live four years longer than boys. And if David the palm reader is right, we’re likely going to take more time off work to raise those three kids, too.

One of my closest friends is basically the polar opposite of me. ‘I fucking suck at money’, she says. One time she told me a story about taking $100 out of an ATM and then absentmindedly leaving it in the machine. She was a few grand in debt at the time, and had perhaps $200 in her account.

‘I was so used to having no money at the time, I was just like whatever,’ she says.

It wasn’t even my money and the story sent pangs of anxiety-riddled adrenaline through my body. She didn’t seem phased.

I know I’m a highly-strung person. I like to be in control. And I’m sure my attitudes about money are a manifestation of that, as well as a privilege of my upper-middle-class upbringing. But I also think that money is something that women don’t have enough control over. I’m not saying we should value the power of money; I’m saying that we need to empower ourselves by knowing how to manage money.

We need to learn our value, and feel comfortable asking for that. We need to keep our long-term financial security in mind. We need to learn to talk about money with one another, with our bosses, with our spouses, and with our kids. It’s only by taking the leap to inform ourselves that we can then empower ourselves.

The palm reader was right: money isn’t the most important thing in my life. But it’s only through the privilege of understanding how to manage money that it doesn’t have to be.

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