In 1999, I was 25 and getting divorced. I was making $35,000/year and owned nothing. I had an incredibly unsupportive boss who was overbearing and ego-shattering, and I was living in a town I hated. Good times.
One day, my boss sent an email out to the entire department. There was a conference in town featuring prominent female speakers and she had a ticket to give away. If you were interested, you had to write an essay about why you hoped to attend and promise to count the day as “vacation.” Any day away from her prying eyes sounded good to me, so I submitted an essay. I was the only person who did, and therefore won by default.
This conference changed my life. The only speaker I remember was Suze Orman. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I left that day knowing two things: (1) I needed a Roth IRA, and (2) I needed to be in charge of my money.
I knew nothing about how to actually do either of these things. This was when the Internet was still dial-up and everyone used AOL for e-mail. So, I went to the bookstore.
There I found a bright pink book, “A Girl Needs Cash.” Geared toward 20-something single women, I gobbled up every nugget of advice. I found a better paying job (doubling my salary), started the Roth IRA, signed up for my company’s matching 401k, and started learning more about taxes. I vowed to never put anything on credit card that I couldn’t pay for in cash. And I decided to never be shy about my personal need for money; I would not be embarrassed about needing cash and should be every bit as assertive as a man would be about obtaining financial security and independence.
There were some blips along the way: unexpected tax bills, becoming overly excited about having and furnishing a 2-bedroom beachfront apartment in my new city, the shock of an overdue $3,000 tax bill as the result of my divorce, and the absolute NEED for some date-appropriate clothing. But I made my finances a priority. Understanding my bills, my burdens, and my capabilities is what turned me from a 20-something to an ADULT.
It’s important to me to earn money and to help grow my family’s financial security. I shouldn’t have to tell you why it’s important, but in case you’ really don’t know:
- it’s good for our quality of life (vacation homes, more than enough of everything, supporting non-profit organizations, getting to live in Santa Barbara, etc.)
- A financially secure wife and mom does wonders for our family dynamics – mutual respect, less burden and pressure on the husband, etc.
- My friend who spent years as a divorce attorney tells me she has noticed a clear pattern: when the man wants the divorce, the woman has no financial power in the relationship (income or understanding of the finances); when the wife at least manages the finances, the husband is less likely to be the person seeking the divorce.
- It’s good for my self esteem; I know if -God forbid- anything happens to my husband that even if I won’t know how to fix the garbage disposal, I will be able to pay someone else to fix it. I will know where my money is and how to use it. There would be enough to worry about; the aftermath of a tragedy is no time to learn how to pay the bills.
- I want my girls to see that their educations and careers are not just means to meeting Mr. Right.
So, what’s the first step to get in control of your financial life? Here are some ideas:
- Learn where your money is and how to get to it.
- Know what your monthly expenses are.
- Know what your family’s monthly income is.
- Don’t plan to rely on the possibility of future inheritances; figure out a retirement plan today.
- If you’re not the person in charge of the family finances, spend time learning where things are and how things are done. Talk to your spouse about your insecurities in this regard and that you want to take on some of this responsibility.
- If money is tight, be creative about what you can do to help. Maybe you have a friend who works who needs a personal assistant, and you could run her errands at the same time you’re running you’re own. Maybe you have great ideas for kid’s birthday parties, or you could be a freelance writer, or teach spinning classes, or work from home typing dictation while the kids nap, or maybe you have some idea you’ve been keeping secret for years and it’s time to take action and explore it.
- Find a financial planning book that speaks to you in words you understand.
- Find a financial planner who will sit down with you and your husband together and explain things and set out clear goals.
- Consider that women’s financial needs are different than men’s.
- Look into an online financial seminar geared to women, like this one about 6 Steps to Reach Financial Freedom.
- If your husband is resistant to changing the family financial structure, have your research ready about why it’s important to the entire family that you take charge of your financial life.
If you need further inspiration, there’s a free bumper sticker offer at WIFE.org, “A MAN IS NOT A PLAN”
P.S. I know Dr. Laura will hate me for this posting. I anticipate she will hate most of my postings. But I don’t love or respect my husband any less because I have and understand money. And, I promise, he doesn’t respect me any less for it either. (More on my one-sided relationship with Dr. Laura to follow)