Many of the women I see in my financial planning practice have been through divorce. Many are experiencing for the first time what it is like to live independently. I often hear familiar themes with respect to money — phrases like, “I should have paid more attention,” and “I shouldn’t have assumed my ex-husband knew what he was doing.” Over time, it dawned on me to start asking these women what lessons about money they would want to pass along to younger women, including their own daughters.
What follows are some of the stories, mistakes and life lessons about money that I’ve heard from women. While I’ve changed the names of these women to preserve their privacy, their stories are real, and every one of these women has a valuable learning experience to share.
Trusting Your Future to a Stranger
Ten years ago, Jenny left an employer to strike out on her own. She moved all the savings she had in a 401(k) to a financial advisor she didn’t know very well. She didn’t ask the advisor about her philosophy or values, figuring that her gender and financial pedigree were enough.
Now, years later, she says, “I was literally putting my future into the hands of a stranger and expecting things to turn out fine. Why? Because I was intimidated and embarrassed by my financial ignorance, by what I didn’t know and was afraid to ask.” She now sees that many of her investments don’t align with her values, and even worse, realizes that she hasn’t gained the education necessary to take things over.
Jenny would tell her daughter (or granddaughter), “Don’t be afraid. You won’t be laughed at because you don’t know how the system works. Ask questions tirelessly without fear of being a pest!” Jenny says she would also remind her that her investments represent her life, her future, and her ability to make her own decisions and take care of herself. “Most important, I’d tell her to start today. Now. This minute. Because 62 creeps up on a girl pretty quickly!”
Thinking You’ll Be Taken Care Of
Angela had a father who always urged her to follow her dreams and assured her that he would take care of her. She says, “My dad thought money could fix everything, and at that time, he had plenty of it.” She went into a profession working with animals that was, and still is, low-paying. Her father died a few years ago. Many of his investments failed and the money he promised isn’t there. Angela is still coming to grips with not having played a more active role in being able to take care of herself financially. She is still questioning his advice to follow her dreams.
Asking for Her First Raise at 13
Another woman told a memorable story with a powerful lesson. She worked for her uncle when she was 13 years old. He started her at a reduced salary while she was learning the job. After she had been on the job and learned it well, he still hadn’t raised her salary.
When she asked him about it, he said, “When you are worth more, you need to learn to ask for more.” That stuck with her more than if he had just automatically raised her pay. She said of the lesson, “It made me feel respected as a money person, someone who could be worth something.”
These represent just a few stories. Over the years I’ve heard themes of regret, blame, and sadness over what should have been. I’d like to acknowledge all the women who told their stories, and applaud their courage to be vulnerable and share the wisdom they have gained. Stay tuned for more lessons from women, plus what you can take away for your own financial success.