Let’s talk about relationships with money.

We all have them, but I don’t know how often we explore them or consider their roots.

How does money make you feel? Anxious? Eager? Safe? Afraid?

Our emotions about money oftentimes fuel our money habits, and are complicated by our historical past. Women, in particular, have historically been responsible for a home’s consumption while at the same time having no access to the inner workings of bills and income. When we’re kids, we might have parents who still maintained this kind of system, and as we learn much by parental observation, many of us women might be as confused (bemused?) as our mothers were, however long ago, by our finances.

Our parents also serve as other models: models of spending, models of saving. Sometimes we turn into them; other times, we choose deliberately not to be them.

When I was growing up, we did not have a lot of extra money. I did not want for food, a roof over my head, or warm clothes in the winter, but luxuries were not frequent. Perhaps consequently, when I went to college and got my first credit card, I got a little bit out of control. I had access to money (well, plastic money) and before I knew it, I had a $4k credit card debt at 21 years old. Then I went to grad school, made a whopping $11k a year, and had looming, enormous undergrad bills to pay off.

But money made me anxious even before then. I expect I’m not alone. I have often vacillated between “SPEND NOTHING!” and “I’ve spent so little, I deserve this item here on sale at Target.” I suspect part of my anxiety and spending habits had to do with my father’s repeated injunctions to BE CAREFUL with money, which often felt like a principle to violate (oh, hey, credit card) and which, once violated, left me feeling guilty for having done so. I wonder sometimes if he felt the same way. He always had a “bigger, better, faster” streak that reminded me of Tim Allen as the dad on “Home Improvement” when I was a kid.

As an adult, I am only just getting past my money anxiety.

For a long time, even as I began to make a reasonable salary, I felt like I was teetering on some financial precipice, even if that wasn’t true. My money anxieties are bundled up—as I expect they are for a number of women—with insecurities about who I am and what I do. Classic “Imposter Syndrome” stuff. They’ll figure out I’m a fraud, and I’ll never work again. I had nightmares along those lines for years.

Finding some control over my finances has helped me get change my thinking about money considerably. Not that I was ever really out of control, but by laying stuff out on paper, both on a grand scale with a financial planner last year and on a smaller day-to-day scale now on my own, I feel like I have a better understanding of how my money works, where it goes, and what I can do about it and with it. Since then, I’ve paid down a chunk of our debt, improved our bottom line by cutting expenses, and given us a framework with which to evaluate what we do spend. I’m not beyond picking fights with utilities for better rates when I don’t like what I see.

So for this Finance Friday, spend a little time thinking about how you feel about money, and where from where those feelings might arise. Contemplate how those feelings might shape your spending habits, and how those habits themselves make you feel. How might control—or lack thereof—figure in?

Consider this article, as well, which is honest in some amazing ways. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/poor-people-worries/

We’ll chat again next week.

J.

Please follow and like us:

“Retail Therapy”

Even though Hulu frontloaded 3 episodes of Handmaid’s Tale, I’m going to put off chatting about them to get started on another, recurring segment: Finance Fridays! Let’s talk about money.

By way of introduction to this segment, let’s talk about “retail therapy.”

Y’all know what that is, and I suspect most of you have done it at one point or another. Akin to “eating your feelings” (my preferred default for days when I’m frustrated—hello, m&ms), “retail therapy” is when we take to the mall to deal with our anger, frustration, a long week, a bad meeting, a rough paper, you name it. We buy ourselves a few things to ease that pain, and then many of us feel a different pain when the credit card bill comes in. Sound familiar?

“Retail therapy” is a phrase I’ve primarily heard women use, and this makes sense: we live in a culture in which women do a great deal of the shopping and have for decades. We also live in a culture in which we celebrate shopping as a women’s activity. Dealing with our feelings by spending money is, by logical extension, a feminized activity. Shopping aimlessly is a routine choice for women’s outings together–it’s also a cultural norm. As an aside, when I took students to a new state—a new city—for a conference recently, the first night they wanted to go to the mall. They were both broke. This shit is pervasive.

shopping lady, money
I mean, just look at this ridiculous stock photo.

Longer-term Repercussions

The consequence of this feminization of shopping—combined with other issues, like the pay gap, the generally lower pay in feminized industries in which women predominantly work, and women’s periodic departure from the work force in order to give birth, all despite their higher numbers in colleges and universities—is that women carry far more consumer debt than men. US News reported in 2015 that,

“63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.” (Abby Hayes, 6.25.15, http://bit.ly/1JoZLok)

Consumer debt is arguably far worse than other kinds, as the interest rates are much higher, meaning that what you owe increases dramatically over time. Needing to pay that debt off, particularly when combined with other bills such as student loans and the like, yields another troublesome picture. According to a 2014 Forbes article,

“A new LearnVest.com survey found that an American woman’s retirement nest egg totals approximately $150,000, on average, while a man’s comes in at roughly $235,000. That’s a 57% difference!” (Jane Bianchi, 2.12.14, http://bit.ly/2qen0k7)

All of this is gendered; make no mistake. We’ll come back to these various categories in the weeks to come, but for now, try to keep yourself out of the shops this weekend. The weather in much of the country is gorgeous this time of year, so get outside with your friends rather than head to the mall. I’ll leave the m&ms alone, too.

Next week, we’ll discuss budgeting: knowing where your cash is going so as to better give it direction.

Please follow and like us: