Ladies, We Need to Talk Money!

Haven-4-1024x1024There’s nothing like 4 am for all the good haunts, money being at the top of the list.  This morning, I realized:  We need to start talking about money.  Period.  Throw aside your east coast cranky Yankee “T.J. Max’s finest,” your mid-western farm-stock “Hand-me-down,” your mountain-mama “Made it myself,” your mildewy PNW, “5 bucks at a thrift shop,” your southern belle, “Oh, this old thing?”

This is a call to action!  Especially to women.  Especially to single women.  Especially to single women of a certain age:  we need to start talking about money!  (Yes, even you, my WASP sisterhood.)15-my-two-cents.nocrop.w710.h2147483647

The other night, I spent two hours on the phone with a dear old friend  of mine.  We have a very specific and special friendship.  We were roommates for a semester in college in a foreign country.  We have never lived near each other.  We have never had mutual social engagements or group interactions.  It’s always just the two of us on the telephone, hashing it all out.  We go deep, fast.  And because of that, we also go months, sometimes years without talking.  It requires a large window.  But we figure—this sort of friendship is rare.  And we don’t get to see each other in real life– I think we’ve seen each other three times in the last two decades in person.  And still, somehow, we love and trust each other like sisters.  Sisters who need each other.  All of a sudden.  When the shit hits the fan.

So our friendship is based on these epic phone calls, when we both have a wide open window.  And it’s usually when we’re both in pain and really need a friend.  We are both, at age 51, financially independent women.  No hubbie taking care of us.  And whatever’s in the bank, has everything to do with our ability to put it there by mining our talents, creating businesses, and being highly adaptive.  In other words, neither of us has done it the way we were “supposed to” do it.  And that has had its rewards in spades.  Just not necessarily in dollars.

“Can we talk about money?” I said to her.  “Like really talk about money?  In all the ways we need to, but aren’t really supposed to?”

“Yes.  Please!  I need it.”rosie

I went past everything I’ve been taught, and launched in.  I told her what I have in savings.  I told her what I have in my business account.  And I told her what I have in my personal and retirement accounts.  I told her how much my house was appraised for and what I pay for my mortgage every month.

And then I added, “I’m alone in this.  And even though I have great people on my team…I’m really doing all of this alone.  And it’s all been baptism by fire.  I really had no idea what I was doing when I started my business.  I didn’t even know what a mortgage really was, never mind the word amortization.  I still don’t have a clue what that is.”

It was her turn.  She told me her versions of all of the above.  It felt positively liberating.  I trust her.  She trusts me.  And we’re not lying in bed talking about boys and dreams.  We’re talking about the shake down of all of that.  The other side.  The raw reality that we are both faced with.  Will we always be alone in this?  Will we ever have other people in our lives who help us financially?  Will we get a break or will we be the sole generators of income for the rest of our lives?  How can we fortify our financial future?  Our dreams?  Can we even afford to dream?

What I love about us is that we are still those little girl dreamers we once were.  But we now have seasoned reasons why some dreams are worth wrangling right now for sanity’s sake than others.

“I’m so glad we’re having this conversation,” she said.  “Women need to have this conversation.  And I can tell you:  most of them aren’t.”

Why, I wonder?  Is it shame?  Is it that we think we are weak when we speak our truth, especially about money?  Do we think we’ll be judged?  Do we think being stoic is powerful?  I can tell you…it’s not.

What would it take for women to have these conversations?  A completely non-threatening woman in your life who you’ve never had to compare yourself to in waistline or social prowess or cocktail party cleverness?  Someone you never shot the shit with in the school pick-up line, or with whom you felt the pull of gossip or push of bandwagon or zing of local political divide?  I hope not.3333_are-women-more-risk-averse-investors_1

I hope that we can have this conversation with exactly those people you’ve rolled around with in your town, in the local heartbreaks and purchase.  I hope that at your next gathering, you can grab a woman who you know is going through the exact thing you are—divorce, re-invention, empty nest, troubled kids—whatever, and pull her into a side room where no one’s listening and say,

“Sister.  We need to talk.  Are you okay?  And I don’t mean just your heart.  I mean…do you have your affairs in order, financially?  Because I learned baptism by fire, and I have a great financial advisor, and you need to be on top of this.  There’s no shame here, and if there is, it’s time to chuck it out the window.  You are going to be old one day and we live in a country where our Social Security is not enough to live on!  You’ve got to be smart.  You’ve got to plan.  The future is going to happen, if it in fact happens, and you have to be prepared.”

I frankly cannot believe these words are coming out of my heart and mind and onto the page.  Even as I write them, I feel loath to push Publish.  What will my mother think?  What will my WASP kindred say if they read this?  But I don’t want for you what happened to me.  The cold hard reality is this:  The rugs of life get ripped out from underneath us.  No matter how perfect we think our lives are or how hard we’ve worked to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.  And we need each other.  We don’t have to do this alone.

So ladies…take a deep breath, gulp, even roll your eyes a little…but think of that friend you can trust, and call her.  Ask her if she’d be willing to talk money with you.  And if she says yes, then get in that mosh pit together and roll around in that mud until you come out knowing you’re not alone, with some pretty good ideas, and a very good plan.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Because that, is priceless.

My dear friend is here.

Here’s a piece I wrote about how I re-invented, in the former editor-in-chief of More Magazine’s  new brain child:  Covey Club.  May it inspire you to mine your passions!

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4 Comments

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4 Responses to Ladies, We Need to Talk Money!

  1. Tara Howard

    Hi, Laura ~

    This is such an important topic. My husband died 12 years ago. Despite crushing grief, three devastated and sad children, outsiders’ judgment about my decisions, and paralyzing loneliness, I had to step up. Even though I have an MBA in Finance and worked in corporate finance for years, my father and father-in-law immediately tried to come to my rescue. “Let us manage everything for you. Don’t worry your pretty little head.” Little did they know, I had been the one handling it all even before my husband’s death. We were savers and planners, thankfully, and had life insurance on both of us. That proved to be both prescient and a godsend.

    After all the legal mumbo jumbo that follows a death of one’s next-of-kin was settled, I read books and articles on “How to Choose a Financial Planner.” The first bit of advice all the good articles gave was, “If the planner you’re interviewing talks more than you do, walk out. He/she should ask questions about your financial needs and goals, then shut up and let you lay it all out.” I had over ten interviews with various “advisors” who mansplained what they would do for me and to just sign right here and hand over the insurance check. The woman I finally hired treated me as a partner. She is patient. She is smart. She is respectful. She is my ally. And my money situation, despite the crash of 2008 and the recent tech stock madness, is pretty sound. I’m frugal — always have been — so I can splurge once in a blue moon on the occasional adventure (e.g., my trip to Haven).

    Without being alarmist or morbid, I tried to have the money conversation with two of my good friends. I asked them pointed questions (not about amounts — my mother said that was vulgar…Ha!) about if they knew the account numbers for their savings, investment, 401K, IRA, and/or 529 accounts. They each, both with good jobs and excellent educations said, “Oh, no, my husband handles all that.” I asked them if they knew if their names were on accounts, house deeds, life insurance policies, etc, and whether they had reviewed the beneficiaries on their policies. They were stunned into silence. “Uh, no. I don’t know.” I told them I had made it my business to ensure the assets we owned were in both our names. Believe me, it was a huge tax advantage that I co-owned everything before my husband’s death. A dear friend’s husband tried to divorce her without full financial disclosure of his off shore assets. I advised her to get an attorney who had a forensic accountant on his payroll. It proved to be very important to her financial future.

    We can’t take money for granted and we can’t expect someone else to do it for us. Educate yourself, sister-women. It’s hard and confusing and really complex to me. And I have a Master Degree in Finance! Talk to you friends, as Laura advises. I remember years ago reading about a retired women’s investment club somewhere in a Philadelphia suburb. These lifelong housewives each put an equal amount into the pot and invested their money: mutual funds, tech start-ups, blue chip stocks, penny stocks, etc. They had a better-than-Wall-Street return on their investments. It can be done. But you have to learn and talk about it.

    A website that has been invaluable to me and many other women trying to navigate this trek alone is called, “Get Your Shit Together.” It was started by a woman like me who found herself suddenly widowed with children and no idea how to proceed. (https://www.gyst.com) The site has checklists on documents you should think about having (like wills, durable power of attorney, health care proxy, revocable and irrevocable trusts, etc.). I check in with them every month or so to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. I have two kids through college and one graduating this May. If I can do it, so can you.

    Thanks, Laura, for opening up the window on this verboten issue.

  2. Laura,
    you nailed it again. Yep, that’s a talk I need to have too. True, honest, confident girl-talk like when we were teens. One day…one phone-call to that great friend.
    Anne

  3. YES yes yes! We NEED to talk about money. Women learn by sharing their stories, but we’ve been taught that talking about money is impolite. And since we don’t learn this stuff in school or from our families, we often feel stuck, ashamed, and totally terrified! This is my passion and my life’s work.

  4. I absolutely ADORE your honesty.
    Moreso? I love the realization that I’ve got several wonderful BFF’s exactly like the one you described in your piece. We might not talk for months or years, but when we do, it’s sisterhood in 10 seconds flat — easy & open & honest, & we laugh & cry & laugh. We already talk about money b/c I’ve kinda always talked about money; money having been one of the taboos with which I’ve happily danced for most of my life. Not sure why? I guess growing up poor, then marrying a man at 21 who dragged me into bankruptcy with him by the time I turned 22 — circumstances which forced me to work through the shame & blame & guilt & fear around money, fairly early on. It’s a BIGGIE, & there are still bits & pieces for me to process, even after all this time (I’m 53). So I, for one, am thrilled you’ve written with such clarity & warmth & frankness about it. THANK YOU. You continue to be an inspiration to me & to the masses. LOVELOVELOVE, ANI

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