Money Matters!

“In my marriage, I’m the CEO,” one woman shared. The room full of strong women—lawyers, lobbyists, doctors, teachers—silently pondered a new possibility. I’d never considered the absurdity of my own arrangement. Although I’ve always considered myself a proud feminist, I’d never entertained the idea of taking the financial reins from my husband, or even asked whether he needed support in this arena of our marriage.

I invited my section of the group to imagine what a healthy relationship with money might look like. One woman (the self-defined money manager in her marriage), described how she and her husband have a practice of putting spare cash into a fund, then spending these dollars on guilt-free dinners. Another suggested indulging in ways that don’t involve money, like visiting a museum. Other women offered up a variety of resources for budgeting and increasing our financial I.Q., and the rest of us all took copious notes. Some of the suggestions:

Elizabeth Warren’s 50/20/30 ultimate budget guideline

The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley

The conversation about how we use our money led us to the question of how our relationship with money affects our ability to make charitable donations. Several of the women were explicit in saying that yes, we can struggle with credit card debt and student loans and still give tzedakah. “When my friends ask me to sponsor them in a run or attend an event, I do, even if I can only give a little bit to the charity,” one woman said. Others suggested donating in denominations of $18 either to support their friends’ efforts or raise funds for causes that matter to them. “There are non-monetary ways to give too. You can donate clothes to the Salvation Army or volunteer your time,” another member suggested.

And then came the general frustration over gendered salary inequity. It’s 2015, and, outrageously, women still earn less than their male counterparts, a reality partially based on a fear of asking for comparable pay. The women in the room all wanted to sharpen their negotiation skills. “Never be the first to give a dollar number,” one woman proclaimed, advice which generated more ideas on resources for the group.

Knowing Your Value, by Mika Brezinski

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

We’d started the evening with a frank discussion about our desire to know more about managing and optimizing our financial resources, and we confessed our shared embarrassment over our lack of savvy. Any kind of shame is isolating, and shuts down our best thinking and our hopefulness. As the salon concluded, it became apparent that talking about money, knowing that you are not alone in your concerns, and then drawing on the strength and knowledge of women further down the path is the antidote to shame, and a first step toward real financial empowerment.