You’re Not Alone

Chitra is about to start her new job as a radiologist in a very good hospital. She graduated from a top medical school and an excellent residency program, and had several job offers to choose from. Things are great, but she feels deficient in one important area – finances.

I met Chitra at one of several small-group conversations I held recently. Between 8 and 12 smart, professional women gathered in friends’ living rooms to talk about “The Top Five Personal Finance Topics Women Avoid – But Shouldn’t.” At the end of one, Chitra leaned across the table toward the group and said “I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t have it all together!”

In my experience, many women think they are the only ones who do not feel secure about their financial situation and confident in their decisions. I want to tell you, you are not alone! Women often feel it’s a personal failing that they are not more knowledgeable and confident about money — nothing could be further from the truth!

I believe several myths are at work in making us feel so isolated.

MYTH #1: We think we should know about personal finance, and we’re embarrassed to admit that we don’t. 

Please tell me, how would we have learned about this stuff?? Let’s think about it. How do we learn other life skills? Maybe in school, some from our parents, and or possibly from our friends. How do we learn to cook? Probably from family. How do we learn about relationships? Mostly from experience, maybe some books or counseling. How do we learn about sex? I had sex ed in fourth grade, and lots of conversations with my friends!

So then how do we learn about money?

  • From school? My high school offered an accounting class, but not personal finance. I didn’t get it in college or graduate school either, and my degree is in international economics!
  • From family? In many families, “financial conversations” were either yelling matches or whispered talks when the kids were thought to be asleep.
  • From friends? Money is the last taboo! Not only is it considered not polite, but it can feel too intimate to share.

So let’s please stop beating ourselves up for not knowing!

MYTH #2: We feel we should naturally be good at finances and investing, and it’s a personal indictment when we make mistakes — proof we are dumb, or weak, or otherwise flawed.

This is very wrong! Science proves conclusively that humans are bad at this stuff. Our brains are wired to make assumptions, take shortcuts, and believe we can predict what is unpredictable. Here is a very brief list of some of the books written on this topic – I find the titles telling:

  • Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (Belsky and Gilovich)
  • Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)
  • The Behavior Gap (Carl Richards)

All people, no matter how smart or informed, are prone to financial mistakes and irrational behavior, which very often leads to a real gap between their financial goals and reality.

MYTH #3: We get the message that money and finance is all cut and dry, very rational, with no place for emotion.

HA! The truth is, money in our world is inextricably linked to emotions. It touches all parts of our lives, including relationships, security, caring for family, and self-worth. How could it not be emotional?

When I speak to women’s groups I often start by asking the audience to call out emotions they often feel about money. As I write them down it quickly becomes apparent that the majority of the emotions people associate with money are negative. Stress, exhaustion, guilt, and fear often top the list.

The Biggest Problem

But do you know what the biggest problem is in my mind? We’re not supposed to talk about it. One of the primary ways women learn is by sharing their stories and hearing the stories of others. The fact that we don’t/can’t do this around money is the source of all kinds of issues.

  • We don’t know whether we make more or less than colleagues.
  • We don’t share information, knowledge, and referrals like we do in other areas of our lives.
  • Think about Chitra – we don’t realize that the majority of other women are feeling just as stressed and uncertain about it as we are!!

What to do?

First, be compassionate with yourself. Try to get your inner voice to speak kindly, as you would to your best friend. Next, see if you can find a Money Buddy – someone with whom you can be fully open and vulnerable. Sharing your goals and struggles can help with accountability and staying focused. Then, if you feel you need more knowledge, take steps to learn. Read GOOD quality personal finance content – books, blogs, authors, podcasts.

But know that the most important knowledge is self-knowledge. And you don’t have to know all the answers before taking action – you have to know the questions to ask, and have the guts to ask them.

In the small-group conversations I mentioned at the top, we created a safe space where women felt comfortable and supported to share, learn and ask questions. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive! In addition to the factual information, the attendees were relieved to be able to talk about it.

See if you can create this type of environment somewhere in your life. And if you’d like me to help facilitate a conversation with a group of friends, reach out. I would love to. The more we get talking, the better.

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