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The cruel truths about women and money involve core beliefs

There was a standing-room-only crowd at the Mayo Auditorium last week when Twin Cities financial adviser, educator and author Ruth Hayden gave a presentation entitled, "How Women Can Use Money to Take Charge of Their Lives," at the University of Minnesota. The interest in the event, sponsored by the Women's Center and Securian Retirement, is indicative of how women are feeling about their financial future — scared. And we have every reason to be afraid. The average annual income of women over 65 is $12.080, according to the Department of Labor, and our life expectancy has risen to age 80.

"Women are barely surviving," confirms Hayden.

Hayden's advice on how to gain control of your finances goes beyond creating a budget and cutting up the credit cards. She challenges women to examine their core beliefs about money — which includes deleting the notion of "all you need is love" from your brain. Trusting another person to be responsible for your finances has proven to be a risky financial plan for our future. Hayden grimly told the audience, "I could write a book on all the educated women I've had in my office crying, 'I never thought this would happen to me.' " As Hayden reminded us, finding yourself in poverty at the age of 80 is not an attractive option.

The downside of women-only caregiving
The belief that women be solely responsible for the caregiving responsibilities in a family has led women to the brink of poverty. "Unless women turn a portion of caregiving responsibilities over to men, their ability to establish a career, instead of a job, will be compromised," says Hayden. Caring for children and the elderly have forced women to work in part-time jobs that have lower wages, few opportunities for advancement and no retirement benefits. The consequences of leaving the workforce completely has debilitating consequences: For every year a woman leaves the workplace, she must work five years to recover lost income, pension coverage and promotional opportunities. Establishing a career can lead to financial security, but without asking for support and setting time boundaries with family, women are putting themselves at risk of mental and physical exhaustion. The price of relationships is high.

Our mothers were wrong when they told us polite women don't discuss money, and this belief has hampered our ability to be fairly compensated in the job market. Women's discomfort in discussing money impedes us from negotiating salaries, regularly invoicing clients and collecting fees. Female socialization has conveyed that what women value most is to be liked and appreciated, that a pat on the back with a smile will satisfy our needs. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and a college degree doesn't change the disparity. A woman with a bachelor's degree will earn 73 cents for every dollar a similarly educated man earns. "Women must value their contribution in the workplace and ask to be compensated," says Hayden.

Spending for approval
Not only does the need for approval affect what we earn, it also dictates how we spend our money.

"Women spend money on things that make ourselves, our children and our home look better," Hayden informed the audience. And the stuff women spend money on -- Botox, pedicures, makeup, wallpaper and garden ornaments -- typically has no financial value. Worse, these items are purchased on credit cards; one out of three women have a credit-card debt that exceeds what they have in savings.

Changing our core beliefs about money is a far more difficult challenge then simply saving 10 percent of our income. But the risk of not making changes is too high. As Hayden said, "Only when women take responsibility for their finances will they have control of their destiny."

Susan Gray is a mother, writer and urban explorer who lives in the East Harriet neighborhood of Minneapolis.

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