College of St. Catherine: Feminist financial educator urges students to gain control of their ‘money lives’

THE COLLEGE OF ST. CATHERINE

Financial educator and author Ruth Hayden brought a serious message about women and money to the College of St. Catherine on Feb. 25.

Speaking as part of the College’s award-winning “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees” series, Hayden introduced herself to the audience of students, alumnae and staff members as a “feisty and opinionated” woman who has succeeded in her nationally recognized business by “challenging the way things are.”

“That’s especially important in this area of women and money,” she said. “We women live longer, we earn less money and we aren’t putting away money for our future. Money is a gender issue.”

Consider:

• Women, on average, earn 77 cents to men’s dollar. Women of color typically earn less.

• A woman with identical qualifications to a man’s earns 89 cents to his dollar for the same job. “I call that the gender discount,” said Hayden. “Gender is the only variable.”

• Two-thirds of women who work outside the home earn less than $30,000 per year.

• Divorced women’s net worth is 40 percent less than that of women who never married. After a divorce, the average woman’s family income goes down by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “That’s significant, because that involves our children,” said Hayden, a mother of four.

• Due primarily to family responsibilities, women are in the workforce almost 12 fewer years than men.

• Ninety percent of women will be solely responsible for their financial welfare sometime in their lives.

• The average age of widowhood is 56; nearly half of all women have no retirement program; and the median income of women over age 65 is about $12,000 per year

Those are “scary statistics,” Hayden acknowledged. The good news is, women can change the status quo by learning more about money and then spreading the word.

Changing your beliefs
Hayden, 62, has been writing, lecturing and teaching classes about the relationship of emotions and money since the early 1980s. Her classes on “Women and Money” and “Couples and Money,” taught on St. Catherine’s main campus in St. Paul, routinely have months-long waiting lists.

Her first book, How to Turn Your Money Life Around: The Money Book for Women, urged women to examine their beliefs about money and to commit to educating themselves financial management. She earned an award from the Ann Bancroft Foundation in 2002 for her efforts to support and empower girls and women.

“A belief is an emotional conclusion that sounds true to us,” Hayden explained. “It could be, ‘I shouldn’t have to study tonight’ or ‘I can’t understand what that investment stuff is about.’ A belief is something that you say to yourself, and it controls what you do.”

Women tend to spend money to make themselves feel and look better, on services such as hair and nail care or lunches out with friends, she explained. Men tend to make visible, big-ticket purchases, such as a boat, a bigger house or a new car.

A restaurant meal charged on a credit card is “dumb debt,” said Hayden, laughing about her frankness. “You have nothing to show for it.” Many women feel powerless in our society, she said. But she cautioned women not to spend money simply to boost their self-esteem.

“I’m passionate about this,” Hayden explained. “This is not about good and bad spending. This is about you finding that sense of power and control in other areas of your life, so you don’t have to hurt yourself with money. And you don’t just have debt that has no value.”

“Smart debt,” she said, such as a mortgage or a student loan, will help establish your future and likely will pay off down the road.

A four-step plan for empowerment
A pragmatic woman, Hayden laid out a four-step plan to help women take charge of their finances and “turn those money beliefs around.”

Step 1: Change your belief that you can’t or shouldn’t have to be responsible for your own financial future. You are not too busy, and yes, you are smart enough to learn.

She urged women not to get overwhelmed by the current financial crisis, citing similar downturns in 1982 and the early 1990s. The round-the-clock news cycle from the internet and cable TV means that we’re hearing more about layoffs and bankruptcies, what Hayden calls the “human pain” of a recession.

Step 2: Build a career, don’t just find a job. Develop a sustaining profession that will engage your passions and your intellect, one that will pay well and provide retirement income. “We can have a healthy career and healthy relationships,” Hayden said, addressing the guilt that employed mothers invariably feel.

She urged young women to seek out professors, guidance counselors and other trusted adults for advice on how to be careerists and yet have a full life. “You have wonderful role models on this campus for pulling off this balance,” she said.

Step 3: Analyze your decisions to understand why you’re taking a particular action, and be willing to push forward even when others don’t understand. Women tend to judge themselves first according to what others think, rather than learning to trust themselves.

“Women don’t ever want to be thought of as selfish,” Hayden said, “because the next step from selfish is the B word. And we do not want to go there.”

Step 4: Once you have disciplined yourself to save money, to avoid the lure of credit cards and to learn about investments — especially real estate and the stock market, which tend to hold their value over time — become a role model for other women.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn the language of personal finance. “You are our future leaders. You’re it!” Hayden told the students. “You will want to do things differently, so that your lives will be different and so you can make a difference in other women’s lives. Then these gender-based statistics will change. And you’ll be responsible for the change.”

Ruth Hayden is a regular commentator on Minnesota Public Radio and frequently is quoted in the national media. To learn more about her books and classes, visit her website.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply