A Woman's Guide to Financial Health
It Starts with Trusting Your Intuition
One midnight, serving behind the counter of a Dunkin’ Donuts, Jen Smith could see the future—and it terrified her. She was working the graveyard shift at a job she hated, living in a cramped apartment and knew nothing about entrepreneurship or investment strategies.
When a homeless woman clad in rags wandered in for a warm cup of coffee, Smith shivered. “The only thing standing between her and me was one paycheck and that counter,” recalls Smith, 45, of Fort Collins, Colorado. “I realized that I was in a vulnerable spot, with no backup plan.”
Fast forward two decades to today, Smith now boasts a $2 million net worth and the financial independence to work only when she wants to. When you ask for her secret, she makes little mention of how to create a winning stock portfolio. Instead, she says, her decisions about how to earn and how to spend have come from a deeper, more esoteric source.
Says Smith: “I asked myself: ‘What is it that I love to do?’” Then she went to work investing in herself and a succession of six small businesses, starting with $1,500 per bootstrap operation. Initially, she earned her way working with animals while investing her dollars with an eye toward environmental stewardship. In 2007, she founded a personal finance blog, www.MillionaireMommyNextDoor.com. Along the way, she discovered that, “Mindfully identifying what truly makes you tick, and then aligning your decisions with your own personal values, is key to financial well-being.”
Smith is among a growing number of women looking beyond the traditional world of personal finance to summon emotions, spirituality, intuition and personal values in the pursuit of economic abundance. Many books, blogs and magazines, too, have begun to explore the unlikely intersection of right-brain, inner voice consciousness and personal finance.
“Our culture has always been very much focused on facts and research, but people are starting to realize we can’t just continue to rely solely on what we have relied on before, because it doesn’t work,” remarks Lynn Robinson, a Massachusetts-based “business intuitive” who advises executives on how to use their intuition to make better business decisions. “We are all looking for a deeper knowledge base, and that means looking within.”
“A wealthy woman absolutely has money,
but she also has happiness,
courage, balance and harmony.
A wealthy woman is generous, clean,
wise and therefore, beautiful.
It’s my wish that you will carry these
eight qualities within you wherever
you go and that they will serve as
your guideposts to make sure you
are always walking toward wealth,
rather than walking away from it.”
~ Suze Orman
Setting the Stage
The shift comes at a time when, according to national statistics, women are facing unprecedented financial responsibility. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2010 marked the first time in U. S. history that women comprised more than half (50.3 percent) of the workforce. Fifty-seven percent of all current college students are women, according to the American Council on Education. Thirty-eight percent of all working wives earn as much or more than their husbands, as of the 2009 Shriver Report. Nearly 16 percent of wives are the sole family breadwinners. Meanwhile, women continue to do the bulk of the housework (97 minutes per day for married women, versus 29 minutes per day for married men, according to a 2009 study by Vanderbilt University).
Despite these employment trends, women still make roughly 80 percent of what men do for the same work. Complicating the situation, when it comes to making financial decisions, many females still tend to be fearful, naïve and disempowered, according to financial health guru Suze Orman.
“Women have been thrust into an entirely new relationship with money that is profoundly different than anything we have ever encountered before… Yet when it comes to navigating the financial ramifications of this new world, they are using old maps that don’t get them where they want to go,” writes Orman, in Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny.
Orman notes that only 12 percent of women feel confident about retirement and many continue to either leave their financial decisions in the hands of a male or ignore them altogether. This may be due to feeling embarrassed about their lack of knowledge, or a sheer lack of time.
New female graduates are facing a brutal job market; many laid-off women find themselves in a mid-career job search and widows and divorceés are facing retirement with a smaller-than-expected nest egg. All these women want to know,“ How can I confidently embrace my new role in the evolving economy in a way that leads to financial independence?”
First Steps to Solvency
Understand the Underlying Emotions
Few heard in high school economics class that our relationship with money is intricately intertwined with emotion,comments Julie Murphy Casserly, a Chicago-based certified financial planner. “Some of us are spenders, whipping out the credit card at the mall to ease some inner pain. Some are givers, picking up the tab at group events in an effort to feed a need to be liked. Others—perhaps those who grew up in poverty—are hoarders, holding on so tightly to their money that they cease to enjoy it or make it grow via sound investments.
Recognizing which type we are, and when our emotions are sabotaging good financial decisions, is an important first step to attracting wealth. A tip for spenders and givers, who both tend to end up carrying debt, is to cut up credit cards and start using cash. “There is no emotional connection with sliding a debit or credit card, but when you physically hand over $200 in cash, you feel that,” says Casserly.
Create a Life Map
With her Dunkin’ Donuts job behind her and a blank slate ahead, Smith took a serious self-inventory. When she concluded that she wanted to work with animals, she called a kennel and agreed to groom dogs a few hours each day in exchange for an education in dog training. Within a few years, she owned a lucrative dog training and boarding business.
“Our lives are the stories we narrate for ourselves,” she says. “If we don’t like the story our life has become, we can tell our self a better one… and act on it.” Smith recommends making a “Treasure Map to a Rich Life” out of poster board as a visual reminder of what’s important to us (e.g., travel, family, a career in a specific field). When life circumstances derail those aspirations, which often happens, we can take a reminder peek.
Say our leading aspiration is getting out of debt. Imagine what the day would look, feel and taste like absent that nagging credit card bill. Would we start saving for a son or daughter to go to college or quit that second job? Write it all down and post the intention in full view. “Surround yourself with all the things you are trying to create,” advises Casserly. “Persistently replace any shame, blame and guilt with dreams and desires.”
Earn with Our Spirit in Mind
As Rosemary Williams, founder of Women’s Perspective www.WomensPerspective.org)
“Part of what the chaos of the current economy is bringing up for people is the question, ‘What am I here to do and what calling do I have?’” says Robinson, noting that the root of the word enthusiasm is entheos, or “God within,” in Greek. “Try to figure out what it is that enthuses you,” she counsels, “and then ask, ‘How can I make a living at this?’ at least part of the time.”
Trust Gut Wisdom
Whether deciding in which stock to invest or whether to trust a potential business partner, the power of intuition cannot be understated, advises Robinson. Some view a gut instinct as the subconscious synthesis of past knowledge that rises to the surface when our brain needs it. Others see it as a manifestation of a Higher Power. Either way, it’s worth listening to, as a critical adjunct.
A good way to start each day is with a 10-minute prayer/meditation, asking that inner voice to provide three ways to help advance our financial health, and staying alert the rest of the day to listen for the answer, which can come when we least expect it. “I often find that when a woman asks these questions, it primes the pump, and when she is walking the dog or doing the laundry, she may hear an inner voice speaking,” Robinson says. “Pay attention.”
For the first time, half of all U.S. workers are women, and that
changes everything. Not just for women, but also for spouses,
families, bosses, coworkers and society. This is a permanent
change in our culture that’s affecting nearly every aspect of
our lives—how we work and play and care for one another.
~ The Shriver Report
Spend According to Personal Values
To Washington-based writer Vicki Robin, author of The New York Times best seller, Your Money or Your Life, financial independence is as much about spending less as making more. “It’s not about going out and getting a financial advisor or turning over your savings to the stock market. It’s about living within your means, saving money and getting out of debt,” she observes. “Every financial decision you make is a chance to say ‘What are my values, really, and how does this serve them?’”
Robin recommends viewing money as “life energy” and assigning value as such to each purchase we make. Is that high-end haircut and coloring really worth the stress or time away from family for what it costs? What is worth that much to us? Once we start aligning our spending with that inner conversation, we will inevitably spend less, which results in less debt, more savings and ultimately, more freedom, she says.
Smith agrees. With the money she made working with animals, she invested first in real estate, and then in stocks. When she acknowledged her four-bedroom, three-bath home didn’t jive with her Earth-conscious values, she downsized. She still drives a 12-year-old car, frequents Craigslist and sticks with a frugal but gratifying “values-based budget.” The payoff for her, her husband and her young daughter has been huge.
“We spend very little on housing or transportation, but we buy organic food. We travel when we want to, we homeschool our daughter and we spend as much time as we want together,” she smiles. “Probably the biggest thing this has all bought us is time.”
Sources: Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, Women and Money, by Suze Orman, and Rosemary Williams, author of The Women’s Book of Money & Spiritual Vision