Money-what we learned along the way
Somehow for women, what and how we have learned about money-how to get it, how to keep it, what to do with it was never really discussed. It seemed like something we should know about, and there was plenty of shame when there wasn’t any, and pride when there wasn’t. How did we come to know ourselves relative to money as women as we made our way to financial independence, if we did? There have been stereotypes around women using money poorly, ie I love Lucy, childlike in their skills and wisdom around something as ‘important’ as money. It is fairly recent development that women had their own credit, their own ability to purchase homes and cars, as well as the ability to negotiate their salaries. What has it been for women in the evolving process of having more power through control of their finances, both making and the spending of money? Women were taken care of financially up through World War II when many women worked as hundreds of thousands of men went overseas as soldiers. Then those jobs they held were given back to men, and the women returned to their homes and their families. The breakout from the social changes of the sexual revolution changed their relationship with money, so how has that process been for women. Here’s one view of that process 1940 to current times:
Money in my family growing up was a source of chaos. I remember hearing my parents fight at night about money. That there wasn’t enough. And it seemed like it was somebody’s fault. Whether it was the ice cream truck or the prom, there never was any around or available. There had been a period of time where we went out to dinner and walked to the ice cream store on hot nights when we lived in Atlanta and I was ten before my brother Patrick was born. But then other than the summer trip to the grandparents in South Carolina, there wasn’t even a conversation about money. My father would leave on Monday morning and if I asked for anything for school or otherwise, it would have to wait till dad came home from a trip. He went out on the road every week. The shoes I wore to school in the fall that I got over the summer with the grandparents were the same shoes I wore till school got out in May, socks and underwear-everything came from the grandparents we saw once a year.
In the summer, we would arrive at the grandparents serene country house and we never saw money or heard the word money there. We were given a card of bobby pins, a jar of hand cream which we really needed after the Massachusetts winter, and sandals. Shopping with my aunt and grandmother at Ivey’s in Charlotte took an entire day with a stop for lunch. The most amazing thing to me about my grandparents house was a pantry that was always fully equipped with everything, including Babe Ruth Bars and fig newton and ritz crackers. The abundance and orderliness of the pantry had me feel such a feeling of safety. We would drive in the Packard to Myrtle Beach and on the way pick up a crate of peaches and a crate of tomatoes. Walk to the beach every day, and read in our rooms in the afternoon. The return to Massachusetts at the end of the summer was like going into a windstorm by comparison, back to the chaos.
My first job I saved money and went to the best store in Philadelphia and bought a really expensive $200 dress, yellow with green organza. That would be my modus operandi. I only bought what I really wanted and would wait till I could have that. My first husband didn’t even discuss money with me until he went to Viet Nam, and even then he told me how to pay the mortgage, and left just enough for the mortgage and what would cover the essentials. I never asked for more, didn’t feel like I knew how to manage money and wanted some one who did to manage it.
I did very well as a single mom simply because I took an economics class and found out about Disposable income. That whatever money you have, you add up all the money you are going to payout and what is left is actually yours to use, your disposable. Wow, I could feel good about spending that. Twinges of guilt were overridden by the feeling that I deserved to go to I Magnin’s and get something really nice once or twice a year, which I did throughout that time.
For years, my entertainment and any money not going to the bills, food and clothing of the children, went to my going to college and graduate school. It was satisfying and really I felt really fortunate in going to school. I took classes all of which added to my life. I chose keeping within a pretty small budget over going to work. There was the edge of shame around how I handled money for no particular reason. I felt untrustworthy and no one argued the point with me.
When I did go to work, I made very good money and then ventured out into buying furniture and vacations and things for myself and the family. From no money to good money was fun! I made some good choices in real estate and had the benefit of that in options available to me. Since George and I have been together, he enjoys the fact that I like to manage the money and we have never had any tension over money. We have found that we operate from different ends of the spectrum: he likes to save, I like to spend. The balance between us makes me feel more trust in myself. We agree that we like good things, good people and good fun.
We are not the people who prepared the best retirement plan, but we have plans to sustain our life together which will ultimately be on a much lower budget at some point in time. We talk often about that and how it might be and what we might do.