Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention when my mother taught me about finances, budgeting, and savings plans.
Maybe my brain was off wandering in some hormone-induced, teenage stupor.
My mother was a brilliant lady, so surely she would not have left the lesson on financial planning off her “blueprint to raise an exceptional human being.”
Unfortunately, my mother has passed away, so I cannot confirm if financial planning was ever a lesson she taught me.
I do suspect, however, that her parenting curriculum did NOT include any mention on how to make, save or spend money. And it most definitely did not contain a lesson on how a woman should feel about her money and her financial health.
Because my mother never talked about money. Nor did my father.
Silence. Nothing. Nada.
So when I flew the coup at the mature age of 17, (as an engaged, pregnant, college-bound young lady…), I had no clue how to balance a checkbook. Who am I kidding? I didn't even have a bank account to write check.
Regardless, I boarded that plane and flew from Alaska to Eastern Oregon University. I had $50 to my name, and as soon as I landed, I gave $20 of it away to some strung-out guy in the Oregon airport terminal (he said was hungry).
Thus, began a massive, altruistic trend in my financial spending, health, and lifestyle.
Six years later I graduated with a master's degree and $70,000 in student loan debt. I did not budget. I did not plan; I did not think about my financial future. I still did not have a savings account; but even if I had, I would not have known how to use it.
I’m serious. Just think about that.
I wish my story were an anomaly.
But it is not.
I am one of the millions of women who find security, not in our savings accounts, but in the thrill of investing in some obscure “cause” or social venture. We opt for lifestyle over quality of life. We liberally invest in our friend’s half-baked dreams; we effortlessly drop $150 at the bar and don’t blink at a $257 dress by Free People.
Who needs to save money when we can just make more? Our purpose is not in the sum of our bank account but the quality of our work and designer linens.
We spend money on “minimalist designs” and create Urban Outfitter center-folds with our credit cards.
I was going broke, and I justified my actions with progressive feminist ideals. I was eschewing "the man," working exclusively for nonprofits, and giving my money to organic farmers in exchange for over-priced zucchini and kimchi. I was financially apathetic.
Financial apathy is chronic.
So many women continue to hold themselves unaccountable for their own financial health.
To illustrate my point, I recently had an enlightening conversation with a charismatic 26-year-old woman who was approaching her annual performance review at work.
I suggested that she request a modest raise during this review.
This confident young woman raised her eyebrows at my recommendation, and cautiously inquired, “can I do that? I mean, I know my co-workers won’t get a raise, and I don’t want to compromise them in any way."
We are raising generation of women who readily take on leadership roles and command the highest regard in a company.
AND these women will easily overwork, overcommit, and sacrifice health, family, and home for their careers. By many definitions, they are the OPPOSITE of apathetic.
But they will do this work for a low-ball dollar amount; plus, they will not budget, plan for, or protect their financial futures.
When it comes to their savings account, they look the other way.
So what are we to do?
Unless we intentionally teach our daughters to wait for the second marshmallow, they will immediately eat the first. (Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, n.d.)
Delayed gratification is not a natural instinct. It is a learned response. As parents, we are obligated to teach it.
Teach your daughters how to monitor the balance of a checking account. Share your family budget with them. Show them how to pay bills online. Start a mint.com account and give them an allowance that is dependent upon their work. Help them set up a monthly percentage of earnings that goes directly into savings. Allow them to learn from your mistakes, and give them the chance to make their financial mistakes, while they still live under your guidance.
But most importantly: handle your own emotional baggage around money. And trust me, you have baggage about money. We all do. So go looking for it first, or else your daughter will uncover it before you do.
And even the Urban Outfitters Weekender Duffle is not big enough to carry the financial baggage of a few generations.
Here are some practical tips to eradicate financial apathy, and help your daughter become a financial bad-ass.
Get over yo’ own shit. Take some time to reflect on your own biases about making, spending and planning for money.
Give your daughters the opportunity to manage their own money. No, they are not too young. Even a three-year-old understands that the lollipop is 1 dollar and they have .75 cents.
Share your financial blunders and focus on what you learned from your mistakes.
Invite them to participate in your budget planning sessions.
Talk to them about how to plan for major expenses, like the cost of your vacation. And encourage them to help you save.
Show them (by example) what it means to be a financially healthy and empowered woman. Lord knows we need more examples of that!
But most importantly, allow them to process their feelings and fears about money. Talk to them about the immediate sacrifices we make when setting financial goals (and the long-term benefits of those sacrifices). And let them know that by investing in their savings and financial health, they are investing in their family, their community, and their future.
Empowered independence is what will take them around the world, not the World Market.
By teaching our daughters financial health, you will be gifting them with the tools required to find real purpose in this world.
From one millennial dreamer to another, let’s teach our daughters to be financial bad-asses.