An upsetting number of women know next to nothing about money. Up until very recently, Angela Meyer was one of those women. Now she’s getting money savvy and making up for lost time.
I spent countless hours berating myself for being so useless. How could I know all the lyrics to Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album and next to nothing about how to manage my money? Was it because I only got a C- in School C maths? Was it the patriarchy pigeonholing women to identify as spenders rather than savers? Could it be intergenerational trauma from my family’s difficulties with money? Was I just not cut out to understand the men in the grey suits and all their financial jargon? What the heck was the shortcut to wealth? And, why did I feel like vomiting every time I thought about money?
I was in the dark. Locked out of that “white man’s magic” – the boys’ club of investing, stocks, ETF, PIE, DCA etc.
“WTF” is what I thought.
We all have our own money story, and mine, while stacked with many of the tick boxes of privilege, was keeping me from entering the cashed-up club and feeling financially secure.
As a card-carrying feminist, I am ashamed to say that growing up, I thought that only men were good with money.
Only it wasn’t true. Not in our home.
My father went bankrupt, twice. The first time we lost our house. The gossip mill went double time.
“Did you hear? He’s bankrupt. Owing lots. Terrible for the girls . . . And his wife . . . Yes. Still, he should have known better . . . ”
I don’t recall Dad making excuses (the 1987 stock market crash), or talking about mitigating factors (he hadn’t been paid commissions on time) or the extraordinary run of bad luck he’d had. I remember him hustling (any number of get rich quick schemes – Amway, anyone?) and trying to hold his head high (driving a forklift for less than minimum wage), while I was filled with the conflicting emotions of humiliation and love. How could he let this happen? But he was not a bad man. A recent survey by The Treasury shows only 43 percent of New Zealanders self-identify as having a high financial literacy rate. In the mid-‘90s the bankruptcy rate was at an all time high. It wasn’t just Dad, it was life.
The only conversations I heard about money were either so fanciful – like the time Dad came home with a Mercedes Benz brochure and said “choose one” – or extremely stressful. We knew how to answer the phone in case it was a debt collector, final demand letters would pile up on the kitchen table and my mother would ask repeatedly about what was going on, only to be told a tale so completely convincing and logical that it seemed silly to have worried about it. She wasn’t alone. Dad was a very charismatic man and we all wanted to believe his schemes would work out.
And then, it happened again.
The last conversation I had with my father was about money. He was lying in his hospice bed, gasping for breath as he tried to share with me his plan that would help keep the wolf from the door. It was something about subdividing or maybe it was pooling money or . . . who knows. I didn’t want to know. I wanted my Dad. He died two days later. Owing money. It breaks my heart to think that these were the last words we had with each other. It makes me cry to think that the pressure he felt that quantifies success as the accumulation of money was so great, he had to work every hour God gave and that he couldn’t ask for help.
He was a bloody great Dad. He wasn’t good with money. Those two things are true.
Financial insecurity has had a profound effect on me, and my sisters and my mum.
There has been therapy. There have been tears. There has been a huge amount of fear and confusion and anger. For me, for a long time, debt equalled death. One of my sisters to this day cannot open officially addressed mail.
This shit runs deep.
After his death I put my head in the sand and became a workaholic, equating wealth-creation with hard work. If only I worked harder, maybe I would be worthy of financial security? Despite lots of professional and personal achievements, I felt like a total loser. I am a risk taker by nature, I have sailed across the world with a toddler. Left a well-paid job to start an agency. Walked solo from Wellington to Palmerston North – admittedly humming Meatloaf’s greatest hits along the way. But like many women, it’s complicated. My relationship with money was toxic.
My attitude to saving was a bit like being gluten- free and then having just a little bit of baklava for dessert. I know that delicious honey-soaked filo pastry is going to kick me in the guts and yet every time I think, maybe this time, it won’t. Every time I spent anything from my savings account I’d feel guilt and shame. It was all or it was nothing. It was living on a prayer. And not getting any closer to financial security.
Honestly, I didn’t know where to start.
Then came the rage. The rage of the perimenopausal woman who has a sudden and profound realisation that there is no shortcut to wealth, that I had been taught about recipes for meringues and not about compounding interest. I put my feminist lens across the finance sector, and let out a howl.
The gender pay gap, longer life expectancy, and breaks in workplace participation, coupled with women having lower financial knowledge than men and the fact that Kiwi women are more likely to be the victims of financial abuse in relationships, all contribute to women’s low KiwiSaver balances. We are retiring into poverty. Great, after a lifetime of hard work for low pay, we get the added bonus of a rough retirement!
I realised that wishing and hoping was not going to cut it. Anger restored the gift of clarity. The buck stopped with me. There was no family money. Winning lotto was not a viable strategy. I was privileged to have an education, a home to live in, a family that supported me. I needed to learn about money. The first step was changing my mindset. I had to believe I could get it sorted.
In a survey conducted by the Ace Lady Network in 2019, a lack of financial confidence was the top issue preventing women from achieving their financial goals. For the vast majority of women, their money stories are centered around feeling safe.
In other words, it’s not just about how much women make, it’s about the kind of life financial security can provide them, and the sense of safety it affords both women and their families.
I get it. Women get it. Gender inequality persists throughout New Zealand society – it permeates all aspects of our lives, from health, safety, and economic wellbeing, to education, to who has influence and who makes decisions. It negatively impacts businesses, government, families, and the community, as well as individuals.
Here’s a truly terrifying statistic – according to Double Denim’s Gender Intelligence Report (2017), 87 percent of New Zealand women don’t feel safe.
What kind of country are we living in when 87 percent of the women in it do not feel safe? When I dug into the stat more, feeling safe means feeling safe in public, in our homes, in our relationships, in our jobs, and in our financial lives. Another howl.
I began with The Barefoot Investor. His book was what I needed at the time – disclaimer, it’s written from a very cis white man point of view – but I found the advice solid. Instead of a spreadsheet, he talks about percentages. Whatever money I got as income, I put it into four different accounts. Ten percent into an account that I could spend on whatever I wanted, guilt free; 20 percent into my “F**k Off Fund” – a stash of cash that you put aside and tell no one about, and if you need to leave a toxic relationship or workplace you can do this without having to rely on anyone else’s money; 10 percent into expenses like rego and warrants. The rest in the everyday account. I started putting money into my KiwiSaver and I opened a sharesies account. Finally I could focus on bringing in the money and, by setting up a bunch of automatic payments, I stopped the spiral of doom and slowly I started to feel more secure.
Turns out, investing isn’t anywhere near as complicated as the dudes in the grey suits would have us believe. If you can op-shop, you can invest in the stock market. My mother’s favorite saying is “Never pay full price”. The same principle applies to the stock market.
Bargain-hunting is a national sport among women – the other day I found a Deadly Ponies handbag in an op shop for a fiver. Yes, really. And, in the same way as I check the racks for the best labels in an op shop, I check out great brands on the stock market, wait till they take a dip, buy them and wait for the market to recover and then sell them for a profit or hold them and watch my portfolio grow. Obviously there is a little more to it than that. But now I get the same thrill investing in the stock market as I do op shopping.
The Financial Markets Authority’s (FMA) Investor Confidence Survey indicated women were more likely to doubt themselves as investors and, perhaps as a result, were far less willing to take on investment risk.
In general, women have a lower financial knowledge than men. This isn’t due to a difference in the ability to understand the subject matter, but the way in which women talk about money.
I, like many women, needed metaphors and comparisons that made sense to me, that were already a part of my life.
Since I cracked that, I haven’t looked back.
Maybe if Meatloaf had written power ballads about compounding interest, retirement savings and the joys of investing, I would have more of a clue about money, how to get it, keep it and make more of it.
All I know is that I would do anything for love, but I won’t completely combine my finances with my partner, oh no, no, I won’t do that. Perhaps that was what Meatloaf was on about all along.