Money. It’s the root of all evil. It’s time (or is time money?). It can’t buy you happiness. There are lots of quotes and advice about money. Here’s what I know: Money changes everything.
Yes, that’s the title of a Cyndi Lauper song (originally performed by The Brains but popularized by Lauper). Have a listen when you get a chance.
I learned a lesson about money when I was about five years old. I’d seen my dad leave the house every day to go to work, and I saw him pay for things. He gave my mom money to buy things (she worked too, but my dad made more and that’s what affected me as a child), he bought things, he bought things for me.
Sign me up! One day, I put on my dad’s corduroy shorts, his short-sleeved plaid shirt, an old pair of his glasses frames, and even his giant shoes. I must have looked hilarious. But I took it a step further: I carried an old wallet and got my mom to put some money in it. We went to the mall, where I had her call me “Doug.” I paid for everything that day. And I was hooked. I’ve been wearing the proverbial pants ever since. Please don’t analyze that scenario! Freud would have a heyday with it. But I digress.
Money is freedom. I’m not really a materialistic or greedy person, but I know the value of money. I’ve worked since I was 12. Babysitting, short-order cook, retail sales, you name it. I worked through university, and still do. I don’t live to work, but earning money is a safety net. I’ve built a career in a field that I enjoy and that pays far above the national average.
Earning my own money protects me. I’ve seen women have to ask to buy things or hide purchases from their husbands. Not me. I have my own money and manage my own finances. If I buy shoes, my husband doesn’t complain. If he buys drinks for the entire restaurant, who cares? We have one joint account for common expenses, such as mortgage and the phone bill. That’s it. The rest we keep separate. That doesn’t work for all couples, but it works for us.
I also feel that earning power is important for other reasons. I understand compound interest and the value of investing and I’m planning for my future. I like to shop, but I also like to be thrifty and look for sales and second-hand clothing. Fashions change; money is always in style.
I can speak my mind without worrying about getting cut off (I know some people who can’t disagree with their parents or spouses for fear of losing an income stream). I have an emergency fund in case I get injured, sick or laid off. Extra money also means I can leave a job if I have to (and I have). If I’m not being treated right, I don’t have to put up with it.
I’m lucky to have never been in situation where I had to flee my partner, but without money, it wouldn’t be easy to get out and on my own.
Understanding money, having a financial safety net, and making money are feminist actions. The majority of people in the world who live in poverty are women. Now that’s a complex issue for another post, but it drives home the importance of education, equality, and financial independence.
When women have rights and opportunities, they become better educated and in turn contribute to their own success and the success of their communities. They also have better access to family planning and are less likely to live in poverty. Raising children, while important and noble, is a huge financial burden that often sets women back financially. Child-rearing can often interrupt education and careers, and it’s expensive. The need for financial security is even more important for women who raise families.
Women are often paid less than men and are discriminated against in the workplace. 70% of the world’s poor are women. And even right here in the US, over half of Americans living in poverty are women. There are twice as many women over 65 living in poverty as men.
It sounds grim, and it is. But arming ourselves with education and a financial safety net is a good start. Then, we need to continue to fight for equal pay, access to high-paying jobs, affordable child care, available contraceptives, and support and protection from violence—for ourselves and all of our sisters. Simple!