The other night, I was talking with a girlfriend about money. We talked about our jobs, what we wanted, and how we were going to make things work for ourselves over the next few years. I told her that, for me, the thing that had most tangibly changed my financial life was getting an accountant this year to handle my taxes and look at my finances for the first time. Because I was working for an American company, living overseas, and had multiple sources of income, it was essential for me at the time. Looking back now, I worry that, if I hadn’t been in those circumstances, I might never have gotten an accountant. I might never have asked all the questions — and gotten all the answers — that anyone my age should be asking.
It dawned on me, during our conversation, how rare it is for women to be brought up to talk about money. While my male friends might go to each other for career conversations or be more forthright when asking their bosses about all things money-related, finances were clearly one of those things that little girls never got the Big Talk about. My parents always taught me to be prudent, to save, and to prioritize things like health insurance, but I didn’t know what a 401K was. I didn’t know how to properly do my taxes (or, as my accountant was able to do, actually make them work for me). I looked at my work contracts, but rarely went over them with a fine-toothed comb and actually assessed my contributions. I had entered the professional world looking at things in strict terms of money earned versus money spent, and never considered what it meant to make financial decisions that would echo throughout the rest of my life.
Tipping the domino of finally having an accountant — whom I found, as anyone could, through his glowing online reviews — gave the impetus to do a thousand other things. I had a long, productive phone call with my banker and opened a new kind of account. I reached out to people in my life, both professional and friendly in nature, who were informed, successful, and had my best interests at heart. I started talking openly with my parents about my goals, and how I would reach them in the coming years. Suddenly, a whole world of foreign ideas for men in pinstriped suits became something I understood, and something I was determined to never be fooled by again.
You often don’t realize you have value until someone tells you, and from that moment on, you’ll never go back on yourself. You’ll never have a fear of negotiation, only a fear of someone else getting you for less than what you’re worth. You may not always get what you want, of course, but the shame or fear in being an advocate for your own financial future simply disappears. And no matter how much or how little you are earning, there is always a way to make what you have work more efficiently. There are programs like mvelopes — that I’d never heard of before someone told me — that can allow you to turn a shoestring budget into actual savings.
The more I learned, though, the more I resented the years I had spent being ignorant about money. While my parents were more thoughtful and open than most, I was still a girl. I still did not grow up surrounded by the kind of empowerment about money that many boys did. Some of it is generational, of course. Many of our teachers and influencers grew up in a world where women were simply not as present or as equal in the workplace. And we are still, every day, leveling out the playing field. But unless you actively break the spell in which you were raised — talking about money with girlfriends, having business brunches or book clubs where you read books about banking — you may never change things for the better.
And it’s not about every woman ending up an executive, leaning in until she has climbed all the way to the tippy-top of the corporate ladder and has a money manager at her personal disposal. It’s much simpler than that, and much more essential. As normalized as it has become for women to trade tips and anecdotes about fashion or beauty or celebrities, it should be equally normal for them to have a frank discussion about the things they have learned about their financial future. They should all be looking at their statements and their contracts with a keen eye and an unflinching desire to remain self-sufficient. If, one day, they end up being supported by a spouse while they raise children, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there should always be a backup plan, there should always be a foundation of savviness and work ethic that buffers them against the financial surprises even the most comfortable life can bring.
Your daughters deserve to know about money. They deserve to be brought up with the same sense of autonomy and importance around money that your sons are. Even if they never end up businesswomen, the art of balancing accounts and making decisions for the future are things that they need to be comfortable with. Every time your daughter opens a magazine and asks herself if her waistline or her eyeliner are refined enough, she should be opening up her budget spreadsheet and asking herself if she will be better off at this time next year. Because one day the world will be asking her to sign on the dotted line, and only you can decide if she will know where to put the pen.