More Than Money
Issue #19

Women, Money, and Power

Table of Contents

“Getting Savvy; Becoming Powerful”

Growing up, I never thought much about money. Like water for a fish, it was always there. My father, Richard, is the R in H&R Block, the income tax preparation company he started with his brother, Henry. "Don't worry" was the only advice my parents ever gave me about money. Under those words was an unspoken assumption: "There will always be a man to take care of you." My parents both truly believed that my world would be safe because I had a trust fund and Dad would manage everything until I married, at which time the responsibility, like a family coat of arms, would pass to my husband. That's how they had done it. That's how it was done. And I certainly didn't want it any other way. Money was too big a responsibility, and I felt utterly incapable.

Then one day, long after my husband had taken over managing my money, my carefully constructed world abruptly disintegrated. I went to the bank's ATM to take out some money--not more than $60 -- and a message on the screen told me I didn't have enough cash in my account to cover the withdrawal. I soon found out that my husband was a compulsive gambler in the stock market. Over the years he had lost a fortune. Now, with literally no money in the bank, I knew I could no longer ignore my finances. I had to do something. Even after our divorce, I received tax bills for over a million dollars, the result of taxes my husband never paid and bad deals he had gotten us in.

It was then, at my lowest ebb, that the tide began to turn, in a way I could never have predicted. As a journalist, I was hired for a research project on women with wealth by the organization Resourceful Women. Over the next several months, I interviewed dozens of wealthy women who had gone from being financially illiterate to being financially savvy. I was galvanized by the confidence and power that getting smart had given them. These women encouraged me, inspired me, gave me hope and a way to start tackling my own financial problems. Gradually, what was once financial gibberish started making sense. For the first time, I was excited about taking responsibility for my own financial independence.

While speaking to these women, I also felt that I was talking to true heroes. Not just because they had become smart with money, bucking all kinds of emotional blocks, social taboos, and external obstacles, but because of what they did with their money once they got smart. I began to see that managing your money wisely is just the first part of taking responsibility. The other part, equally important, is recognizing one has the power to affect change.

Each woman told me, some with wide-eyed delight, how she came to the realization, "I can make a difference." Each spoke of her desire to contribute to the world, typically through charitable donations, ethical investments, political contributions, businesses they started, or sometimes just by being able to help someone they loved. Once empowered, I learned, women often become empowering, discovering within themselves the wisdom and capacity to serve others.

When I began my interviews, all I wanted to know was how these women managed their money. I didn't much care how they used it. Only as I grew more financially adept myself did I start to become interested in what they had to say about evoking change. It was then that I began to resonate with their recurring comments like: "I have this urge to give back," or "the fun is in the sharing."

Hopefully, in the same way that I was moved by the women I've interviewed, you'll be inspired by the stories and opinions collected in this issue of More than Money . Transforming our self-doubt to self-reliance, our vulnerability to determination, and our ignorance to understanding is, after all, what growing is all about. Any woman can become financially astute. And if you are one who still doubts this in your heart of hearts, perhaps this issue of More than Money will help you hold on to the thought: maybe, just maybe, I can too.

Barbara Stanny is on the Impact Project's advisory board and is the author of Prince Charming Isn't Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money (New York: Viking, 1997).

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