Women & Wealth: How women talk about money
This is part 7 of our 7-part series in celebration of Women’s History Month.
We interviewed several women whose experiences span different generations, backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and careers, and asked them to tell their stories of financial literacy.
Our goal? To empower all women to become confident in their finances. We believe that homeownership is the foundation of wealth and that home lenders—who hold the key to this achievement—play a crucial role in helping women attain financial independence.
Throughout our Women & Wealth series, we have addressed just some of the unique financial challenges that women face today. We’ve seen that student debt disproportionately affects women. We’ve found that women face more obstacles to financial independence than men. And we’ve looked at studies proving that women make only $0.82 for every dollar men make in America.
But we’ve also celebrated women’s successes. Following the stories of several women from childhood to today, we’ve seen them overcome implicit prejudice, pull themselves out of debt, and become successful homeowners, working mothers, and financially independent women.
Women are more invested in their financial well-being than ever before. And yet, many find themselves struggling to share their financial goals, hurdles, triumphs, and questions with others. Whether it’s with family, friends, or partners, nearly one-third of women feel uncomfortable discussing money. What’s more, a staggering 80 percent avoid talking about money with friends and family.
There’s not one single reason for this aversion. For some women, talking about money is understood to be “off-limits”—they have been raised to consider it rude or taboo. For others, the conversation simply never came up. And for many women, the topic is avoided for fear of repercussions—in many cases, the fear of comparing themselves to others or of worrying their parents.
As we found during our conversations with Kat Keeton, Ray Lanoza, Elaine Ko, and Erin Lehrhoff, many factors come into play to influence when, how, and if a woman chooses to discuss her finances with others.
Money as a taboo: “You just didn’t talk about money.”
For women, the importance of being polite is emphasized from a young age. Even if we would prefer to discuss money more openly, it’s difficult to do so when we’ve been raised to believe these kinds of conversations are inappropriate or best kept private.
According to a Fidelity study, 16% of women feel that discussing money is “taboo.” As Kat Keeton found, this was a viewpoint passed down through generations.
Kat was born in the U.S. Army base in Bremerhaven, Germany. During her father’s 20-years Active Duty in the Army, Kat and her family moved around quite a bit—both in the U.S. and from the U.S. to Germany.
While her sense of her parents’ finances was always “they had enough to make us happy,” it was not until the Recession—when her parents were hit hard—that conversations about money became more open.
“Looking back,” Kat recalled, “I think I could probably recognize times that may have been challenging for my parents, but that was never something that they were openly talking to us about. I think that is very generational—you just didn’t talk about money.”
Ray Lanoza grew up with a similar understanding. Born and raised in California, Ray said that achievements like owning a home were something to be celebrated in her community. Money, on the other hand, was a private matter: “I’ve always known it to be something that you didn’t really discuss at the table,” she shared.
While Ray grew up with the notion that money may not be polite dinnertime conversation, she did admit that these discussions are okay in the right place at the right time. “If people ask me,” she shared, “I’m more open to it directly. And it depends on who it is—you know, a friend. It’s one of those things where you have to read the room.”
Ray’s view on the matter echoes many other women’s sentiments: discussing money is thought of as a matter of etiquette. However, in some cases, women’s aversion to discussing money comes from their fear of how their finances will measure up to others’.
Opening up with friends
It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of comparing ourselves to what others do or have—or, at least, what we think they do or have. As Ray admitted, “when your family and friends all live where you grew up and are living the same kind of lifestyle, it does make you question—are you spending or saving your money the way you should, when other people are doing it differently than you are?” It is important for us to remember that we all have our own definitions of success, and financial freedom enables us to live our lives the way we envision them.
Kat recalled that these comparisons were particularly difficult to balance in her younger years. She found herself, in her early twenties, “being consumed by the life I wanted to live versus the life I could afford to live.” Eventually, this led Kat to accumulate credit card debt that left her feeling isolate. As she explains, “I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. I know I definitely didn’t want to talk to my parents about it, because I didn’t want them to be disappointed in me.”
What Kat realized, however, was that not discussing these issues was only contributing to the problem. So, Kat shared, “I started being more open with girlfriends.” What did this look like? Being honest and upfront with each other about their financial situations. “It was [about] telling each other, ‘Hey, money’s tight this month. Can we cook at home?’ Or, ‘Can we do something together so that we don’t have to go out?’” Most of all, she wanted her friends and herself to feel comfortable discussing “what we were going through and how we could just be there to support each other.”
So, how did Kat do this? After she began working with a financial advisor, Kat started getting her friends involved in the conversation. “I would actually have him come to dinner parties with my friends, and we would just sit around and talk about finances. We would just try to understand what it all meant so that we could really ask the questions that we were too afraid to ask. It was very much a safe space to try to figure it out and not be afraid of looking dumb by asking those questions.”
Concern from parents
The Fidelity study found that just 47% of women surveyed feel confident talking about finances with a financial professional. It’s no surprise that this can be even more nerve-wracking when the conversation is taking place with a loved one. For some women, the thought of talking about money with family brings about anxieties: Will they worry about me? Will they approve of how I’m handling my money?
Elaine Ko, who moved from New Jersey to California at the age of 10, recalled that her parents taught her to start saving money from a young age. Marrying that habit with an entrepreneurial spirit, she recently turned her “side hustle,” a fitness business, into her full-time job.
Both Ray and Elaine expressed concerns about discussing their finances with their parents. Ray said that she frequently considers how her parents might view her financial well-being—she thinks about “what [her] parents might agree or disagree on” when it comes to how she manages her money. Elaine, on the other hand, is somewhat open with her mother about her finances. However, she doesn’t always disclose the full details—“I don’t want her to get worried,” Elaine admitted.
During the pandemic, Elaine’s business had to close its doors for nine months. While it was a difficult, uncertain time, Elaine felt it best to keep this fact private. “We’re okay. It’s like breaking up in a relationship—people are asking questions, and you’re like, ‘no, we’re totally fine.’ I just don’t feel the need to go into detail about it.”
“Am I doing enough?”
While Ray and Elaine were concerned with how their parents may view their decisions or financial situations, Erin Lehrhoff sometimes worries about her own financial decisions. While her parents equipped her with a great deal of financial knowledge, she still feels that she and her husband could be doing more when it comes to managing their finances.
Erin was born in Livingston, New Jersey. As a little girl, her father began his own business. The strain of starting a new business from the ground up meant things were sometimes tight for her family. However, as Erin grew older and her father’s business became successful, things became more secure. Erin admitted that she was grateful that “finances were not really a big issue in our household. We never had to worry or struggle for money.”
And yet, Erin sometimes finds herself questioning her family’s decisions when reviewing their finances. “It honestly gives me a little bit of stress and anxiety,” she said, “because I feel like I sit and review things, and I’m like, ‘Oh, we really should be saving more.’”
What is particularly challenging for Erin is the fact that she and her husband take such different approaches in managing their money. While she takes an active role in their financial planning, frequently questioning whether they could be doing things differently, her husband tends to take a more lax approach.
Like roughly three-quarters of American women in heterosexual marriages, Erin’s husband is the primary breadwinner. This adds to the stress of reviewing her family’s finances. Sometimes, Erin shared, she feels that she doesn’t necessarily deserve to have a say. “I make probably a third of what my husband makes. That’s stressful too.” Erin noted that while part of her feels like she should be involved in their financial future, she is acutely aware that “it’s not necessarily my money that I earned… You feel a little unequal in a way,” she admitted.
It’s not that Erin isn’t thankful—in fact, she respects her husband for how hard he works “to give us this house; to give us this life.” But given that her husband is the bigger earner in her household, Erin feels conflicted about her desire to play such an active role in her family’s finances.
Women’s concerns are everyone’s concerns
As we’ve seen from Kat’s, Ray’s, Elaine’s, and Erin’s stories, a myriad of reasons inform a woman’s decision on when and how to discuss finances with others. While this decision is ultimately up to her, it is not enough for us to simply accept that women “just don’t talk about money.”
Women shouldn’t be made to face the burden of tackling this complex issue on their own. We must instead strive toward actions that will foster more open communication about money among everyone.
Where does this begin? To start, we can look to Kat, who said she would not feel comfortable discussing finances or compensation with colleagues “until companies start to adopt open and transparent salaries” for their employees.
The current gender pay gap has women earning $0.82 for every dollar a man makes. However, women who agree that their organizations take a transparent approach to pay actually earn between $1 and $1.01 for every dollar a man earns, on average. Companies must promote more transparent policies when it comes to ensuring equal pay for all. Doing so isn’t just a step in the right direction—it’s an initiative that affects real change.
Throughout Women’s History Month, our Women & Wealth series has touched upon just some of the countless stories women have to tell of their relationships to money and personal finance. And now, as the month draws to a close, we’d like to acknowledge not just the women we’ve held conversations with, but all women. We are continually inspired by women’s drive to learn, grow, and succeed in spite of all their unique challenges.
We at Roostify believe that women bring a unique perspective to the world — not just when it comes to digital lending, but to everything from intersectionality and systemic prejudice to workplace transparency and equity. We are committed to employing, empowering, and uplifting women, because when women thrive, we all thrive.
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