Women & Wealth: Why Financial Literacy is Essential to Women’s Financial Success
This is part 2 of our 8-part Women & Wealth 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.
These women’s stories will not only educate, but inspire. Missed the first one? Read Gina’s journey from student debt to financial independence.
Financial literacy faces a profound gender gap. In a survey of 150,000 adults spanning over 140 economies about money and their financial knowledge, just 30% of women could be considered “financially literate.” Women also preferred to opt out of answering financial questions they were unsure of much more frequently than men, rather than attempting to answer and possibly getting the question wrong.
But this isn’t just a matter of a lack of knowledge or confidence. A woman’s relationship to her finances is shaped by many factors: her experience, education, family life, patterns, and associations with money. And it begins young. According to a study at Purdue University, children understand the concept of money by age three. Many of them have money habits set by age seven.
This is where the financial literacy gender gap begins—and the implications echo on throughout a woman’s lifetime. We can (and need to) do better—as families, as societies, and as institutions—to ensure that women are financially literate from a young age.
For this blog post, we’ve interviewed Christy Moss. Christy, who currently leads Sales & Marketing at FormFree, has built a successful career in the mortgage industry and has always been passionate about teaching young women about financial literacy.
Christy shares that her financial education came from many places: her father, her life experiences, and herself. Her story reveals a truth that’s felt by many women: that a girl’s upbringing and early experiences have big impacts on her financial future and success as a woman.
Christy Moss: “If you can buy a home, you should buy a home.”
Christy Moss’s family has deep roots in Georgia that span generations. She’s proud to be a native Georgian and to call her native state home: “There aren’t many of us left. I’m not sure where they go, but I’m not leaving—I’m not leaving Georgia.”
Christy’s father embodies the upward mobility at the heart of the true American dream. Growing up working on the family farm, her father later moved to Atlanta. There, he began working at General Motors—a career he remained in for the rest of his adult life. Her mother stayed at home, taking care of her two children.
While her family never discussed money openly, Christy was acutely aware of it from a young age. She saw the strain put on her father when union strikes caused him to be laid off for weeks at a time—but they always found ways to adapt.
When it came to visiting her grandmother an hour away, for instance, Christy's father would say, “‘Well, we can only go down to your grandmother’s every other weekend instead of going every weekend.’ We looked at it as the cost of gas,” Christy said. “We had everything we needed, but it was not extravagant by any means.”
Education through experience
As Christy got older, her family still didn’t speak openly about money. Nonetheless, her father made a point to teach her the value of a dollar in his own way—especially when it came to saving for the future.
When Christy began babysitting at age 12, her father brought her to a credit union. “It was a big deal,” she recalls. “I got to open up my own savings account. Then, I put in all my own babysitting money. I didn't have the choice of spending it. He was like, ‘You're going to start a savings account, and I will take you, and we will deposit your money.’”
Her father instilled this financial responsibility in her at an early age. “When you turn 16,” she remembers him saying, “you’re going to want to buy a car. You’re going to need money to do that because I can’t buy you a car.” Like depositing her hard-earned cash, going on to buy her first car was just one of many markers on her journey to financial self-reliance.
Christy says that her father saw potential in her from a young age. He consistently drove home the idea that she had the power to control her financial future. “One thing that I heard from dad every day, if not twice a day, since I was a little girl,” she shares, was the notion of independence: “Someone’s gotta be in charge,” he said; “it might as well be you.”
Today, Christy has a profound appreciation for her father’s support and encouragement—especially since it came during a very different time. She is grateful that even in the late 60s and early 70s, her father had “the forethought to give me that message every day (if not twice a day) so that I was raised to be an independent thinker. The focus was not on building independent women at that time. It really came out in the 80s, and I already had that base which I’m so grateful for.”
Christy’s father instilled in her confidence, perhaps seen by many as ahead of its time, that now embodies a common saying of hers: “I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.”
The value of homeownership
One of her father’s most impactful lessons, Christy shares, came when he purchased their first family home. Prior to that, the family had only rented.
“It was a big deal,” she recalls. “For a young family, he was proud that this was his home. We weren’t going to have to leave again. This was the place that he chose for us, the school system that he wanted us to be in. So, even before I started my first job, I understood the security of having a home.”
Christy carried that lesson with her into her marriage. Even with interest rates at 12%, she and her husband chose to buy a house, as “renting, for me, was just a waste of money. If you can buy a home, you should buy a home.” To Christy, homeownership was a hallmark of financial security—and her best bet at generating her own wealth.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Christy passed the same message along to her children. As soon as they finished school, she told them to buy a house, as well. And they did.
Spreading financial empowerment
Christy spent her life working in finance for names like Citi and Fannie Mae. It was her career in the credit union, however, that drove home the significance of an (often unspoken) fact: kids are not taught how to manage their finances in school.
To address this glaring need, Christy started teaching her children’s friends the lessons she had taught her own children. She became the “Financial Mom,” warning them against the money pit of renting and showing them condos they could afford with strong projected appreciations.
During her tenure at the credit union, Christy also worked with many other kids who benefited from these lessons in personal finance, while guest lecturing at high schools to teach kids about financial literacy. She knew a lot of parents didn’t talk to their children about personal finance, so these children only had financial institutions, like credit unions, to teach them—especially when it came to home lending.
Christy’s efforts did not fall on deaf ears. As she recalls, “Teachers would say, ‘This is all great information—can you come to school and talk to my class?’ Some young people in high school didn’t understand what a checking account was. They didn’t understand that you actually had to have money in there. ”
Lessons for women
Educating young people about financial life—from the importance of savings and good credit to avoiding high interest rates and late payments—became Christy’s calling. During this initiative, however, she noticed a profound difference in the ways men and women looked at financial literacy.
There is a very real gap in women’s financial literacy (knowledge and skills) and their ability to meet their financial goals (putting those skills to work). In fact, the Girl Scouts of the USA's Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) launched a survey called ”Having it All: Girls & Financial Literacy” that exposed a glaring dichotomy. On the one hand, girls wanted to be independent and financially savvy. At the same time, fewer than one in eight actually considered themselves "very confident" financially.
Christy took it upon herself to make sure that wasn’t the case with the young women she taught. The good news? They were ready to hear what she had to say—and then some.
“Young women were really taking it all in. They were very inquisitive, really wanting to learn more.” They would say things like: “‘How does that impact me? Why do I need life insurance? I had no idea that credit could impact how much car insurance you pay. Should I be thinking about that?’”
Christy loved helping young women become financially independent. She saw power and worth in being self-reliant and creating your own wealth. Like her father, Christy spreads a message of empowerment and self-reliance: “You absolutely need a credit card. You need to have your own finances. Your credit should not be tied to anyone because not all relationships in your life are going to last. Don’t become a co-borrower with someone on a car because you know what, in 22 months, that person might not be in your life, and then you’re tied to them on a 7-year loan.”
She often told the young women in her classroom: “It’s nice to have a partner, but you don’t need one to survive. You make your own decisions. If your brakes on your car are going out, figure it out. You can either do it yourself or find someone who can do it for you.” She adds, however, that you should “do your research and figure out what the cost should be so you’re not being taken advantage of.”
In the end, Christy believes women’s financial success boils down to independence: “[You] have to be smart. And it’s not that you have to be book smart—it’s that you have to be thoughtful about your life. Because I would rather be a smart girl making my own rules than following somebody else’s.”
Much like her father taught her, Christy believes confidence—in finances and in life—is essential for all women. This confidence, she says, comes from empowerment: “Give them the self-esteem, the confidence, and the education to make their own decisions. Because it all starts with self-esteem and confidence.”
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