Living with credit

Finances carry emotional weight for women – and that’s OK

Sienna Kossman

How I manage my money, credit cards and debt can be a regular source of worry and shame.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that women worry more about money than men and lose more sleep over concerns such as saving for retirement and paying for education.

When I wrote about the survey findings, the financial experts I spoke with were not surprised women worry more about money matters. Worry is just “kind of in our nature,” they said.

When it comes to financial issues, though, I think women’s concerns are raised for a variety of valid – and sometimes positive — reasons.

A Quartz article, “The financial hypocrisy of shaming women for debt while paying them less,” by Jordan Rosenfeld impeccably addresses many an underlying cause for female uneasiness with money issues. Rosenfeld shared her own financial story to outline how women often associate negative emotions – even shame – with financial management. Lower incomes (on average, women earn 84 percent of what men do, according to Pew Research), lack of strong financial role models and a desire to combat female stereotypes (we’re not all shopaholics, guys), can make us feel unprepared to make sound financial decisions.

While reading the article, I found myself identifying with much of what Rosenfeld described. Like her, I didn’t have great financial role models growing up. I had to figure out how to manage my own finances (and credit) and avoid repeating the struggles I watched others deal with for years.

As a result, I put a lot of pressure on myself to manage it all correctly so I wouldn’t feel or look like “a girl who couldn’t keep track of her spending.” I didn’t want to ask for help; I wanted to prove my financial independence. If I used my student credit card too much, I felt bad and didn’t want others to know.

Those feelings continue today as I take on larger, more “adult” financial responsibilities, such as managing multiple credit cards and paying off auto and student loans. I’m financially stable now, but still occasionally worry that I’m not doing what I’m “supposed to do” when it comes to making smart money decisions.

Curious about how other women feel, I asked some of the female editorial staff about their emotions when it comes to managing money.

Web editor Jamie Gonzalez shares my sentiments about feeling a need to assert her independence.

“I’ve always had some weird goal of being able to do everything on my own,” she said. “Can I climb on a roof to hang Christmas lights? Yes. Can I fix a broken garbage disposal? I have before. Can I support myself and manage my finances without the help of someone else? I think I could, if it came down to it.”

However, Jamie still experiences a sense of shame when it comes to debt management – especially when much of her job has her editing articles about the importance of not carrying credit card debt.

“It stresses me out that I can’t practice what I preach and that I’m having to pay interest on that debt,” she said.

Sometimes there’s also a conscious worry that someone else will judge her financial decisions, something that Rosenfeld addressed in her article.

“I feel like our moms are going to look at our accounts and yell at us for going out to eat or buying something expensive when we should be cutting back on spending or paying down numerous debts!” Jamie added.

Whether a woman takes care of the household finances may also play a role in how confident she is about money. After Jamie’s husband lost a higher-paying job six months ago, financial stress ensued, but important lessons were learned.

“Now that I’m the higher earner and have taken on more of the bills, I have a better grasp on our total living expenses, which is something I plan to continue even if/when he starts to earn more,” she explained.

Senior Managing Editor Julie Sherrier also believes good things can come from negative experiences.

“My financial role models, my parents, fell woefully short,” she explained. “My mother grew up poor, always pinched pennies and has mismanaged money her entire life. My father, on the other hand, always spent more than he brought in and was always in debt. So I made it a point to not pattern my spending after either one of them.”

Sure, she made her share of financial mistakes, but those are lessons learned and today Julie says she doesn’t feel any shame about her finances or carry debt outside her mortgage payments. However, “The fear of financial ruin is always there,” she said. “Perhaps the fear transcends from my mother, but a healthy fear of racking up too much debt, for example, has contributed to my financial stability, I believe.”

While financial stress isn’t always enjoyable, it can pay to worry about money at least to some degree.  Worrying means we care, which means we might be more likely to beef up our savings accounts or carry smaller card balances than men, as some recent gender-based financial studies have found.

Maybe that’s what should matter the most – all that worrying can result in positive financial habits.

After all, “We all should want to be able to take care of ourselves, regardless of gender,” Jamie said. It’s the shame, though, that we can do without.

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