This post is part of the #WomenRockMoney Movement, a group of female personal finance bloggers who have come together to inspire more women to own their finances. Thanks to Chelsea for putting together this collaboration and the amazing homepage for the movement!
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! If for some reason you’ve missed the fact that I’m a huge feminist and am therefore all about this day (and month) of celebration of women, well…surprise! When Chelsea at Mama Fish Saves asked who wanted to be part of this collaboration, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. She asked us to write a post about our most important piece of money advice for women, and I didn’t want to add to the multitudes of how-to posts about fundamentals like the basics of budgeting (especially since I don’t budget… ?♀️).
While I was thinking, I realized there was an incredibly essential thing that I wish I’d known earlier: no one else cares about your money. You are the only one who does.
That sounds disingenuous, especially from someone who blogs about her money and certainly appreciates when people read what she writes. But let me explain.
Taking the first step
I didn’t start out knowing much about money. In fact, I was headed for a life of living paycheck-to-paycheck and constantly feeling anxious about never seeming able to get ahead since there was nothing left over at the end of the month. It’s a huge fault of our society that no one taught me how to be good with money, and that’s something that needs to change. But because it wasn’t something I learned anywhere in school and it wasn’t something anyone was going to randomly decide to teach me about someday, I decided to start figuring it out for myself.
And therein lay the crucial first step.
No one was going to tell me the information I needed to know about responsibly spending and saving money without my asking them; I hadn’t asked because I hadn’t known that I knew nothing about money or that there were things I desperately needed to learn. All of the information was available to me via Google, but in order to know that, I first had to decide I was at a place where I wanted to learn about it. And then I had to ask for it.
Google not only introduced me to the world of personal finance in general, but it also taught me about financial independence. For someone with anxiety about money (among many other things), the idea of getting to a place where I was no longer reliant on a paycheck from someone else was life-changing.
I made some changes right then, but it took me a very long time to make any that were substantial enough to get myself on the path to FI. Why? I was too busy reading ALL OF THE BLOG POSTS and absorbing all of the information. There was so much to learn that it was overwhelming, and that continues to be the case: too many excellent blog posts, not enough time to read all of them!
But eventually I realized that cramming all of the financial knowledge in the world into my head wouldn’t in itself make a difference. Nothing changed until I decided to stop just reading and start also doing. After probably about six months of reading personal finance blogs, I finally started tracking my spending in December of 2016. I started this blog a few months later to hold myself publicly accountable and that act has forced me to make changes. I saved 43% of my income last month, which would’ve seemed impossible last year.
You are the one in charge of your money
Reading all of that advice certainly helped me make these changes, and I continue to read and learn more every day. But even if it were possible to somehow be in possession of all of the financial knowledge in the world, no one can implement it for you. It’s up to you to take charge.
I’m on my second job out of college and I am just now in the process of negotiating a raise, which is the first time in my life I’ve ever asked my employer for more money. Not negotiating my salaries when I accepted both offers is completely my own fault, and it happened for many reasons, a lack of knowledge about how to do so and a feeling of “who am I to dare ask for more money?” among them. I knew in theory that I should’ve negotiated but I didn’t feel like it was my place to ask. And because my employers sure didn’t care about my salary as much as I do, I’ll never know how much more I could’ve been making off the bat.
It’s vitally important that women negotiate their first salary (oh hey there, wage gap), and I’m not the only one saying that! But in addition to the monetary value of that negotiation, that process gives you the invaluable skill of knowing the importance of advocating for yourself and how to do so. I could beat myself up about not having learned this lesson earlier, but at least I’m finally doing so now. I’m fighting for myself because HR isn’t going to see me doing a great job and automatically give me more money in recognition. If I don’t advocate for myself, no one will.
No one else cares, and that’s a good thing
You know how we spend way too much time wondering what other people are thinking about us, but others are too busy worrying about themselves to pay too much attention to us? The same thing goes with spending money.
I’ve never worn makeup on a daily basis, partly because my mother didn’t and therefore never taught me how to use it, but also because I’ve always been too damn lazy to learn (who wants to wake up any earlier than they have to?). For years I worried about whether I should start wearing it for the sake of appearances: were all of my girlfriends going to think I was weird? (Were guys going to think I was weird or ugly for not wearing it??) If my friends all wore makeup every day, why shouldn’t I do it, too? Was not wearing it going to affect my chances of getting a job?
It turns out no one cares that I don’t wear it, and that I don’t therefore spend a significant amount of my income on buying makeup products (the pink tax is real).
This is not by any means me implying that women shouldn’t spend money on or wear makeup (or other traditionally feminine things) if it makes them happy; I enjoy plenty of traditionally feminine things myself, and I’ll fight for any woman’s right to do the same! But I spent years of my life worrying about not fitting in with my friends because of what I wasn’t putting on my face, and while I do still expend way too much energy on caring what other people think of me in real life, I’m better at it now. I wish I’d known earlier that no one cares about any aspect of my life as much as I do.
Likewise, I don’t particularly care what anyone does with their money on a personal level (obviously there are broader implications for how the ultra-wealthy and how heads of companies spend money, but I’m not getting into that). There are some nice houses in my neighborhood and sometimes, out of morbid curiosity, if I see a “for sale” or “for rent” sign I’ll go look up how much it costs and then laugh helplessly; I’ll walk past an expensive car and wonder if someone can actually afford it or if they’re actually drowning in debt. But ultimately I don’t care, and half a second later the thought’s vanished as I continue about my day.
No one cares how I spend my money, and no one cares how you spend yours. Obviously that’s not exactly the case for those of you ladies who have partners, since clear money communication and both partners having a role in their financial life are a huge factor in a successful relationship. But since I’m single, at the end of the day, the only person I have to answer to is myself. That’s incredibly freeing! So I spend on what makes me happy (well, I’m working on it, anyway) and don’t worry about how society thinks I should spend my money.
Personal finance is personal
I try to focus here on telling my own story more than offering sweeping, prescriptive advice. When I talk about what I’m going to do with my tax return or the money I earn from my part-time job, I am talking very specifically about my own situation and not insinuating that you should do exactly the same thing with your tax return. One of the most fascinating things about being in the financial independence sphere is reading about other bloggers’ spending and seeing how it differs from mine. We all have different backgrounds, income levels, and priorities, and therefore our money stories don’t all look the same.
Whenever I say personal finance is personal, I mean that in the “your money isn’t going to look like my money” sense. But it’s also true that since you’re the one who cares the most, it’s personally up to you to learn how to manage your money.
For years I coasted along, spending money on things I thought I was supposed to as a young professional in her first Big Girl job, and I didn’t know that there was so much out there I needed to learn. Which is why it depresses me when I see statistics like “only 22% of US women can answer three key finance-related questions correctly.” I very easily could’ve been among that 78% of women who knows nothing about personal finance if my money anxiety hadn’t pushed me towards figuring it out for myself.
So much good happens when women are in control of their money, and this International Women’s Day, I’d love to see some of these depressing statistics about women and money start to change for the better.
So, ladies, let’s get out there and rock our money, because no one’s going to do it for us.
Want to get in on the conversation? Share a way you’ll improve your financial position this year with the hashtag #WomenRockMoney, and head over to the landing page to read the 40+ (!!!) other 42 posts from my co-collaborators.