By Sunel Veldtman

Almost one out of three women believe that men are better at handling financial matters than women are. This is according to The Old Mutual Savings Monitor (2012) – one of the few surveys that have studied the attitudes of South African women towards money. Even worse though, is that 65% of men agreed with the statement.

I was no different. Even though I held three post-graduate financial qualifications, had over a decade of work experience in insurance, stockbroking and investments; and had advised some of the wealthiest families on their investments: I still somehow managed to convince myself that I could not read a bank statement and that my husband knew better when it came to our finances.

How had I gotten myself into that position?

I had all the theoretical knowledge but could not put it into practise for myself. Women might be wondering at this point – if a financial guru cannot get this right, how on earth can I? However, I am proof that it is not only about financial knowledge as much as it is about our relationship with and attitudes towards money.

What is it about our relationship with money that stumps us?

1. How we were raised matters

I grew up in a very traditional home. My dad was the breadwinner and took care of all the financial matters. My mom ran the home and took care of us. I was looking for a partner to take care of me in the same way. I never realised that my husband’s home background was very different to mine (and very unusual for that time). We both had a picture of being taken care of, but in his home, it was his mum that took care of all the financial matters.

I still find that many women have this picture – a sort of ‘Cinderella’ idyll. You want to feel safe and secure – taken care of. You want someone else to take the responsibility for the hard stuff. You want the prince on the horse to make it all happen.

You may think that we have come a long way; that women now take care of themselves. However, I find that even professional women and self-made entrepreneurs have little appetite for taking care of their personal finances. In so many cases, they still outsource it to their spouses or financial advisors. I see them in my office regularly – the self-made millionaire shifting all their financial matters across the table to make it all happen and be taken care of by someone else.

The pictures and words of our childhoods are seeds that sprout when watered. If these pictures and words are repeated and especially if they co-incide with traumatic experiences, they form deep roots and develop into trees that bear fruit in our adult lives. They become money messages that dictate our thinking and actions even subconsciously. Think of some of the sayings of your gran or your parents: “Money doesn’t grow on trees” or “Choose a man that can provide for you.”

A good exercise to do is to write down all the money messages you’ve received over time. If you think about how you manage your money now, you’ll notice that many of those messages stuck – maybe even subconsciously? If so, are they helpful and should you continue to follow them?

2. Get familiar with your money

Why is it that we women don’t relate to our money, talk about money or learn about the world of money?

We don’t discuss the stock market at braais. We do not, in general, have a natural curiosity about financial matters. I blame the financial industry for talking to women in ways that simply alientate us. Putting pink branding on products designed primarily for men, and then marketing them to women, also does not help. However, we cannot completely shift the blame.

It’s time that our attitudes to our personal finances match our attitudes towards our careers and the rest of our lives. Just as we need to learn about our bodies, we need to learn about and take control of our money.

There is another element to our distant relationships with money. It feeds our insecurity. A 2006 survey by Alliance Capital found that nine out of ten women felt financially insecure. This insecurity seemed uncorrelated to the level of income or total wealth of the women surveyed. It seems like a primal fear.

One proven way to overcome this insecurity is to get clarity around the facts. When you know your situation, even if it is bad; at least you can make a plan. If you do not know, you just continue to fear!

Research indicates that women find it difficult to make time to look after their money. Women still spend more time organising their households and caring for their families, despite the majority of us now working outside the home. We leave very little time for ourselves and even less time for our money.

It’s not easy, even for me, even now, to sit down and familiarise myself with my personal finances. It’s the last thing I feel like when I have worked hard and taken care of my family. However, it’s the first step to being responsible for my own finances, and not relying on others to manage my money and my future.

3. Your money and your life

If those numbers on your investment report leave you cold, you are not alone. It appears that there is a fundamental difference in how women see their money and that’s not bad. As women, we see our money as a tool to reach the goals of our lives – money is not the object but the means by which we attain education for our kids, health care for our families, the retirement we dream of, or the security we need.

If you can think about your money in these terms, it may spur you on to do something about it. I grew up on a farm in the Karoo where I watched the gardener water the vegetable and fruit garden. Around the garden, there were little cement channels separated by small sluice gates. He would channel the water to the dry areas by opening and closing the sluice gates. Years ago, when I first started planning to start my own business, I put a plan together, to channel money into my dream project. Every month before anything else was paid; I put money into an investment account for this purpose. Now I look back and I know that if it had not been for that fund, I would never have been able to start my business.

Ask yourself the question. “What is the money for?” Perhaps the answer will inspire you to get stuck into your money matters.

Right now, I am planning for my own Encore years – the years after fifty. It has inspired me to take a good look at our finances. It has motivated me to rechannel the money to our future dreams, to review our retirement savings and our monthly budget.

Women and the financial world

The financial world has been dominated by men and despite more recent conscious effort to change this, this remains the reality. The result is that this world still does not speak to women. Unsurprisingly, most women find it foreign. In addition, research shows that women relate differently to services providers – they want to be educated and informed, not patronised and kept in the dark. They want their time resepcted and appreciate efforts to make interaction as easy and simple as possible. They want to feel part of a community so that they can relate to the financial services provider through that community.

What makes Foundation a place where women thrive?

Unlike most financial instiutions in South Africa, Foundation Family Wealth puts empasis on creating an environment where women feel at home.

  • We focus on needs based, holistic financial planning, which resonates with women because it relates our advice to their key questions. For example, will I have enough money to send my kids to overseas universities? Will I have enough money to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams?
  • We listen. It is part of our DNA to ask questions and to listen. We strive to ask the questions that will help our clients verbalise their concerns and thoughts.
  • We have empathy for newly single women – those going through divorce or the death of a spouse. In addition, we have spesialised expertise in dealing with these, sometimes complicated issues.
  • We provide learning opportunities for women through our regular courses
  • Our clients (especially the women) always comment on the sense of community they feel at Foundation Family Wealth. Through our regular functions and sometimes, direct introductions, they are able to share their journeys whether it be as entrepreneurs or through widowhood.