Money can be a scary subject for most people, and most of us simply don’t want to talk about it because we feel shame admitting that our debt outweighs our income. Since there are no agreed upon metrics for financial success, the money subject tends to fall in the bucket of Do Not Discuss, along with politics, sex, and religion. By omitting money from our dialogue, we also contribute to the wide social effects from that silence. In the United States, for every dollar a single man owns, a woman only owns 32 cents. According to The Women’s Wealth Gap report, 57% of single women in the United States don’t have enough savings to live even three months at the poverty level if they lose their job. Of course, the situation is worse for women of color. Single white women aged 36-49—their prime working years—have a median net worth of $42,000. Do you know what the same number is for single women of color? $5.
To change this wealth gap and free ourselves from the social stigmas, just start talking. Here are five ways to break the silence around money to live a happier life:
Start talking, we start learning. You cannot fix your financial foibles if you do not learn, and you cannot learn if you don’t open up the conversation to receive information. Poor money skills are nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t know what you don’t know, so open your heart, mind, and mouth, and start talking!
Learn the math, it’s simple. Assets – liabilities = net worth. This is the equation in your balance sheet, the statement that calculates how wealthy you are. When we realize that building wealth boils down to a simple subtraction problem, we realize creating wealth for ourselves is not complex. It’s not about how much money we have, it’s about what we own – that doesn’t just mean homes and cars. We need to diversify our assets: we need checking accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts, and brokerage (investment) accounts. In fact, these assets often contribute more to our wealth because they often don’t come with corresponding liabilities (money we owe), which reduce our net worth.
You can go shopping. Finance is personal and therefore it’s empowering – your financial statements should be a true reflection of who you are, if you know yourself, you can build a strategic financial plan to build wealth; your financial statements then become a way to ensure you can get your retail therapy and accumulate assets all at the same time with no shame! Let your pathway to wealth be done on your terms.
Wealth is easy to achieve – Brian Portnoy says wealth is funded contentment, I say it’s funded happiness – which means you can achieve it at a level you set. When we talk about what that “level” is, we are liberated from the pressure of trying to create $2 billion estates that are likely out of reach. This also helps us see the truth that you don’t have to make an exorbitant amount of money to build wealth. You need to know how much it will cost to be happy and those numbers represent how much it’ll cost to accumulate the assets and pay off the liabilities on your balance sheet.
Raise the bar for everyone. As the wealth gap widens, talking and learning about money is critical to change. Talking about money raises the volume on voices that typically aren’t heard, and those talking about money are the ones being listened to. When we enter the conversation, we will have the chance to change the way we think about wealth – not in terms of spreadsheets, but in terms of livelihoods.
Chloe McKenzie is a wealth literacy expert and leader for wealth justice. She is the Founder and CEO of On a Wealth Kick, where she advises institutions and Fortune 500 companies on attracting and retaining new and more diverse clientele demographics through more accessible and inclusive financial practices. She is also the CEO of BlackFem, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to transform school-based learning so that girls of color in underserved communities are empowered with skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain wealth.
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