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Prince Charming isn’t coming

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jan 25, 2008

Prince Charming isn’t coming

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jan 25, 2008


Tess Vigeland: So, all you ladies out there: you know, don’t you, that we live longer than men and that means we need our money to go further.

Supposedly, we have more wealth and power than ever before, but all kinds of surveys say we’re not that confident about keeping it. Last year, the insurance firm Allianz found that 90 percent of us feel only somewhat, or not at all, financially secure.

Some even reported they found the topic of finances so overwhelming, they were holding out for a guy to come along and take charge.

Don’t do that! Ashley Milne-Tyte reports on women and money in 2008.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: Barbara Stanny didn’t think much about money growing up. She didn’t have to: there was always plenty of it.

Her father was one of the founders of H&R Block, but he didn’t pass his accounting expertise on to his daughter:

Barbara Stanny: The only advice he ever gave me about money was “Don’t worry,” because under that was the unspoken assumption there would always be a man to take care of me. My father did not believe that women should make or manage money and that was fine with me, because I just wanted to spend it.

Her blissful ignorance was shattered when her husband burned through much of her inheritance gambling on the stock market. Stanny says her lack of knowledge made her terrified of money.

But she took the aftermath of that disaster and her divorce as an excuse to wise up. She’s the author of the book “Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money.”

You might think that sounds a little patronizing. Surely, younger women today don’t expect some man to turn up and take care of things. Then again…

In this scene from HBO’s “Sex in the City,” the character Charlotte claims women just want to be rescued:

Charlotte: I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?

Miranda: Who? The white knight?

Samantha: That only happens in fairy tales.

Charlotte: My hair hurts.

Barbara Stanny says that dream of a white knight is a part of women’s collective unconscious. After all, for centuries, men have been the breadwinners, women their dependants.

But both she and others are quick to point out that women’s brains are perfectly equipped to understand finances. Stacy Francis is a financial advisor in New York:

Stacy Francis: We’re not lacking a money gene at all. What we’re really lacking are the tools to understand what we need to be doing with our money.

In other words: some financial education. She says even today, parents are more likely to talk to their sons about money than their daughters — if they discuss money with their kids at all.

In a 2004 study, Northwestern Mutual found Generation Y was pretty clueless about finances. Around 70 percent of girls said they were not very knowledgeable or not at all knowledgeable about money management; that’s compared to just 50 percent of guys.

Graduate student Mary Godfrey is a different story. Her financial education started with the opening of a savings account when she was little and continued when she was a teenager:

Mary Godfrey: My mother would do things like go over credit card statements and point out things like, you know, these are the sorts of things that you want to look for in the fine print, this is how you want to pay off your credit card, this is how I do it to make sure I’m not accruing a lot of debt or interest…

She took that advice to heart. Today, at 30, Godfrey is a careful spender. Her credit card balance is zero. She’s confident that she’ll always be on top of her finances.

But what if you’re not that together? Maybe you’ve been thinking about getting some advice.

Author Barbara Stanny says the male-dominated financial services industry doesn’t know how to woo women:

Stanny: Everything they’re doing to motivate us is by trying to scare us with all these horrible statistics: seven out of 10 women will never retire because they can’t afford to. What this does, generally speaking, to women, it scares us, it depresses us, it paralyzes us.

Financial advisor Stacy Francis agrees and she says her fellow professionals should forget about offering too much advice too soon:

Francis: The biggest thing I do is shut my mouth. I listen and listen and ask questions. What’s keeping you up at night? If you had the ideal life, what would that look like?

Then she works out how much they need to save and invest to get there.

To many, of course, the ideal life includes marriage. Mary Godfrey says her mother is proud of the financially-independent daughter she’s raised…

Godfrey: …but I do think that somewhere in the back of her mind — and it goes unsaid — that she would like to see me with a man. She would like to see me settled and “happy.”

Because, she says, no matter how successful a woman may be in her career, how much money she makes and how well she handles it, society still hopes her prince will come.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

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