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Senior Correspondent

Financial Reality Check: The Women Around Me

Financial Freedom

Financial Reality Check: The Women Around Me

I talk about financial peace of mind all the time. It’s what I wish for every woman. (Why the focus on women? Because we got more of a raw deal growing up when it came to financial education and we had further to catch up.)

But I recently decided to do a financial reality check on what I see going on around me, whether it’s women I interact with in my consulting practice, my online coaching, my travels or my friends. Here’s what I see and … warning … it’s not a pretty picture.

The Blessed: I see large swaths of women who have accumulated enough resources over the years and made enough good money decisions, that they can pretty much ignore what’s going on in the economy. (In fact, according to the newsletters that cross my email box every day, these women are in the position to actually increase their wealth as a result of any disaster that befalls the economy. They can take advantage of good opportunities.) These women are not necessarily the “rich;” they are simply the wise. They’re the ones who got a good financial upbringing … or educated themselves. Their life may be grand … or intentionally simple … but it is solid and it is safe. Their peace of mind is total.

The Steady: Next comes a group that is moving forward nicely. Sure, there’s a little concern about the risk of a lost job or a few months of low sales in their company. They know they have a financial cushion. But they don’t want to cut into it. And they certainly don’t want to touch the savings they’re accumulating for retirement. So they might lose a little sleep every so often, as they think through different possible scenarios, but their peace of mind is intact.

The Pretenders: Here I see a huge mass of women pretending all is okay. But at around 2 a.m., their credit card debt may look more like the national debt to them: unsustainable … and difficult to turn around. (Sort of like what people say about cruise ships … “very slow to turn around.”) Their mortgages might be current, but every month closes out with difficulty. And they are one paycheck away from being late on something, whether it’s the second mortgage, the car payment or whatever. Not a lot of peace of mind here. In fact, there’s a bubbling panic right below the surface. But you’d never know it from the outside. (Even their best friends probably don’t know.)

The Self-Deceivers: Woven throughout the groups are some women online entrepreneurs, many of whom are running helter-skelter, posting and tweeting. They’re sending out motivational messages that are likely aimed more at themselves than at the people they claim to be posting for. I’ve learned that there is not necessarily a correlation between visible activity and income when it comes to online business. (Remember, “online business” is just a business with an online component … and it survives on its profit and loss, not on some unique cyber forces!)

What worries me most are the legions of women investing precious time and money into “businesses” with no metrics to know whether they are moving forward or backwards. They have no serious business plans to define precisely where they are supposedly headed in the first place. As savings or severance packages dwindle, the most troublesome part comes from the fact that the low barriers to entry allow too many unprepared women to turn to online business without a viable concept. It’s too easy to ignore the line between expensive hobby and budding business … and their peace of mind becomes the victim.

The Discouraged: These are the women who lost jobs and/or husbands and/or businesses (and hope) long ago and have settled in to keeping their heads above water the best they can. A helping hand from friends or family. A part-time job or filling in here and there. Disability payments, early Social Security, Medicaid, SSI, SNAP, TANF, EBT cards … whatever alphabet soup they can find to patch together a tenuous safety net until the economy turns around … or until whatever. Their peace of mind is virtually nonexistent.

A Ray of Sunshine

What fascinates me most is when I see a woman, regardless what group she seems to be in, who flips things around seemingly in an instant. I know it didn’t take an instant; it’s more the result of a simmering discontent, of dissatisfaction with what she is living.

It starts with a reality check … an unemotional evaluation of:

•    where she is in her life and in her finances,
•    what tools she has if she stretches to her maximum,
•    what internal fortitude she can call on,
•    what destructive money behaviors may have brought her where she is or keep her there, and
•    what excuses she might have been using to not take personal responsibility for herself.

Whatever dialog is going on in her head, there is a moment of reckoning. Then, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, there is a total turnaround in the energy she exudes, the actions she takes and the results she gets.

Call it tough love, if you like. But I personally believe that one’s level of financial peace of mind is directly related to one’s level of personal responsibility. No more, no less. (It sure has been for me.) I also believe that what defines one’s “financial peace of mind” is entirely individual. It’s what you believe it to be, not something that’s defined by others.

So I ask you, “What does your financial peace of mind look like today?”

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