Women, Wealth and True Empowerment

Women, Wealth and True Empowerment

If you’re a woman, you should do something this Sunday you may have never done. It will save you untold dollars. It will cost you a coffee.

You should sit down with your partner (male or female) and “have the talk” – the talk about money.

After all, Sunday is International Women’s Day. What better time to say: “Let’s talk about how your money and my money are going to secure us and the kids into the future and after we’re gone.”

When it comes to wealth, empowerment doesn’t just come from having more money, but having more information. Not knowing your partner’s financial situation could mean a lot of their wealth directed your way could end up in Ottawa.

Do you know the details of your life partner’s wealth? Does (s)he know yours? Why not?

Don’t you want your future to be less stressful than more? How can it be if you don’t talk about money which will play such a big role in de-stressing your future?

“We’ll be fine, honey,” isn’t what I mean. That’s not a conversation; it’s a blow-off.

But large numbers of high-achieving women fail to even ask about their partner’s money, let alone discuss it.

You may be a brilliant architect or surgeon. But just because you don’t know much about money doesn’t mean you should be shy in raising your hand to ask. Guilt and shame aren’t great planning tools.

This is especially true if you’re from an immigrant culture where talking about your money – either between spouses or between generations is simply never done.

But I’m from two of those cultures, and I not only ask “Why not?”, but “Why are you throwing away so much of your wealth because you won’t talk about your family’s money with your family?”

Here’s why that conversation is so crucial. In just the next 10 years, well over a trillion dollars in assets will transfer from older Canadians to their children. Most of that astounding sum will shift without any meaningful conversation around its care and feeding. You can buy a ton of books and go to endless seminars, but if you don’t have a specific, meaningful and ongoing conversation with your family about money, you’ll end up with less of it than you deserve.

So, saying to your profligate teen, “When I die, don’t spend it all in one place,” or to your unwitting spouse, “My financial adviser has it all under control,” aren’t conversation-starters; they’re conversation-stoppers.

Any conversation about money is really about values. Do you want money to give you a bigger life, or a more private one? Do you feel the world needs your money so much more than you do? Do you really think that? Or are you saying it because it will make mom and dad feel good? How do you ensure your kids learn the value of a dollar? It will likely be different from how you did.

If your grandkids are sentient beings, why not invite them to join the conversation too? After all, 75% of Canadians’ family fortunes today are gone by the end of the second generation and 90% of that family’s wealth is gone by the end of the third generation. And I’m not just speaking here of billionaires, but of middle-class families most of whose wealth is in their homes and their RRSPs.

One way to keep that from happening with your family is to ask its third generation to the table when they’re young. How else are they going to get comfortable – and smart – about something that could change the course of their lives?

I’ve also learned that many families have a bi-polar view of their money.

Some opt for endless complexity, assuming that will make them tax efficient. But if that efficiency is bought at the cost of no one in your family knowing how to understand and untangle it all, is it really all that great to save on taxes while sacrificing openness and clarity to the very people who carry your values in their genes?

Other people are at the opposite pole. They’re afraid that revealing too much will create hopes and obligations, which leads to a stoic silence. Or they haven’t even bothered to get a Will, thereby almost guaranteeing too much of their wealth will end up in Ottawa.

Or, the men in the family persist in controlling not only the family’s financial planning, but its financial conversations as well. This, despite the fact that close to half of Boomer women are the main decision maker in their family’s financial planning and “for Millennials the figure rises to 73%.”

Few families come together at the table like they do in a Norman Rockwell painting. We’re all dysfunctional, and money is at the root of far too much alienation and separation among the 7 billion family members who roam the earth with us.

So why not text, call or e-mail your family now and say: “Sunday is International Women’s Day. I want to celebrate by sitting down and talking about money.”

What better way is there to empower yourself as a woman than this?