Women. It’s Time to Own your Family Finances.

By Tiffany Harnsongkram

When discussing my finances, I always feel underqualified. Perhaps it’s because I am a creative soul and the green excel sheets put me to sleep. Maybe it’s because my divorce showed me how laisser faire I had been about our finances. My divorce files looked more like financial spaghetti than spreadsheets. However, I’ve learned that nothing gives you the same feeling of freedom and empowerment quite like taking the reins of your economic destiny. So please grab a glass of wine and get your notebooks out.

Ladies, a new day is upon us! Our grandmothers fought to vote and own property, our mothers rose all the way to middle management, and now we must take our destiny into our own hands if we are to bring our highest contribution to the world.

Women. It’s Time to Own your Family Finances.

Case Study.

 Our story today is about Deborah. At the time she married, her purse always carried a balanced, and she tidily budgeted all expenses. She even had some success dabbling in the stock market, despite having no special education. However, when Stephen and Deborah were married, it was evident that Stephen was far more interested in the finances than she was.

Steve was a respected businessman. He built an enterprise while Deborah took care of their children, prioritizing their development over all else. However, she also contributed to Steve’s business. Deborah used her sharp people skills to write communications for partners and clients while Steve took care of financial structuring.

So that day, in their bedroom, when Stephen announced he was leaving her, she immediately became terror-stricken at the realization that she had no idea where their money was. Of course, she had an idea, but technically, he had maintained full control over their marital assets for the last 15 years. As her head filled with powerless thoughts, spiraling lower and lower, Deborah had no idea whom she could trust. Her career was in their business, and with no equity, she would be at his mercy.

A quick look at their shared bank account and her fears were confirmed. Most of their assets were tied up in the business and held in overseas accounts and holding companies in her husband’s name. It was too late. She had no access. After the initial anger and sadness, Deborah slowly realized that the courts would be impotent; unable to untangle the web of international companies and bank accounts.

Naively, Deborah had unknowingly given Stephen the strongest negotiating bid for the custody of their children – the money. She could not afford a reasonable attorney to fight him, much less the full financial responsibility of raising their children. He had all the power while Deborah, at age 50, had to rebuild her life from scratch.

Ok. So perhaps this story is a worst-case scenario for divorce. However, what if instead, Stephen had passed away suddenly in a car accident? Deborah would have faced the same terror at her ignorance and lack of liquid income. She would have had months of uncovering and untangling the financial structures in place while dealing with the allocation of his assets. Alternatively, in the best case, a happily married and white-haired Deborah outlives her Stephen, as most women do, and she finds herself at the mercy of his financial advisors, whom she doesn’t know.

Taking Life by the Horns

 Ladies, it is imperative, that we become financially literate when it comes to ourselves and our families. It is a necessity, not a hobby.  These things happen all the time.

Why are women more vulnerable?

  1. Women outlive men
  2. Women earn less than men for equal work and are promoted less often
  3. Women usually take time off to care for family, whether children or elderly parents
  4. Women business owners regularly receive subpar care from financial institutions

Studies have shown that women make excellent business founders, asset managers, and more socially conscious investors. They consider the quality of life of the people involved, the toll it would take on the environment, and the specific impact it would have on women and children. Women regularly display essential leadership skills, and yet we still holding back in the financial sector.

Why are the men of the house (and the bank) still controlling the family finances in the vast majority of cases? Why do we allow professional financial services to place their product sales priorities over our opinions and values? Are we holding on to the subconscious financial submissiveness espoused by our mothers? Are we merely escaping the stresses of fiscal responsibility?

My friend Edith Aldewereld owns an independent wealth management firm, and she shared with me, “When I ask my clients if they’ve thought about what would happen if they had an accident or passed away, 9 out of 10 have not thought about it. They put it off and don’t want to look at it because it’s uncomfortable. Also, then something happens, and they haven’t organized their affairs.”

Get Help. Who and how?

 It has always been harder for women to seek quality financial advice, however today, there are commercial services that cater to women at different levels of financial aptitude. If a traditional institutional advisor seems too haughty for your confidence level, try a holistic boutique firm. Alternatively, hire a financial and accounting tutor to get your confidence up! Women are shown to excel at their ability to implementing changes taught in financial education conferences. So, at the end of the day, any financial advisor who intimidates you is just not worth your time.

Authentically motivated advisors challenge their clients to take proactive care of themselves and their families. They will hold your hand, as you take ownership of your destiny and wealth plan. They dare to ask uncomfortable questions; “What are your values and goals? What legacy do you want for your finances? Are your children and extended going to be prepared and taken care of, if something happens to you? “

They don’t ask leading questions with products. A quality advisor listens to what matters to their clients, and what makes them tick. They ask if the financial opportunity is in line with your broader goals and vision.

Finding the Right Advisor for You.

  1. The first thing is to listen to your gut when you have someone on another side of the table. Your intuition will guide you to trust or not to trust.
  2. Look for someone who is really listening and not just talking. Is the listener also asking the right questions?
  3. Look for someone who dares to challenge you and who pushes you forward. The people who always say “yes” have their agenda and are not looking out for your best interest. Look for someone who makes you think about what is not comfortable because they are finding out what is important to you and your business.
  4. Please make sure the other party have your interests in mind and no different agendas. Are they a banker seeking to sell their products or are they finding solutions in response to your needs?
  5. Also, again, trust your intuition!

You can hire one person or a whole team of experts including a financial planner, a philanthropy expert, wealth manager, and a life coach. Edith explains “I have clients who want to educate themselves on financial matters and others who not interested in finance and that’s fine! Find one or two people you trust in your gut and then have them help you to build up your network. Finding that one person to trust is more important than finding the experts. If they are authentically looking out for their clients best interest, they will have better results and will find you the experts.”

Finally, if procrastination and escapism are your reasons for sitting back, I want to challenge you to re-frame your perspectives on money. Finances do not need to be hard. They can be easy, they can be fun, and they can be life-giving. Once you are in control, you create the narrative.

You don’t need to wait for an invitation to get involved or to explain the reasoning for your invigorated interest. You don’t need to seek the permission of family or professionals to take a leadership role. Give yourself the green light and make a change towards empowerment.

Tiffany Harnsongkram



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