Jump-start your future with May 4 money conversation
The truth is truer than the lie, especially when it comes to money.
The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas has been home of the Save10 movement since 2019, and the concept has been simple. One way to improve economic advancement of women is by ensuring they get the message to pay themselves first, specifically saving 10% for retirement, emergency funds and/ or getting out of debt.
A total of 524 people have taken the Save10 challenge to save 10% for life, and nearly 6,000 women are actively discussing all things money every day in the foundation’s Save10 Facebook group. It’s working from the simple fact that saving is truth. A life of glamorous spending that comes with debt or the stress of living paycheck to paycheck is the lie. If given even a small opening via a frank conversation, we are seeing that the truth wins.
In the fall of 2020, a new idea clicked.
“We need to move upstream,” Anna Beth Gorman, executive director of the foundation, announced when she decided to get to women about to graduate from college. “What if we can get in front of women before they start their first jobs, asking them to pay themselves first from their very first paycheck in a way that they wouldn’t even notice? Couldn’t we be that much more effective?”
She called foundation board member Katherine Berry, a professor and first lady of Southern Arkansas University, and she was allin. Berry already had a particular interest in getting such financial education into the hands of her students. “We all quickly realized it was our responsibility to facilitate this key opportunity across the state. Sometimes passions align so unexpectedly, and that was the case for SAU’s participation with the Save10 College Tour. When we are promoting financial literacy, organized through national
service, sponsored by the [foundation], and delivered into the hands and hearts of college students, there was no question SAU wanted to be a meaningful partner.”
Once they realized the need was real, Anna Beth and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Caitlin Camper arranged student events at eight colleges and universities around the state.
After three such sessions, I have received emails that have stopped me in my tracks. Women talked about growing up in homes where their moms were disengaged from their money, where they had questions about money but knew their parents probably had the same questions, or where money brought anxiety and stress.
But this particular response made me realize that this is a multigenerational effort: “I grew up in a single-parent household with 3 other siblings. My mother had us all very young, dropped out of high school, and never held a full-time job until I was 15. To say money was scarce would be an understatement. I’m trying my best to grow and learn from this experience and not repeat it. Systemic poverty is real and I pray that I help end that for my family. For this reason, managing money is extremely important to me as I begin my career.”
Each person who wrote to me after these conversations described plans for how they will pay themselves first. And I have no doubt that they will do it.
I know that the truth is more powerful than the lie because I have repeatedly seen people hear the message to save and then, against all odds, from a single conversation, downsize homes and curb spending to do it.
They connect with the truth that they need to save for themselves and their future. They understand that they are the only ones who will save themselves, hence the name of this column.
Sure, the lie has every advantage in our society. The lie has the biggest megaphone, and it can speak all languages to all ages and backgrounds and at all hours of the day. Here are some of the big lies that young women hear:
■ Self-care is so important. Here are the (expensive) beauty products that are necessary for self-care. Do it for you.
■ If you want people to think you are successful, then you need to dress the part. Here are the handbags and shoes that will achieve that perception and help you advance in your career.
■ You better spring for the much more expensive apartment. It’s all about who you associate with that will help you succeed.
The marketing machine that tells these lies is constant. It wants us to spend every dollar in our checking account and then some. No longer do we have to keep up with the Joneses by driving by their houses or seeing them fashionably walk down the street.
Instagram, Facebook and TikTok remind us every waking hour that the road to success or even happiness can be purchased. Shoot, they can snuggle up with us at night in our 400-thread-count sheets and flash the “sold” sign of their larger home right in front of us, reminding us that they are happier and sleeping much more soundly in their 1,000-thread-count sheets.
Maybe the problem isn’t that we share our purchases on social media, but that our spending isn’t the whole truth. We can’t tell people that we bought the Chanel handbag on a credit card and aren’t sure how we will pay for it. We can’t admit that our parents chipped in for the house down payment. We would never tell people that the car is financed with a six-year loan at a 15% interest rate.
More disturbing is that, when we make healthy financial decisions, we feel like we can’t share them. We can’t share when we hit a savings milestone. We can’t share when we get our savings rate to 10%. We can’t share when we forgo purchases and luxuries to save just a little more for college educations for our children.
The college tour isn’t the only effort underway to foster healthy conversations about money. Last week, Marcy Doderer, chief executive officer of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, gathered a group of young rising women leaders for a frank discussion on money in the context of a two-part book club with But First, Save 10. A profound discussion ensued about the difficulties of discussing money with friends. One woman said, “Yes, this is a problem. We have culturally decided spending money is fair game for discussing publicly, but we have decided that our money habits, like saving, are private.”
Marcy is getting these leaders on the right path, and after seeing people reverse sometimes decades of bad habits after a one-hour retirement-plan conversation or after listening to one podcast that resonated, I know she will be successful. Maybe some of them will have to undo self-defeating habits or downsize their lifestyle to get on track with the truth. They will do it, though. One part truth to 99 parts lie is enough because of the incredible power of the truth.
What all participants agreed on is how much we all wish we had gotten the message to save 10% before we got our first job. Ana Pendergast, Kappa Delta and student at the University of Arkansas in the business department, is organizing the Save10 talk for her chapter, and she hauled 50 signed books donated by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to campus two weeks ago. She told me, “I’m personally excited for this opportunity to work with the Save10 program. … Our goal is for women to feel comfortable with money and able to make strong financial decisions right out of the gate.”
You could be part of a similar money conversation. I invite you to join me May 4 at 6 p.m. with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette All Access series for a session called “How to Save Yourself and Your Loved Ones.” I encourage you to attend and bring someone you want to have a financial legacy with to attend with you — maybe a child, grandchild, or mentee in high school, college or just starting their career. My hope would be that it could spark or continue a lifelong conversation on money between you.
I am grateful that the newspaper has decided to make this particular pass open to the public, not just subscribers, to bring more people into this important conversation. You and your special person (or people) can secure your spot here: bit.ly/3g2T1oL.