St. Paul–based financial educator Ruth Hayden has been giving women the same advice about money for 25 years.
And it’s not because she’s out of touch with the persistent problems of the gender pay gap or the glass ceiling. Far from it. No, Hayden — who literally wrote the book about women and money back in 1992 — is discouraged about how little has changed for female wage-earners in the past quarter century.
“I get more sophisticated questions than I got 20 years ago,” says Hayden, whose “Women and Money” classes are consistently sold out and whose four books include one on couples and money. “Women know the language. They know they have to make money. But they’re still deferring too long on investing, and they’re not earning enough.”
Advice may be cheap, but a conversation with the ever-quotable Hayden — a regular with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio — is like striking gold.
On financial education: “To my toes, I am a teacher. And there are three areas of money I work in:
“One, how do I earn money? Is it enough? Is the income stream sustainable? Because I’ll likely work a lot longer than I thought I would. Two, how do I consume or spend my money? Am I in charge of it? Three, how much do I accumulate? Am I in charge of my savings and investments?
“Without the first one in place — a solid income stream — the other two don’t hold.”
On saving as a necessary discipline: “The biggest risk for women is that we don’t get enough money put away fast enough. Two factors are at work: We don’t earn enough in a job that is sustainable, and we are uneducated about where to put that money. Because we feel incompetent about investing, we ignore it.”
On learning to invest: “Financial advisors tell women to pay off their house. And women like that. They like the concept of home, and they can touch it. But that’s why so many women are living in a paid-off house but don’t have enough money coming in to have a decent life inside of that house.
“Instead of telling women what they want to hear — ‘pay off your house’ — we need to encourage women to come into a field they’re uncomfortable with, and that’s the stock market. It is the only game in town to create money over time that grows ahead of inflation and taxes. All the stock market is, is other people’s businesses.”
On how to have money when you’re old: “I can start a business that I later will be able to sell. Second, I can invest in other people’s businesses, and that’s the stock market. Third, I can invest in real estate, including my own house.
“Men prefer the first one. They assume they will build a business and someone else will highly value it. I like a mixture of the three.”
On why women resent work: “If you lined up 10 women and asked them this question, they’d say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t resent my job. I have to earn money.’ Then you let the conversation go informal, and it may come out. It’s the resentment at having to do it.
“The women who are always exhausted or resentful about work have an issue with work. Somehow, they expect to be taken care of — and it used to be by a man. It’s not politically correct to say that now. But when I push on this in the women’s class, the room gets very quiet.”
On the ambiguity inherent in making choices: “Very few decisions are either right or wrong. There’s always a downside. That’s how you make a decision: ‘I want this upside, and I can manage and live with the downside.’
“This is where couples get fussed up. They look for a right and wrong. Instead of getting tangled in who’s right and who’s wrong, ask the question this way: What is the upside and what is the downside? Find a process to work through it. Make it a brainstorming session.”
On career vs. job: “When women are really overstressed, they say they’ll work in a flower shop or bookstore. No, those don’t pay well. That’s a job, and a job is temporary. A job is something I wish I didn’t have to do.
“Women need to get more engaged in the way we make money. It’s about learning to develop a career: A career is part of me. A career grows with me. Emotionally and intellectually, I own a career. And then we have to find a way to make the career more sustainable long term, because most of us will be earning money a lot longer than we thought we would be.”
On discomfort with age: “A Twin Cities–based corporation brought me in because their younger employees weren’t enrolling in the 401(k) plan. They showed me a digitized photo of me aged to 80. My brain did not recognize me. If I can’t recognize myself, why would I put money toward that person? Why would I invest money for retirement?
“I recently had a client, at 56, take $18,000 out of her retirement funds to pay for plastic surgery. And she is so happy! But she’s not examining the back end of that choice. Three decades from now, that $18,000 could go a long way toward making her comfortable.”
On women and power: “Women still feel powerless in their lives. When we pull out the credit card and get what we want: In that moment, we feel powerful.”
Every woman should take Ruth’s class. She’s the best!