Yesterday, Paulette Perhach wrote a melodramatic piece for The Billfold about why it’s vital for young women to have an emergency fund, which she sensationally renamed the “fuck off fund.” Her heart is in the right place: Everyone should have a savings account with three to six months worth of expenses in case something goes terribly wrong. Every single financial expert will give that advice. But I cringed reading her story about a young woman who makes a series of bad financial decisions and ends up stuck with a lecherous boss and an abusive boyfriend because she has mountains of debt and less than $200 in her checking account. Why does almost everyone insist on talking to women about money like we’re idiots? Why is it always assumed we’re going to make the worst decisions? Perhach’s main character takes her first paycheck and goes to Nordstrom to buy a leather skirt she can’t afford. She runs up credit card debt having expensive cocktails with coworkers and eating lunch at P.F. Chang’s. At every turn, she makes another foolish purchase. Women aren’t dumb — and we’re not dumb about money. These generalizations are damning and they need to stop. It’s 2016: More women go to college and get graduate degrees than men. We certainly haven’t achieved parity at the top of the workforce, but we’ve made huge strides. Women run multi-billion-dollar companies and have ascended to the highest levels of government. We can be anything we want to be — these days, we can even pick up a gun and fight for our country alongside male special forces. So why do we still act like women don’t know how to balance a checkbook?
Why does almost everyone insist on talking to women about money like we’re idiots?
Every day, I get terrible pitches for ways to talk to women about their finances. Recently, someone suggested I write a story encouraging women to buy individual stocks based on clothing brands they love. I’m pretty sure that’s not the best way to build a winning portfolio. Another woman compared money management to getting a beach body. I was worried she could hear my head explode through the phone. It’s rare to find a website that caters to women and their finances that’s not pink with some dumb name like Frugalista. We're chastised for spending money on shoes and lattes and not knowing as much as men do about the stock market. But we do know something — and when we don’t understand a term or a concept, we seek out the answer. We have fuck off funds as well as special savings accounts to pay for the weddings we attend or the vacations we want to take. We have elaborate systems for tracking our budgets. Many of us are choosing to move back home with our parents not because it’s a last resort, but because it’s a smart financial decision that allows us to be close to family and save money. We’re buying our own homes and financing our education. We’re making all our dreams a financial reality. That’s not to say we can’t stand to learn more about our personal finances and take steps to grow our net worth. In a recent Learnvest study, only 27% of women (compared to 45% of men) said they feel financially confident. But the same study revealed that women are more cautious about money management and they recognize that they need to have a strong financial foundation before they can begin investing. We think hard before we make big money decisions — and that’s not a bad thing.
We’re making all our dreams a financial reality.
That financial foundation is your fuck off fund. And you need that foundation not only because women have to protect themselves from all the predatory men out there (as Perhach’s story would have you believe). You need one in case you get laid off from your job or if your dog gets sick and you end up with a $2,000 vet bill. You need a fuck off fund so you can quit that terrible job and move across the country for the dream internship that’s going to relaunch your career. You need it for when your car breaks down or you can’t stand to live with a crazy roommate anymore. You need it because having a healthy savings account is fucking empowering and it allows you to control your own fucking destiny. You need it if you’re a woman OR a man. Financial freedom is crucial. And sure, it’s hard to save. Sometimes, you’re going to choose that leather skirt or that $15 cocktail over putting money into your emergency fund. But more often than not, I bet you’re going to make the right decision, because you’re smart. And you don’t need some over-the-top story to remind you of the importance of financial independence, just like you don’t need someone to condescendingly tell you to stop buying lattes or treat your budget like a diet. I sincerely hope that most of you don't relate to Perhach’s cautionary tale, because I believe it portrays women as weak and incompetent. But even if you do, I would encourage you to give yourself a little more credit. A budget is a budget. Sometimes you want a goddamn latte. That has nothing to do with understanding the value of a dollar or recognizing your own self-worth.