Stacy Francis had planned on pursuing work in the arts and humanities — but at 18, she had a frank conversation with her grandmother that inspired her to completely change her career path.
Francis’ grandmother, Myra, was a victim of spousal abuse and admitted that a lack of money had prevented her from leaving her husband. She wasn’t alone: An estimated one in four women experiences severe intimate partner violence, and limited access to money can be a leading factor in why many women stay in their relationships. (In fact, only 39% of women “have taken steps in their own relationship to protect themselves from financial abuse,” according to a survey from Allstate Foundation Purple Purse.)
In 2002, Francis launched Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit that provides live and digital programming for women in need of financial planning services, from lectures to webinars to TED Talk-style segments. The organization also connects members with certified financial planners for 30-minute, one-on-one consultations. Below, Francis tells us about her decision to pursue a life in finance and how her work empowers women.
I grew up in Michigan, in the country. We had tons of animals — horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds — and an acre-wide garden where we grew all our fruits and vegetables. We went out picking every morning during the summer, and in the winter, we chopped wood and used that to heat our house. My brother and I grew up thinking all kids lived like this.
Growing up, I didn't understand what a stock or a bond was, or how much my parents made, or if we were rich or poor.
The financial world was very scary to me, and I never pictured myself working in it. Money was not something that my family deemed appropriate to talk about in public — and we didn’t talk about it at home either. Growing up, I didn't understand what a stock or a bond was, or how much my parents made, or if we were rich or poor. My parents were definitely middle-class, and even though things weren’t always easy for them, they managed to give my brother and me anything that was important to us.
As a teenager, I got a job at a Dairy Queen and started to chip in for my own clothes, which is when I began to learn that things cost a lot of money — and that I’d need to go to college and do something other than work at Dairy Queen if I wanted to have what I considered an abundant life.
I had no desire to take a job in finance, but a conversation I had with my grandmother when I was 18 changed that. One day, I asked her point-blank why she chose to stay with my grandfather, who was an awful man to her. She said it was because of money; she couldn’t afford to leave. The conversation made me realize that even though finance was scary to me, I knew I had to educate myself about money, or else I could end up trapped in a terrible situation.
I asked her point-blank why she chose to stay with my grandfather, who was an awful man to her. She said it was because of money; she couldn’t afford to leave.
So, I added Economics to my French and Spanish concentrations, and after school, I took a job as an investment banking analyst — work that I thought was as "hardcore finance" as you could get. Investment banking is a great career, but it doesn’t necessarily teach you about making smart decisions with your personal finances. So in 1999, I went back to school to get my certified financial planning designation — and fell in love with this work.
My grandmother passed away about five years after I graduated from college. At the time, I was volunteering at soup kitchens every weekend, and my husband kindly suggested that I instead use the skills I already had in financial planning to volunteer — to help women like my grandmother. It was a real aha moment for me. I talked to my mother about it, and in 2002, we created Savvy Ladies in honor of my grandmother.
The first session was just a small group of about 10 women who came to my house to listen to a presentation I created. But in the past 15 years, it’s grown from a very small idea to a formal nonprofit. I know the organization will live on far past my lifetime, and that makes me incredibly proud. If we can make just one woman feel more comfortable and financially secure, we will have done our work.
We’ve helped 15,000 women, and there are millions more with whom we have yet to work. When you look at the people who are in dire straits financially, particularly in their older years, almost all of them are women. All of these women want financial security. That may mean different things to each person, but dying poor and alone is not the future any woman dreams of, nor the future anyone deserves.
Too many women jump in the back seat when it comes to their finances. They may have managed their own money when they were single because they had to, but once they couple off, many delegate everything instead of making those decisions as a team.
Too many women jump in the back seat when it comes to their finances.
My husband and I got married with our eyes wide open. We went to premarital counseling and continue to talk about money. We have what we call “money dates” one a month, where we sit down and talk about everything financial. We get naked with our money chats, from what we’re spending money on to whether we want to take a certain trip to how much we can or need to save. Making sure we’re on the same page is important.
What I love about getting older is getting more comfortable in your own skin and more comfortable with your relationship to money. In my experience, women are more willing to share the intimate details about their sex lives than they are details about how much they make, or save, or invest. Money is not rocket science, but if you don’t talk about it, it will always feel that way for you.
Think back to a time when you tried something that made you anxious, and afterwards thought, Thank goodness I did that. You might feel anxious about getting more involved with your money, or confronting the decisions and mistakes you may have made. But if you just get involved, you could avoid a dire future — and maybe you'll even realize that diving into your finances was the best choice you ever made.