I’ll never forget the first book I read for High School, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I was too young to fully appreciate it then, but a few witty parts have always stayed with me.
A little over halfway through the book, Francie, the main character, and her brother Neely approach their mother to learn about sex. Francie begins by asking her mother the following:
“… why are girls different than boys?”
Mama thought for awhile. “The main difference is that a little girl sits down when she goes to the bathroom and a little boy stands up.”
“But Mama,” said Francie. “I stand up when I’m afraid in that dark toilet.”
“And I,” confessed Neely, sit down when…”
Mama interrupted. “Well, there’s a little bit of man in every woman and a little bit of woman in every man.”
That ended the discussion because it was so puzzling to the children that they decided to go no further with it.
The differences don’t stop there. Men and women relate to money differently as well. In marketing, this is a given, but somehow in finance, this is not. Many people plan financially ignoring the individual’s predisposition and attitude towards money, hurting some and pushing away others in the process.
So what do studies tell us about how men and women relate to money and personal finance?
Many studies claim that women see money as a sense of security, whereas men see money as a sense of power and way to conquer. This conquering attitude makes many men better at negotiating a price, whereas women are better at finding a bargain to begin with. These attitudes toward money also have implications for what happens when a couple is without money. When men do not have money, they loose self esteem, whereas women face absolute fear.
But like all generalizations, they are subject to reality. I know a lot of women who can bargain much better than any man and a lot of men who can hunt down a sale with the best of them. The important thing is to figure out how each individual relates to money and have that sensitivity when engaging him or her about anything monetary.
When my wife and I go out to dinner, my wife goes online and finds the perfect coupon that will save us money and get us the best deal possible. On the other hand, she does not have the stomach for negotiating. I used to be unable to negotiate as well, but living in Israel long enough taught me the joy of haggling. After understanding how we each work, my wife and I are able to live off one another’s strengths.
Equally important is being sensitive to one another’s fears with money. I lose my self esteem when I have money problems, whereas my wife responds in fear. I recall a time when I felt completely worthless due to my financial situation and turned to my wife, expecting a comforting shoulder for my bruised ego. Instead, as I described my problems, my wife erupted into panic. Does this mean I should have hid my financial distress from my wife? Of course not. But it does mean that I cannot go to her expecting something for me without taking her feelings into account as well.
In short, everyone is different when it comes to money. Different people have different value systems, goals and fears when it comes to money. Realizing our differences and striving to grow beyond our limitations is the key to living together, working together, and growing together.