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Bawling for Dollars

I know some stuff. Cool stuff. Man stuff. Like how to hook up jumper cables and spackle drywall and calculate the volume of a sphere. I can even tell a bulldozer from a front-end loader. But I could not distinguish a stock from a bond if my life depended on it. And it just may.

Despite the fairy tale many of us grew up believing — the one where a financially stable stud whisks us off to the Land of Wealth — it turns out that a husband who’s good with numbers is actually not the best investment a gal can make.

“In truth, a lot of women end up divorced twice, with custody of the kids — and often without alimony,” said self-described wealth coach Elisabeth Donati. Women typically live longer than men, earn less money, and lose income while caring for their children and their own parents.

What the hell kind of fairy tale is that?

After finding financial freedom the hard way — one survived debt, the other divorce — Donati and colleague Donna Kall now teach other women how to take charge of their wampum at a workshop called Creative Wealth for Women (the next is May 16-18).

“I would be a millionaire right now if I had known any of the stuff that we teach,” said Donati, whose lessons include savings plans, tricks to stop buying “piddly crap,” and an introduction to the “three pillars of wealth”: real estate, stocks, and a growing business. She said the info “isn’t rocket science,” but her approach is genius: cashing in on the notion that women look at money quite differently than men do.

Did you know, for example, that women who learn about investing actually prove to be better investors than men? They tend to do more research, and are quicker to back out of a bad investment. “Men don’t like to admit when they’ve made mistakes,” Donati reasons, “so they’ll hang on and watch their investment plummet, whereas women will say, ‘Wow, that didn’t work,’ and bail.”

Their workshop isn’t the first to apply the Mars-Venus principle to the greenback galaxy. For years now, self-help authors have been tailoring their financial titles to appeal to female interests: Dating Your Money, Money, A Memoir, and The 25-Day Money Makeover for Women.

But Donati and Kall may be the only ones to lead a financial forum so unapologetically estrogen-friendly that the students actually, um, cry. “We’re amazed at all the emotion that surrounds women and money: fear, anxiety, shame,” Donati said. “Part of it is because we think we should know this stuff. And we’re kind of embarrassed that we don’t.”

But where would we learn it? Income is one of the few taboo topics between even close girlfriends — or, as Kall put it, “Women are much more likely to talk about their sex lives than their money.”

Adding to our fear is the fact that, while men view moolah as a means of power and control, women see it as a symbol of security. “When we’ve asked our students if any of them have ever envisioned themselves becoming bag women on the streets, almost every single one has said yes,” Kall said. “That’s where their minds go. That’s their number-one fear.”

An exercise in visualizing their future has been known to move the ladies to tears. But if things get really ugly, the workshops keep a stash of chocolate on hand.

I don’t know what kind of payoff you get from stocks and bonds. But snacks and bonding?


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