Ladies! Happy International Women’s Day to you! To celebrate, let’s talk about the one and only thing that truly empowers us: shopping!
I’m kidding, of course. The one thing that truly empowers us is – money! It’s the one thing you can always count on to help you. Self-confidence and self-esteem are great (often because they can get you more money – a sense of self-worth in work appraisals and salary discussions never hurts), but money will help you exercise them to the full, or go a long way to making up for any shortfall you have in that area. Knowing you have a nest egg, knowing you have a safety net – that breeds confidence; that IS confidence.
There is a strange and strangely persistent myth that women can’t handle money. That we cannot help but fritter it away on shoes, brunches, cocktails and cupcakes, and that we habitually gaze with sad, bewildered faces into the empty depths of whatever new purse we have bought that week.Like every myth, there’s a grain of truth in it but that truth is that women are human and like all humans a) often buy things that make them happy rather than confining themselves purely to the barest essences for survival so that we live like prehistoric people with healthier current accounts and b) occasionally go too far.
The vast, vast majority of us are perfectly capable of budgeting for our needs, living within our means, determining what income is disposable and spending it according to our own desires. And, a bit later on in life, women also tend to manage to do this for their families too – the majority of household budgets and purchases are overseen by us.
What gets weirdly overlooked, however – it doesn’t even attract enough attention for myths to accrue around it – is the difference not between how the sexes spend but how they save. Women tend to save less than men, and they tend to hoard cash rather than invest. Why?
Well, we tend to save less because we earn less. Women generally go into lower paid fields of employment and even if they don’t, the gender pay gap kicks in early (according to one study, female graduates’ average starting salary is £25,500 while male grads’ starts at £32,000) and accrues from there, taking an especial hit if we decide to have children (which, whatever the occasional superwoman held up as a representative sample would have you believe, really cannot be done in your lunchbreak).We lack confidence – thanks to a hundred million subtle ways in which we have been conditioned from birth to believe that it is rude and unfeminine to ask for things, make a fuss, or take up more than minimal space in any way – when it comes to asking for pay rises and promotions.
And this also explains the other problem – our predilection for cash savings rather than investment. If your job and your progression feels to you precarious, you are going to go for the safest option. If you lack confidence, you aren’t going to take risks with your precious capital. On top of that, the adverts, the language, the whole investment world set up looks like another impenetrable boys’ club and honestly, who has the time and energy to spare to go battering at the door of another one?
All entirely understandable. But. But. It has knock on effects that will only become truly apparent when it’s too late to change them.
Because of course cash doesn’t grow like investments can (and, if you leave them for long enough, generally do). That combination of timidity and alienation means the current gender investment gap stands at around £100bn pounds. Men have that much more than us saved in products that are, in all likelihood, going to make them much richer than us over the next few years, decades and on into retirement*. At the moment, the world is set up to ensure, it seems, that to those who have shall be given more.
On occasions like International Women’s Day we are always encouraged to “empower” and “invest in” ourselves, by doing new things. This year, take it more literally. Look at your money – the thing you earn with your own work, intelligence and talent – and ask yourself why you shouldn’t take the opportunity to make it work harder for you? Why shouldn’t you get as much bang for your deserved buck as you can. It’s not unseemly. It’s not unfeminine. Your money will work as willingly for you as it would if it were in an investment account with a male name on it. Do some research, be brave, be confident. I promise that you can afford to be. And then, in a few years, you’ll be able to afford much, much more.
*Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance.
Lucy Mangan Journalist