Muriel Siebert: The first woman to trade on the floor of the NYSE

The world of finance is notoriously male-dominated, and has a reputation for being unwelcoming (at best) and hostile (at worst) to women. In finance, women make up more than half the workforce but only 2% are CEOs in S&P 500’s financial services firms. Of all mutual funds managed in the United States, just 2% are run by a woman or team of women. (Not sure what a mutual fund is? I’ve got you - here’s an overview.)

Why is this particularly problematic? Because the world of finance is both fascinating and well-paying. Many women may not even consider a career in finance because of the gender imbalance, or may write off money and personal finance as too complex because so much money talk is gendered (written for men, by men).

These bleak statistics make the story of Muriel “Mickie” Siebert even more fascinating. In 1967, she became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Born in Ohio, Siebert visited the NYSE for the first time as a teenager, and she was immediately intrigued by the scene on the trading floor. The energy, constant dealmaking, and controlled chaos struck a chord in her, and she remarked to her friends that she would like to work there one day.

Siebert returned to Ohio and studied at Case Western Reserve University from 1949 to 1952, but never earned her degree. During her time in college, she enjoyed her business classes, recalling, “I could look at a page of numbers, and they would light up like a Broadway marquee.” Sadly, her father fell ill and Siebert left college early. She never returned to finish her degree, but was awarded over 20 honorary doctorates throughout her life.

Two years later, in 1954, she made her way back to New York City and pursued roles in the world of finance - starting first in research, where her analytical eye and attention to the numbers propelled her success. Her first job in finance was for Wall Street firm Basche & Company and earned her $65 weekly. Over the course of several years, her income grew rapidly. By 1965, she had made partner at Brimberg and Co, earning “several hundred thousand dollars a year.”

Despite all of her rapid success, Siebert faced a wage gap, taking home only 60% of what men in similar roles earned. Frustrated by the inequality, she sought a firm that would pay her equally. Another Wall Street titan advised her to pave her own way, and Siebert decided to take her financial future into her own hands by pursuing a seat on the NYSE and eventually, opening her own brokerage.

In 1967, thirteen years after she relocated to New York, Siebert fought relentlessly to secure her seat on the exchange. In the 175 year history of the NYSE, every seat had previously been held by a man. Up until Siebert’s request, no woman had asked to purchase a seat.

Her quest to secure the seat - which would allow her to trade on the floor of the stock market, and therefore have very direct control over the flow of assets - was challenging. (A seat is an important component to owning a brokerage, allowing Siebert to buy and sell securities on behalf of her future clients.) First, she needed a sponsor. She asked nine men - who refused - finally securing a sponsor when she approached the tenth.

After confirming a sponsor, Siebert had to fund the seat. She reports getting caught in a Catch-22, where the NYSE required her to secure a loan for $300,000 of the $445,000 seat price...which banks were reluctant to lend her until she had secured the seat. Notably, this financing arrangement was a requirement that had not been demanded of other (male) applicants.

On December 28, 1967, Siebert was elected to the NYSE, after several years of effort to align sponsorship and financing. Notably, she was the only woman (among 1,365 men) for the next decade. Shortly thereafter, she opened her own brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Company - the first woman owned-and-operated firm of its kind. Today, the company continues to uphold the values Muriel followed when creating the firm, including a respect for other people’s money.

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Siebert had a unique vantage point on women and money, and she observed differences between the men and women she traded with, noting: “[Women] do hold their stocks longer - they are not in and out, I think women are more patient, where men have a little more...drive for the quick profit. And [men will] often make the dime but they’ll leave a quarter behind.”

Like many successful women, Siebert is a powerful example of paying it forward. Later in life, she would donate time and money to supporting other women in business and finance. She is quoted as saying, “Women are coming in to Wall Street in large numbers, and they are still not making partner and are not getting into the positions that lead to the executive suites. There’s still an old-boy network. You just have to keep fighting.”

She also railed against mens-only clubs, fighting to get access for women, and lobbying the NYSE to install a women’s restroom near the luncheon club she frequented on the seventh floor. As a woman of Jewish faith, she regularly experienced anti-Semitism.

Her relentless fight for equality was also grounded in business outcomes. She was quoted as saying, "American business will find that women executives can be a strong competitive weapon against...other countries that still limit their executive talent pool to the male 50 percent of their population.”

Siebert remarked that, “men at the top of industry and government should be more willing to risk sharing leadership with women and minority members who are not merely clones of their white male buddies. In these fast-changing times we need the different viewpoints and experiences, we need the enlarged talent bank. The real risk lies in continuing to do things the way they've always been done.”

Later in life, her advocacy continued. Among many efforts, Siebert launched the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropy Plan, which directed a share of her firm’s profits to support charitable efforts. She was also key to developing programs that supported financial literacy among women, in partnership with the New York Women’s Agenda. Her foundation also developed the Siebert Personal Finance Program, aimed at improving financial literacy, targeted at middle and high school students but offered to adults as well.

Siebert passed away in 2013, and three years later, the NYSE unveiled Siebert Hall. Dedicated in her honor and featuring memorabilia from Siebert’s life, the room represents the first time a space in the Exchange was named for an individual. At the dedication, Tom Farley (NYSE Group President at the time) remarked, “When Mickie became the first female member of the NYSE in 1967, she shattered a glass ceiling on Wall Street. So, when it came time to dedicate our newly-renovated meeting hall - a contemporary counterpart to our more traditional Boardroom - the progressive and ground-breaking Mickie was the obvious choice.”

Siebert’s impressive personal story, and the impact she had on the community, serves as a reminder that we can achieve amazing things. Her success is not accidental, but the result of a smart, driven woman fighting for what she believes is right, and doing well (for herself and others) along the way.

xoxo, Ms. Financier


Learn more about Muriel “Mickie” Siebert:

Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick by Muriel Siebert

Book Review: A Wall Street Women Who Cleared a Path by William J. Holstein via The New York Times

Muriel Siebert, a Determined Trailblazer for Women on Wall Street, Dies at 84 by Enid Nemy via The New York Times

Muriel Siebert, the first woman trader on the New York Stock Exchange by Joann Weiner via The Washington Post

The Woman Who Kicked Down Wall Street’s Doors by Joanna Scutts via Time

Makers Profile: First Lady of Wall Street (includes video interviews with Siebert!)

Wikipedia Page

Why Women Must Make Money a Priority

I believe wealth equality is at the heart of gender equality. Wealth provides the holder with:

  • Security,

  • Options, and

  • Power.

Security can include modest expenses, like the ability to pay for an unexpected car repair with ease, or more life-changing costs like hiring an excellent lawyer to secure a divorce.

Options created by wealth similarly range, from taking weeks of unpaid leave following the birth of a child, to walking away from a sexist, toxic workplace knowing you don’t have to worry about paying your bills.

Power provided by wealth isn’t referring to power over others, but the power to pursue the life you want. This can include taking a vacation to Costa Rica to recharge your batteries, or self-funding your startup in early stages.

These benefits have been enjoyed by straight, white, able-bodied men throughout history. Those of us born into privilege and / or wealth have had a particular leg up, to put it lightly.

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Today, the wage gap across genders still persists, and is particularly punishing for women of color, particularly Hispanic women. Women that identify as LGBTQA make less than their straight peers and trans women face significant earnings gaps.

We also face an investing gap, as women keep more of our money in cash than our male counterparts.

The wage and investing differences factors compound our retirement gap, where women have often saved less than men. Frustratingly, we will need to save more than men for retirement. (Though partially for a good reason – we tend to live longer.)

This is why I see it as my mission to help women build wealth. We are in a more powerful position when we can leave a relationship without fear of finding affordable, safe housing. When we can stand up to everyday sexism at work without fear of going broke if we lose our job in retaliation. When we can make the choices many men have been making for eons, to follow their passion, without having to beg for pocketbook money to do so.

And, for those of us lucky enough to have created wealth, I believe it is our responsibility to send the elevator back down. By donating to nonprofit organizations supporting women and girls, providing career advice and mentorship, fighting back against the patriarchy, and sharing our experiences (failures and successes) we give more women a seat at the table.

Finally, this responsibility is shared by men. Amazing male allies can play a tremendous role in supporting wealth, and therefore gender, equality.

Join me in helping more women get comfortable talking about money. I’d love to hear how you’re improving your own financial footing, or supporting women in your life as they build wealth.

xoxo,
Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Top Money Hacks blog - which is focused on simplifying the complicated world of personal finance. Top Money Hacks shares short, practical tips for busy people.

Talking About Women and Money with a Financial Planner

Certified Financial Planner™ professionals help clients align their finances with life goals. I prefer fee-based planners that have earned a CFPⓇ certification, and recommend you consider them if you’re selecting an advisor to help you with your financial plans.

If you’re like me, you probably wonder about the lessons these financial gurus have learned from years of serving clients. Is there secret perspective that they have gained from those experiences? What patterns and pitfalls do they see in their clients?

I had the opportunity to interview Mark Newfield, a Richmond-based financial advisor who started his financial planning career after a successful first career in consulting. Mark and his team shared their perspective on personal finance with me, reflecting decades of collective experience. Here’s a summary of our conversation.

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The question you should always ask a planner. I started our discussion with the basics, “Why did you get involved in financial planning?” In Mark’s view, this is the first question any prospective client should ask before engaging a planner. He noted that very few people ever ask him this, and his team always proactively shares why they are in this business.

Mark and Angela Lessor, Director of Investment Operations, both cited the personal satisfaction they get from helping others. During Mark’s first career as a consultant, he was always the person eager to talk about money and often shared personal financial advice and perspective. When he decided it was time to move on from consulting, but wasn’t ready to quit working, he, “...put two and two together,” and shifted into a second career focused on helping people with their money. Mark proudly shared, “I have a stack of notes on my bookcase from clients saying thank you for our efforts.”

Angela shared a similar sentiment. She noted that it is incredibly satisfying to help people, many of whom come in disorganized or overwhelmed with their financial situation. Developing a plan that clients can follow, helping them get their financial footing, and partnering with clients to see that their goals are achievable are some of her favorite things about the role.

This passion for helping others is a common thread among quality CFPⓇ professionals. I follow several CFPⓇ gurus on Twitter, and can feel their excitement in empowering and enabling clients to succeed. When you are working with a planner, I believe you should feel the same from them. If they talk only about beating the market, making money, and growing wealth (but with no reflection on their passion for your success, or appreciation for your goals), that’s a red flag to me.

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In general, what differences do you see between men and women in how they manage their money? While every individual is different, Mark and Angela noted that they have observed general trends across genders. In general, they observe women making many of the financial decisions in the daily running of the household. Mark noted, “It seems like people are finally starting to become aware of that, but that hasn’t changed in decades.”

Women tend to prefer more advice and consultation, and men generally like to see the numbers. Women often want to deeply understand where their money is going and what they’re about to invest in. Like many planners, Mark and Angela engage their clients in an initial assessment, which can identify where partners (same-sex or heterosexual) differ; these distinctions may or may not be gender-based, and every couple tends to differ in a few personal finance areas.

Taking a fact-based approach enables CFPⓇ professionals to help partners navigate tricky financial decisions. While the general observations Mark and Angela shared line up with much of the gender-based research on money and investing, I recommend looking for a planner that has a defined process to engage with you. This may include an assessment, detailed questionnaires about your spending and income, and a clear long-term plan to support you. This illustrates their commitment to your overall financial health and their desire to build a plan suited for you, versus a one-size-fits-all approach.

Many people struggle to talk openly about money. Why do you think that is and what advice do you have to start a money-related discussion with a friend or family member? I was curious to understand how a professional team that constantly discusses money can help us improve our comfort with the topic.

Mark and Angela shared that getting the emotion out on the table is a good first step. For example, if you’re struggling with credit card debt, you could say to your partner: “I’m worried about debt, and I think we ought to have a conversation about it. How do you feel?”

They acknowledged that most clients know intuitively whether they are in good financial shape (or not) and most aren’t as “disciplined” as they believe they need to be. This discomfort or shame can hinder communications. Mark shared, “We see people with high incomes, say an average of $300,000 annually, and yet the number of people who come in and feel wealthy are few.”

Further, Mark mentioned the relief that many clients feel when they start to discuss money openly and candidly. I can relate to this personally; when I had massive credit card debt I felt incredibly ashamed. Once I started addressing it openly with my partner, it was like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I found these observations from Mark and Angela illuminating on several fronts. We often compare ourselves to others, assuming they are making smarter decisions with money, know something financially we don’t, or don’t have debt. The reality is, we all make money mistakes (I’ve shared several of mine), and many in the United States struggle with financial literacy. If we are brave enough to be vulnerable and share our concerns and emotions about money with others, we can engage in a more authentic dialogue.

Further, there is a perception that more money immediately equates to fewer money-related stresses. I’ll always have more empathy for those at the lowest ends of the income spectrum, even those with means struggle to consistently make the “right” decisions with their money. Removing the assumptions that some of us have, that money can solve all problems, can give those that earn more the opportunity to engage in financial improvement.

What are the top three "money mistakes" you see women make? I was very interested to see what patterns had emerged across their client base, since we all have room to improve with how we manage our money.

Budget - no one has one. Mark and Angela noted that they rarely see clients that have set up a budget, and many women spend first and try to save the reminder. They noted that this approach is often a “complete failure, except in the most disciplined people.”

They have found that they help women get serious about their budget once they illustrate the net available cash flow after required expenses (like mortgage payments and utilities). Usually, this cash flow is two or three times the amount their clients think they can save.

Ladies, this first one is good news - it means that most of us have an opportunity to save a lot more than we do today, simply by starting to track our expenses and save first, then spend (which I call “Scarcity Budgeting,” and use diligently.)

Having too many financial accounts. I wasn’t expecting this insight, but it makes a lot of sense. Mark regularly counsels clients to consolidate accounts, because “...the more stuff you have, the harder it is to manage.” He notes that many clients don’t even know their rates of return on their investments, because they have so many accounts and can’t easily keep on top of their money.

If your employer has a 401(k) or other retirement program, you are likely tied to that financial provider. Beyond that, you may have one other brokerage accounts for other investment purposes. I believe more than two financial institutions gets difficult for the average person to manage on a regular basis. If you have not done a financial inventory, it may be a wise first step to identify where your accounts are, and how you can consolidate and simplify your financial life.

If you’re partnered - be open and transparent about money. Mark and Angela noted that many women in significant relationships struggle to be open with their finances. This is related to the question above, as talking about money when you’re struggling with certain aspects of your financial life can be truly challenging.

However, surprises and secrets can be damaging and hurtful to a relationship. Both Mark and Angela advised an open discussion, and acknowledged that working with a CFPⓇ certificant can help partners be more open about money. Mark shared, “More often than not, we do counseling on our clients spending habits. We’ve had to help with where they want to live and other significant topics in a relationship.”

I agree that a professional can help guide these conversations, and believe partners should work towards becoming financially intimate.

What additional financial advice do you have for women? Before we closed our discussion, I wanted to understand what our financial experts would recommend to women looking to grow their wealth.

Mark jumped on this question, and shared; “You’re never going to figure out what you need until you figure out what you want. Financial independence - whatever that means for each client - is a set of behaviors. How do you want to live? Answer that first.”

I couldn’t agree more! We all have unique goals for the life we want to live; these goals may include travel, passion projects, ambitions for our family, career objectives. Getting crystal clear on those objectives will help us direct our money to serve (and not detract from) those objectives.

I hope you enjoyed this perspective from Mark Newfield and Angela Lessor! I’m always intrigued to learn from those that are lucky enough to help others with their money, day in and day out. Are there any tidbits from this discussion that surprised you? What other questions might you have for a CFPⓇ expert? Or, if you are a CFPⓇ professional, what would you add to this dialogue?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

What Successful 30-Year-Olds Do With Their Money

You’ve reached your 30s - congratulations! If your 20s are all about change (graduating college, starting a career, exploring new relationships, and living on your own), your 30s are about taking your life to the next level; accelerating your career, exploring the world, and making a difference.

Don’t ignore your finances in this critical decade. You have finally made a dent in your student loans, grown your paycheck, and started saving. There are six other things successful 30-year-olds do with their money to set themselves up for a more powerful future.

Grow your income. There are two primary levers to building wealth: reducing expenses and growing your income. Now that you have established years of experiences and accomplishments, build a plan to grow your income.

Women still face a wage gap relative to their male counterparts; this begins after college and persists throughout our professional careers. The average mid-forties male college graduate earns 55% more than his female counterparts.

Build your negotiation skills in preparation for asking for a raise or promotion. Here’s how to approach the conversation. Practice with a savvy friend and don’t get discouraged if you get an initial no; build a specific plan for what you need to demonstrate to secure a raise in the future. You may also want to read my experiences as a manager; the good, bad, and ugly when employees ask for a raise.

Save to spend. This sounds so easy, yet many in their 30s (and 40s and 50s...) spend first and then pay off debt. By your 30s, you should be setting aside money for future expenses, which include splurges like vacations and gifts as well as car maintenance and home repairs.

I recommend doing this automatically; set up a regular transfer from your paycheck into a “save to spend” account that you use for larger, irregular expenses. This is separate from emergency savings; a vacation to Puerto Rico in the middle of January does not qualify as an emergency!

Eliminate unnecessary expenses. You may have enjoyed an increase in salary across your 20s. If you’re like most of us, lifestyle inflation crept in; your spending increased as your paycheck grew. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, but not at a cost to your financial health.

Take the time to evaluate your expenses; you can use tools like Quicken, YNAB (You Need a Budget) and Mint to track your spending automatically. By keeping an eye out for the sneaky ways you spend more than you mean to, you can re-direct your money to align with your goals.

Invest for your future. In your 30s, you should be investing regularly. The number one regret of older Americans is not saving for retirement early enough. Set yourself up for a wealthy future by investing automatically, starting with your employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Investing is critical for women. Men are generally more confident about investing, while women are more goal-directed and trade less. Women tend to keep 10% more of their savings in cash than our male counterparts. Millennial women report a lower level of financial comfort. On average, we are less likely to feel “in control” or “confident” about our financial future. And, women generally have a smaller total invested when we retire - because we earn less.

If you don’t yet invest, then the best time to start is today. Here’s what investing in the market really means and how to start investing in four steps.

Manage risk. In your 30s, you may have accumulated assets, started a family, and purchased a home. You likely have insurance policies in place for home, health, and automobiles.

However, most Americans do not have a will; only 35% of us aged 30-49 have one. While wills are better than nothing, they do not afford the same protections as other important legal documents. A living revocable trust can allow you to more privacy (it does not need to be filed in court like a will) and healthcare and financial directives dictate who makes decisions regarding your health and wealth should you become incapacitated.

These topics aren’t easy to address; however, consider the additional stress you’d feel if your partner or family member passed and didn’t have this documentation in place.

Give back regularly. Finally, but importantly, in your 30s you should be giving back. Many Millennials are volunteering regularly; much has been written about the importance we place on contributing to the causes we care about.

Beyond your valuable time, set up recurring donations to the causes you support most. I recommend a monthly donation that you increase with every pay raise. Fundraising is a perennial challenge for nonprofits; your regular donations will provide a needed, predictable income stream for your favorite charities.

Strengthen your financial future by taking these six steps to emulate what successful 30-year-olds do with money.  If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

How to Save Money In Your 20s

Your 20s are all about change; graduating college, starting a career, exploring new relationships, and living on your own. Many of these are tremendously exciting; I’ll never forget my first client presentation to six senior executives only a few months after starting my first job. I walked on air after impressing them with my research.

That said, many of these changes are stressful and costly. I racked up a massive credit card bill right after I moved to Washington, D.C. for my first job. I thoughtlessly swiped my credit card to buy essentials for my first solo apartment, shop for a work-appropriate wardrobe, and splurge in D.C. bars and restaurants.

It can be tempting to put off saving money, but if you save small amounts early in your career, you create massive wealth for your future self. When you save and invest, your money makes more money on your behalf, and that’s an amazing thing! So let’s do this - here’s how to save money in your 20s.

Automate. Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account on payday. Start with the biggest amount you can - that might be $20, or $200. Increase this amount at least once every three months - even if only by one dollar.

Invest. Yes, you need to start now! If you work for an employer that offers a 401(k) or other retirement plan, sign up immediately. Some employers will match your contribution up to a certain percentage; if you’re lucky enough to have this benefit, take advantage of this free money! If you’re new to investing, that’s okay. Here’s a primer on all you need to know.

Bring your lunch. If you pack your lunch four days each week, you’re saving $10 a meal on average, or $40 weekly compared to someone that goes out for lunch every day. That gives you over $1,000 to save each year, compared to the cost of making lunch at home. Make a “bring your own lunch” date with fabulous brown-baggers in your office to stay motivated.

Talk about money. Seriously. Women are curious about money, but are often taught that it is a taboo topic. A Fidelity study found that 92% of us want to learn more about financial planning; that means nearly every woman in your life is interested in talking about finances. Start the conversation by sharing posts (like this one) and following financial gurus on social media. By sharing that you’re interested in saving money, you’ll get creative ideas from your girlfriends and hold one another accountable. Ban any shame and judgment from your money conversations and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.

Stop comparing. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Social media gives us the amazing power to stay connected to friends and icons, but heavy use has been linked to depression. Scrolling through everyone’s life highlights can make us feel like we’re not enough - which can trigger emotional spending to make ourselves feel better, temporarily. Make a conscious effort to stop yourself any time you start comparing yourself to others; run your own race!

Track your spending. You work hard for your money and deserve to know where it goes. Popular apps like Mint, YNAB, and Quicken can help you understand if you’re falling prey to the sneaky ways we spend more than we mean to. Figure out where you’re spending too much, and divert those expenses to more important goals like your next vacation or your investment account.

I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions to save money in your 20s. What tactics worked for you? If you make saving a habit now, your future self will be so pleased with all the wealth created when you were just starting out. You’ve got this! 

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

How to Set Money Goals That Align with Your Values

Each of us has a unique set of values that we hold dear, even if we haven’t defined them. For example, I value security and exploration very highly; in the past few years, I’ve gotten better at consistently aligning my money with these values. As a result, I’m a happier person. Exploration includes mountaineering adventures, local hiking and kayaking, as well as traveling to new cities and continents. Therefore, I prioritize funding my travel budget; it is one of the six expenses I’ll never cut back on. I also prioritize donating to nonprofits that support conservation and preserve the beautiful spaces I enjoy exploring.

I recommend that each person (or couple, if you’re partnered) first take the time to define what they value. Financial guru David Bach says, “When your values are clear your financial decisions become easy.” I couldn’t agree more. Defining and recording your values may seem like an unnecessary step, but they serve as the foundation to your money goals. If you’re struggling with this step, watch David Bach and Marie Forleo have a candid discussion about this philosophy.

However, without goals, your values can go unfulfilled. The next step is to define goals to align your finances with your values. Otherwise, it can be terribly easy to spend on material goods that provide momentary joy, but don’t have a long-term impact on your life.

There’s a type of goal you should create, referred to as a SMART goal. These are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound objectives that will define your plan and allow you to measure your progress.

My partner and I consistently use SMART goals in our financial planning. In 2006, we were in credit card debt. I had over $10,000, and Mr. Financier had over $2,000. We created a goal to eliminate that $12,000 debt completely in one year, with two $500 payments each month, diverting any “found” money to debt, and reducing three household expenses. We paid the debt off earlier than planned; having a SMART goal helped us stay the course and remain accountable.

I recommend you focus on no more than three SMART goals at any given time. Ideally, these goals have different time horizons, with one that you can accomplish in six months or less. For example – today, I have a goal to save for an upcoming trip (in the next three months) and another long-term goal to achieve financial freedom before the year 2027.

By recording and defining your values and creating SMART goals to align your finances accordingly, you’re taking a critical step to strengthen your future. What values do you hold dear? How are your money goals supporting those values? I’d love to hear from you.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

I also wrote about values-based budgeting in the She Spends newsletter. She Spends is a weekly newsletter and website created to close the wage gap, investment gap and board seat gap among women. I admire their goals and love their content.

How to Manage Money with Your Partner: Six Questions You Need to Answer

If you’re in a serious relationship and regularly share significant expenses, this post is for you. Money can be a major source of friction in partnerships and if you aren’t financially intimate, it is difficult to achieve your goals. Sharing financial details is a powerful start to financial intimacy. Next, you need to determine how you will manage money together.

Every couple manages their money differently and there’s no “one size fits all” answer. Further, the money management approach that works for your relationship today may need to evolve as responsibilities shift at work and at home in the future. That said, there are six questions partners can answer to determine the right approach for them. I’ll start with the more strategic questions first; answering these makes the tactical questions easier.

1. What are our biggest financial goals? Defining your top three joint financial goals provides motivation and clarity. I recommend identifying at least one goal with a short timeline (within the next six months). Record your financial goals, discuss them, and celebrate the progress you make. When you achieve a goal, replace it with a new objective to continue your momentum.

Start this conversation with your partner by defining your joint values, if you haven’t already. This is a common approach that financial planners and experts like David Bach recommend, because aligning your money with the things you value is powerful. For example, if you and your partner value security, you could focus on paying off debt or purchase a home you can afford to increase the security in your life.

2. How often should we check in on our money? Progressing against your goals is easier when you’re keeping an eye on your finances. Your money doesn't sit still when you ignore it. This can be wonderful (automatic investing growing your wealth faster than expected) or stressful (unattended credit card debt generating late fees and interest charges).

You should regularly check in on how you’re progressing towards your financial goals. Scheduling recurring “money dates” with your partner (at least once every three months) ensures you address problems and celebrate progress. Keep a running list of what you need to discuss; your top three financial goals should always be on the agenda. 

If the idea of a money date sounds painful, use the concept of Temptation Bundling in your favor. Temptation Bundling is when you link two activities together - one you enjoy and one you’d prefer to avoid. In this example, you may choose to reward yourself after a money date with a meal at a favorite restaurant.

3. How will we pay for joint expenses? Paying for expenses like housing, utilities, travel, and vehicles should be done equitably, so one partner doesn’t feel beholden to the other. 

First, define joint expenses. Some couples label anything spent by either partner as a joint expense, others put a certain limit in place where they need to “clear” the expense with their partner (say, over $200), and some decide that only certain expenses are joint responsibilities. My partner and I do the latter; we consider utilities, housing, maintenance, groceries, and life insurance to be joint expenses. In contrast, my shoes, evenings out with my friends, and conferences I attend are my responsibility.

Next, determine how you’ll fund joint expenses. My recommendation is to split joint expenses in proportion to income. Here’s an example: Ava is a journalist with a salary of $57,500; she recently married Dinah, whose job as an engineer brings in $125,000. Together, they enjoy $182,500 in gross income. Ava’s income is 32% of their household total, while Dinah’s contributes 68%.

Therefore, to pay their monthly mortgage of $2,500, Ava contributes 32% ($788) and Dinah contributes 68% ($1,712). They’re savvy women, so they signed a prenuptial agreement beforehand that outlines how they’d divvy up these joint assets in the event of a divorce.

4. How will we save and invest together? Investing and saving are critical to building wealth. As a couple, you should decide how much to save and invest. Your emergency fund is critical, but once that’s funded you should focus on retirement, save-to-spend accounts, college (for those with kids), and then investing beyond retirement. Here’s a four-step guide to getting started with investing.

Consider how evenly you are funding investment accounts. I’ve often heard women say, “My partner makes more, so we max out their 401(k) contributions. I can only afford to contribute a little.” If this is your situation, I urge you to consider a more equal strategy. Unequal investing can result in very different account balances; in the unfortunate event of a divorce, you may not receive a financial outcome you’re happy with. Even partners that don’t work outside the home are eligible for a spousal IRA to save for retirement.

5. Where will our money live? Managing your money becomes easier with fewer banks and accounts. When you address this question, consider where you’d like to keep your savings, daily checking, and investment accounts. For investing, I always recommend Vanguard; they have a low-cost strategy and are investor-owned.

Since my partner and I manage our money with a “yours, mine, and ours” strategy, our bank accounts mirror that. Mr. Financier and I have separate checking accounts for individual expenses. We also have a joint checking account for joint household expenses. Our savings and investments are set up the same way; some are jointly held (like our emergency savings account) and some are individual (like my investment account that I started before we were married).

6. Who manages the bills? Deciding who pays which bills will reduce bill-paying stress and ensure you’re not blaming one another for any late fees. Consistency can also help you catch errors. A few months ago, my internet bill unexpectedly increased by $15; I noticed the change because I always pay that bill. I called customer service and immediately received a correction.

It is important for both partners to provide transparency around joint bills. In our house, I am responsible for any joint bill (the mortgage, utilities, auto insurance). However, Mr. Financier knows how to access our mortgage account at any time and we review the statements together. This ensures we’re both aware of jointly-held debts and accounts.

You may elect to pay many of your regular bills automatically. I recommend that if you can schedule the payment from your bank to the service provider, versus giving the service provider permission to pull payments from your bank account. Your comfort level may differ, but I avoid giving my bank information to the cable company, mortgage company, or insurance provider.

Those are the six questions partners can answer to determine their money-management approach. It will take some time to create the right guidelines, but you’ll benefit tremendously when you find the methods that work for your relationship. I would love your feedback; which question was the most difficult for you and your partner to answer? Do you have any other big questions that you recommend couples address?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Five Signs You Aren't Financially Intimate With Your Partner

In a strong relationship, you often feel compelled to share just about everything with your partner – your fears, goals, interests, and passions. As your relationship develops, your connection deepens, and you become even more intimate. But does your intimacy include the topic of finance?

Being financially intimate means sharing your financial status, goals, and struggles with your partner. Money is a tremendous cause of friction in partnerships and fighting about money is a top predictor of divorce in married couples. Many of us are raised not to talk about money or have shame about some aspect of our financial situation. But hiding information does not strengthen a relationship.

There’s some good news; one survey conducted by MONEY found that, “…couples who trust their partner with finances felt more secure, argued less, and had more fulfilling sex lives.” That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? How open are you with your partner? Here are five signs that you aren’t financially intimate with your partner, in order of increasing intimacy.

You don’t know whether they save or invest. Do you know if your partner has an emergency fund? Are they investing in a 401k or other retirement plan? Saving and investing are necessary to build wealth and create financial stability, so you should know whether your partner is doing so on a regular basis. If you’re in a very serious relationship or married, you should have an understanding of how much is in their accounts.

You don’t know if they have debt. Does your partner have credit card, student loan, auto, real estate, or other debt? How do they feel about this debt; is it under control or is it a source of stress? Are they actively paying it off? How much debt is does your partner owe, in total? Debt is something that many of us take on to achieve other goals, but it can hamper financial freedom if not managed effectively.

You don’t know their credit score. How healthy is your partner’s credit? If it is weak, what steps are they taking to strengthen it? Before you merge finances, move in together, or get married, you should see your partner’s full credit report. Many of us have had credit issues; I’m no stranger to credit card debt myself. However, credit affects a wide range of financial decisions – credit card and loan rates, housing decisions, and even hiring decisions. Sharing credit reports can help you make better joint financial decisions and work together to strengthen them if needed.

You don’t know their salary and compensation. What is your partner’s base salary? What other forms of compensation are they eligible for (bonuses, company stock, profit sharing, etc.)? Women can struggle to address this topic with their partners because of the damaging and outdated “gold digger” stereotype. However, starting and maintaining an open dialogue about compensation ensures you can address joint finances productively.

You don’t know where their accounts are. Where does your partner bank? Where (and how) is their 401k invested? Which credit cards does your partner have? Yes, you should know where your partner banks. You might not have access to the funds in each account, depending on how you’ve set up your joint finances, but knowing where the money is located can be important in an emergency and promotes transparency between partners.

If any of these are knowledge gaps in your relationship, I suggest starting the conversation with your partner as soon as possible. Each couple addresses the topic of finance differently and to open the conversation, you can share this post, schedule a money date, or bring the topic up in the course of regular conversation.

Approach your partner with authenticity and remove all judgment. If you’re nervous about talking about your student loan debt and don’t know if your partner has debt, you could say: “I’m nervous to talk about my student loan debt, but it is very important to our relationship that we can openly discuss money and personal finance. I haven’t shared the details with you, but I have $52,300 of student loan debts to pay off. I’m working hard to get my smallest loan paid off in the next few years. I’m curious - do you have any student loan or credit card debt?”

By sharing your emotions about the topic, giving your partner information about your status, and then asking a neutral, non-judgmental question of your partner, you’re starting the dialogue in a productive manner. Give your partner some slack; they may be nervous, scared, or worried to talk money. On the other hand, your partner may be relieved about the chance to share what they’ve been working on, or a secret personal finance nerd that has a lot of knowledge to share.

Good luck in building even more financial intimacy with your partner. I’m curious about what topics you and your partner have tackled together to build your financial intimacy; let me know!

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Why You Need a Prenup (or a Postnup if You're Already Married)

Yes, you read the title correctly - you need a prenup. If you're ready to commit to someone for the rest of your life, your relationship should be mature enough to tackle this topic. And, if you’re already married and without a prenup, then you should get a postnup. For simplicity, I’ll refer to prenups throughout this post; a postnuptial agreement serves a similar role for those that have already walked down the aisle.

 When a couple decides to marry, divorce is often (understandably) the furthest thing from their mind. However, data suggests that divorce rates range from 38 - 50%, depending on the source. Humans have an optimism bias; each of us tends to believe that we are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. It’s a beautiful term that puts our financial health at risk. Our optimism bias makes us less prone to expect (and prepare for) events like disability, illness, divorce, and death.

Ladies, I urge you to hope for the best marriage you could ever imagine, but plan for a worst-case scenario, just in case. The data backs up my suggestion. Women’s finances are hit disproportionately hard by divorce; on average, their income drops 40% (while men face a smaller decline of 25%). Infuriatingly, the standard of living actually rises for many men in the first year after a divorce. Women face a 27% decline, while men may see an increase in up to 10%. Note that most of the data on women and divorce is for heterosexual couples.

Further, there has been a marked increase in divorces among couples fifty years of age and older; the divorce rate in that age range has doubled between 1990 and 2010. The data suggest that divorces happening later in life have an even more devastating impact on the finances of both parties.

There are also many women who remain trapped in marriages for financial reasons. While a prenup doesn’t alleviate financial anxiety, it does provide a set of legal agreements that can simplify the path to a divorce and prevent surprises for women ready to leave their relationship.

Like other forms of legal risk management tackling a prenuptial agreement isn’t fun, but can be invaluable should the worst case occur. You’re ready to get married? Congratulations! There’s a lot of fun to be had at your engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette party, and wedding; tackle this less-fun topic like the adult you are, in order to future-proof your relationship.

Here are some of the objections I hear when I bring this topic up with friends. (Yes, I am the person who eventually asks, “Are you considering a prenup?” My friends know I love talking about money; they expect it.)

We don't need a prenup, we aren’t rich and don’t have many assets. That means your prenup will be simple, but it doesn’t mean you should avoid it. A strong prenup can cover other important topics like:

  • Who gets first right of refusal to stay in the house you own, or apartment you rent?

  • How will joint household goods, like television sets and furniture, be divided?

  • Will splitting the home 50/50 upon sale be fair, or is another arrangement required?

  • Will your grandmother’s jewelry collection stay with you upon divorce?

  • Who gets custody of Fido, who your partner adopted two months before your engagement?

  • How will you split your joint bank accounts?

  • If you divorce, would you expect to split your 401k or other investments with your partner?

  • Given you currently out-earn your partner, can they expect some sort of alimony? If so, how much and for how long?

  • What about children, if you have them? How will their custody be managed? 

Further, you might not have many assets now, but do you plan to stay married for a long time? Do you plan to grow your income over time? I encourage you to think long-term and put an agreement in place today to address your earnings, investments, and savings.

Legal agreements like this are too expensive for me. This is tremendously short-sighted thinking that puts your future self at real financial and emotional risk. My fairly complex agreement cost $2,677 in the expensive DC area. Your partner may also engage a separate attorney to review and suggest changes, which could contribute to higher costs. However, consider the financial impact of a 40% decline in your standard of living post-divorce; that puts the prenup investment in context, doesn’t it?

My partner makes more than I do, a prenup would only hurt me. In a situation where you’re enjoying a higher standard of living due to your partner, a prenup could play a critical role in creating predictability if your marriage ends. Further, there are plenty of non-monetary questions that need to be decided when a relationship ends, as outlined above. Do you simply want to roll the dice and hope your partner would be completely fair during the difficult and emotional divorce process? Do you know, with complete certainty that you both have the same definition of fair?

We have a strong marriage; I don’t think we need a postnup. I'm happy for you; truly, I am. But remember your human optimism bias; and the statistics on divorce. How many divorced women say, “I knew walking down the aisle we were headed for divorce.” Not many. Instead, family law attorneys I know are regaled with, “I never saw it coming,” and “I never thought this could happen to me.” And that painful realization that a marriage is ending completely, totally sucks. So, further strengthen your great marriage and force a conversation around the worst case scenario. The opportunity cost of a few difficult conversations and the legal cost is worth it.

If you decide to pursue a prenup or postnup, seek out a family law attorney to put the right legal agreements in place to manage your risk and preserve your wealth. Friends, family, and local services providers (like doctors, insurance agents, and financial planners) can be a great source for recommendations.

Importantly, how can you start this dialogue with your partner? It can be a sensitive topic. You could share this post. If you have a regular money check-in, you could bring it up then. Use words that reinforce you aren’t worried about your relationship but want to smartly plan for the worst, while hoping and working towards the absolute best. 

I found that Mr. Financier responded well when I talked about a future situation, “Imagine how much stress we’d save our future selves if, God forbid, our marriage doesn’t work, and we’d already thought through all the really hard stuff ahead of time.” During the process, I also found we had different assumptions about money and property that we’d never spoken about. Working through the details together helped strengthen our understanding of one another, not weaken it.

Some amazing, strong, powerful divorcées have offered to share their perspective on prenups with you, below. If you’re partnered have you put a pre- or postnup in place? If you have, what advice would you give others? If you don’t have one, why did you feel it wasn’t necessary?

xoxo, Ms. Financier


My divorce, which was two and a half years ago, left me almost penniless since I paid for the whole thing...despite my ex making twice what I did. I was left with my pre-marriage retirement savings intact, thank goodness!

I would not get remarried without a prenup. It will be non-negotiable and part of my safety net in case something happens. I wish I had done that with my first marriage (and small bungalow that I owned at the time). Having that house to sell or as an income stream would have helped prevent some of the financial difficulties I’ve faced since the dissolution of the marriage. - T.A., Georgia

 

My divorce was a horror story. Truly. If I told you the gory details, you'd think that I was making it all up. But let's just say that I don't plan on getting legally married ever again (even if it's Ryan Reynolds.)

I was 23 when I started dating the man that would become my husband. It never occurred to me to have a prenup. In hindsight, the investment in a thoughtful and thorough agreement may have saved me three years of divorce hell; emotional and financial.

It's taken me three years (post-divorce) to just begin to bounce back and there is still so much that still isn't and probably won't ever be "right." Even if you think you don't have enough property or assets to warrant one, there are so many other considerations that may impact your post-divorce quality of life. - The Lady in the Black

 

I'm divorced and didn't have a prenup. Had I thought to have one, I think I would have learned a lot about my soon-to-be husband during the process of creating the agreement.

I won't get married again without one. I see it like planning for a business; people don't usually think about how they will want to exit the business. How would you want things to go IF you get divorced? Plan for that before it happens. - P.L., Colorado

 

I remember going out for lunch with a group of women about five years ago, just weeks after my wedding. All of them were divorced and the entire conversation was them talking about their divorces and ex-husbands. I remember judging them because they were divorced; this would never happen to me because I did everything right. I married a man whose parents were still together, like mine. One could say I married down, so he wouldn't leave me. No one in my family was divorced, so in my opinion, we were not going to be another statistic. Fast forward not even two years and he left me for another woman.

After the birth of our second daughter, my husband shut right down. He had an affair and I forgave him the first time but then he started another one. Throughout our marriage, I managed our finances, not because I wanted to but because I had to. I guess I have him to thank for my interest in personal finance and financial independence.

My now ex-husband was an impulse spender and had a lot of debt from before we got married. I spent the first two years of our marriage paying it off. Conveniently, when he no longer owed any money on his debts he left. He demanded half of everything,  though I paid for every item in our home with a few minor exceptions. Luckily we settled our financials within six months of our separation.

My ex-husband was impulsive, so I dangled a buyout of the family home in front of him for a fraction of the equity knowing he would jump at it since he had no savings. With that, I consider myself very lucky as it set me up to be more financially responsible while he spent all that money and more - he is now $80,000 in debt with nothing to show for himself and he doesn't pay child support.

A prenup would have saved a lot of money on lawyers fees and would have set us both up to know what would happen in the case of a separation. Had I had a prenuptial agreement I would have likely been able to keep most items in our home which I acquired prior to us getting married. I ended up having to sell the home my girls spent their first years in to access equity in the home. That home was supposed to be a rental and part of my retirement plan due to its desirable location.

Currently, I have a home and have rental property. I will not enter into another marriage without a prenup in order to protect both myself and my daughters. It is my future, my retirement and their future that is at stake.

I've seen other friends go through divorces and most of them are financially ruined. Most will likely have to declare bankruptcy. My custody battle took almost three years and cost $50k in lawyers fees. Most individuals cannot afford that. I drained my savings and had a mere $6,000 in my retirement account.

Luckily, I am young and have been able to rebound well considering as I no longer have to deal with an impulse spender. That said, my career affords me more than most and I have made decisions that set myself up for career success.

My partner and father of my son understands what I’ve been through with my ex, and we talk openly about this. He came into the relationship with his own savings and home. He is a child of divorce and witnessed his parents’ financial hardships firsthand. We both understand and respect each other enough to agree with this idea in case the unimaginable happens to us. - Courtney, @splitfinances

Three Answers You’ll Get From “End Financial Stress Now”

One of the most fabulous things about exploring the world of personal finance is meeting other money-minded gurus. On Twitter, I follow loads of personal finance bloggers, advisors, and money mavens. There’s the practical benefit; a constant flow of interesting perspective on money and there’s also the benefit of being part of (and contributing to) a community. 

One of the finance writers I’ve had the chance to meet (virtually) is Emily Guy Birken, author of End Financial Stress Now, The 5 Years Before You Retire, and Choose Your Retirement. Emily shipped me a copy of her latest book, saying, “While [my new book] is not specifically feminist, it is geared toward helping people manage their financial stress at all income levels. (I hate that most PF books are clearly geared toward upper middle class readers). Thought it could be a good fit for you if you're interested...” I devoured End Financial Stress Now in just a few days; here’s my review and the three answers you’ll get from Emily’s book.

I’m overwhelmed with life and money, where should I start? I could imagine this book being particularly useful for those going through a big life change. New high school or college graduates, someone who is recently separated, or a person with a brand new job. Emily doesn’t shy away from the fact that money can be a stressor, damage relationships, and make us feel not-so-great.

Emily pushes us to first understand our relationship to money, so we can improve it. Her book starts with a section on Redefining Money and the first chapter asks, What Does Money Mean to You? She includes common feelings about money: shame, respect, security, freedom, success, love, time and encourages us to determine what money means to us. I found this section to be particularly powerful; as women, many of us are encouraged explicitly to be good, helpful, and kind - but not powerful or successful. This can hamper us from having a productive and respectful relationship with money.

Later, Emily encourages us to explore our money scripts. She writes, “A money script is an unconscious core belief about money. Such scripts inform everything you do with money.” Chapter seven explores four money scripts; avoidance, worship, status, and vigilance. She briefly describes the positive and negative characteristics of each and outlines the tactics you can employ to ensure your money scripts aren’t creating financial stress.

There’s also a short quiz you can take to quantify your relationship to the four scripts. Mr. Financier and I took it together, which started an interesting conversation. We both scored highly on Money Vigilance, but I also scored highly on Money Worship. This didn’t surprise me; I always have to remind myself money isn’t the answer to all my problems. As a couple, our joint tendency towards Money Vigilance has caused friction. At one point, our budget was so restrictive it created stress for both of us, because we were denying ourselves too many experiences we valued. Emily’s quiz helped us re-visit this topic in a really productive way.

How does human behavior relate to personal finance? Throughout the book, Emily explains powerful, academic concepts down using simple language. For anyone that has a curious, nerdy, academic streak - you’ll find these portions fascinating! Many of us are really interested in human motivations and Emily’s exploration into common biases and behaviors is really interesting.

Two of my favorites are restraint bias (explored on page 86) and the loss aversion (page 91). Restraint bias acknowledges that most of us think we can resist temptation, even though we often fall prey to it when faced with something tempting. I’ve been in credit card debt at least six times in my life. Each time I’ve paid off a balance, I swear, “I’ll never, ever use my cards to buy something I can’t afford.” But then, an email hits my inbox advertising a fabulous shoe sale at Neiman Marcus, and I let myself to splurge, racking up debt on my card again! Emily explains you need to know your weaknesses and plan for them; in my case, I have to unsubscribe from Neiman Marcus emails and avoid going to the mall “for shopping,” because I’ll be far too tempted.

Emily devotes an entire chapter to loss aversion, a term that describes how humans feel loss more acutely than gain. For example, finding a $5 bill on the sidewalk provides a momentary burst of happiness; but misplacing $5 that you just know you had in your coat pocket is more painful. I believe that women can particularly benefit from this chapter; we are often in the role of managing all the “things” in our home - buying gifts for others, decorating, shopping for clothes for our family members. If we better understand and combat loss aversion, we’ll save more money and avoid cluttering our lives with things we don’t need.

What practical, easy-to-follow financial advice can I adopt immediately? While understanding our biases and human behavior is critical, End Financial Stress Now includes plenty of practical tips. I particularly enjoyed the last part of the book, Achieving a Stress-Free Financial Life, where Emily digs into budgeting, managing expenses, and self-discipline.

I’m a big fan of negotiation (see my thoughts about asking for a raise). On page 161, Emily highlights a series of expenses we should be negotiating (and provides tips on how to do so.) Many women were taught to follow the rules as little girls; a nice sentiment, but the rules of commerce are often unwritten. Everything is negotiable. That doesn’t mean we’ll always get what we want, but I find women are more anxious than men to ask for lower prices or different payment terms. Researchers have found similar gender differences, particularly around initiating a negotiation. What is the absolute worst that will happen? Your offer will be declined and you’ll be where you are now, in the status quo. Let’s start negotiating, ladies!

The very practical section on budgeting is entitled, Budgeting with Your Psychology in Mind. I absolutely love this approach, because what works for one person might not for another. I’ve shared my approach, scarcity budgeting, but have come across many other approaches that work well for others. This section includes worksheets that help you think through what to include in your budget, as well as a variety of suggestions on how to budget. If I could copy one section and give it out to the women in my life, it would be this chapter!

Emily Guy Birken’s book is incredibly accessible and thoughtful. As someone who has read a lot of personal finance advice, I found her take to be a unique blend of human behavior and practical advice. If you’re in a book club, I love the idea of suggesting End Financial Stress Now as a way to open up the topic of money with your friends. Or, grab a copy for yourself and lend it out liberally as a way to gently broach the topic of money with important people in your life.

As a bookworm, I’m curious to understand some of your favorite financial books. What are your go-to favorites? Is there another that you would recommend I read and review? Let me know! 

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Zhou Qunfei: The world’s wealthiest self-made woman

Zhou Qunfei is the world’s wealthiest self-made woman and the richest in China. Unlike other business titans, hers is not a household name. Her business, Lens Technology, isn’t particularly glamorous, but has a reputation for high quality and employs over 80,000 people. I hope you find as much inspiration in her life as I did.

Qunfei was born into poverty and grew up in China’s Hunan province. Like many children in rural families, she contributed to her family from a very young age. Qunfei was a passionate student, but other responsibilities (including tending to livestock) required her time and attention. Her father, who was partially blinded in an accident, raised Qunfei and her two siblings. Living with her father’s disability heightened her attention to detail, a trait that would serve her well in business. She had to be hyper-aware of her surroundings and where items were placed, to avoid confusing him. Her mother passed away only 5 years after Qunfei’s birth.

At sixteen, Qunfei dropped out of primary school to pursue full-time work and contribute to her family financially. She was quoted saying, “In the village where I grew up, a lot of girls didn’t have a choice of whether to go to middle school. They would get engaged or married and spend their entire life in that village. I chose to be in business, and I don’t regret it.”

Qunfei left her village and moved in with family members in Guangdong province, seeking work near Shenzhen University. She sent part of her earnings to her father, saved, and invested in herself. Her proximity to the University allowed her to continue her education and she explored a range of topics including computers and accounting; she even secured her commercial driving credentials!

At one point, Qunfei was working in a factory that manufactured watch parts. Her responsibilities included shaping the glass, which gave her a unique opportunity to understand lenses. The conditions in the factory were poor, and she made the decision to resign. Qunfei wrote a letter of resignation that included her appreciation for the job opportunity, but clearly laid out the reasons for her departure. The letter made its way to the factory chief, who offered her a promotion after her letter crossed his desk. Qunfei said, “Maybe it was because my resignation letter was well written and this attracted the attention of the factory supervisor. They kept me on and gave me a promotion to head up my own newly created department.”

In the intervening years, Qunfei worked (and saved) diligently. The watch factory went out of business when she was 22, putting her out of a job. Because of her consistent saving, Qunfei had a nest egg of $3,000. Empowered by her savings, she made the decision to launch her own business creating lenses with support from her family. She prioritized product quality and was extremely hands-on, focusing on the manufacturing details. Over time, she expanded beyond watches and began serving electronics companies.

Ten years after the launch of her own business, Motorola requested Qunfei’s help to create a screen for their new Razr V3 phone. Seeing the potential in phone lenses, she founded Lens Technology, and began attracting customers like Samsung Electronics. When the Apple iPhone launched in 2007, it was with Lens Technology’s glass, which helped propel her company’s growth.

Qunfei’s focus on high-quality products and innovative, scratch-resistant screens, made her products unique. She has said in interviews that she would watch the rain falling on lotus leaves as a child – which inspired her to create Lens Technology's patented, scratch-resistant coating. “Droplets of water would roll around the surface of a lotus leaf and not leave any trace,” she said. “If it wasn't for my primary school teacher reminding me to be observant I may not have had the inspiration to think of my invention.”

The business Qunfei started has a massive workforce, went public in 2015, and had revenues of over 23.7 yuan in 2017. Qunfei is Chairman of the Board* and holds over 87% of the company’s shares; Forbes estimated her net worth at $8.7 billion. Her passion for the details of manufacturing and high-quality output propels her to this day. Qunfei refers to work as her hobby, alongside mountain climbing and ping pong, and cites her desire to learn as the secret to her success. Her cousin, Zhou Xinyi, said, “In the Hunan language, we call women like her ‘ba de man,’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do.”

I love Zhou Qunfei’s story for so many reasons. Her persistence, detail orientation, and the fact that she created her own business using her nest egg as seed money are similar to other entrepreneurs. What struck a chord with you? I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

xoxo, Ms. Financier

*Yes, that is her official title, irrespective of the fact that she’s a woman. We need to gender-neutralize these titles, people! She should be Chair of the Board, period.


Learn more about Zhou Qunfei:

How a Chinese Billionaire Built Her Fortune, by David Barboza via The New York Times (This profile is absolutely superb!)

How A Former Factory Girl Became A Billionaire: Zhou Qunfei, The Richest Woman in China, by Dr. Amarendra Bhushan Dhiraj via CEOWORLD Magazine

From Rags to Riches, by Elaine O’Flynn and Edward Chow via Daily Mail

Asia Power Women 2016 Profile in Forbes

Wikipedia Page

Madam CJ Walker: America's first millionairess

This post is the first in an ongoing series featuring inspiring, passionate, amazing women throughout history.

How is it that many schoolchildren are familiar with John D. Rockefeller, but few have heard of America’s first self-made millionairess*, Madam C.J. Walker? Let’s change this by sharing her amazingly inspiring story.

Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on a Louisiana plantation over 100 years ago, in 1867. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, spent much of their lives enslaved prior to the Civil War. Sarah was their first free-born child; her four older siblings were born into slavery. Sadly, her parents passed away when she was only seven years old.

In her early years, Walker worked household and domestic jobs, and faced mistreatment and abuse. She married at age 14, gave birth to her daughter A’Leila shortly thereafter, and endured the passing of her husband only two years later.

Imagine experiencing all of this in your teens! Despite these external challenges, Walker was focused on creating a better life for her daughter (and herself). She sent A’Leila to public school in St. Louis while simultaneously working and furthering her own education. During this period, she met her future husband, Charles J. Walker.

In her early twenties, Walker began to lose her hair. She was suffering from a scalp disorder, fairly common at the time, when regular bathing was still a luxury. Walker turned to both homemade and store-bought solutions, and began to develop her own remedies. As she became more familiar with the beauty market, Walker relocated to Denver to serve as a sales professional for another entrepreneur in black haircare, Annie Malone.

At that time, Walker began marketing Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, one of her first products. Walker is credited as saying, “I got my start by giving myself a start,” and her business-savvy is undeniable. By 1907, she was traveling throughout the southeastern United States to demonstrate her “Walker Method.” She revealed unbelievable hustle during this time: selling door to door, conducting live demonstrations, and partnering with churches promote her product. She was passionate about her creation and serving her customers - traits common in today's entrepreneurs.

Importantly, Walker also provided a path to financial stability for her (largely female) customers. She would offer commissions to those that sold on her behalf as “Walker Agents” - far before Mary Kay and Tupperware popularized this business model. She would convene her agents at events, celebrating both their business results and their community impact. This hand up and into financial dignity mirrors what I hear when I speak with female entrepreneurs today, who are motivated to serve their customers and provide employment opportunities to other women.

Following her whirlwind promotional tour, Walker invested in a factory, school, and salon in Indianapolis. She said, “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground.” By 1913, she was traveling to the Caribbean and Central America to conduct business internationally, while her daughter was launching Walker Salon in Harlem.

Like many passionate entrepreneurs, Walker had strong social views. She moved to Harlem in 1916, and was heavily involved in the NAACP. In 1917, a white mob murdered more than three dozen black citizens in East St. Louis. Walker joined a group of leaders who visited the White House to support anti-lynching legislation.

The wonderful Madam C.J. Walker died at age 51. At the time of her passing she had accumulated a personal fortune worth approximately $600,000, with her business valued at over a million dollars. Her products and legacy live on, and her story is a powerful inspiration. The Madam CJ Walker Beauty Culture site shares: Tenacity and perseverance, faith in herself and in God, quality products and “honest business dealings” were the elements and strategies she prescribed for aspiring entrepreneurs who requested the secret to her rags-to-riches ascent. “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once commented. “And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”

What a life she led! What is your element of Madam C.J. Walker’s inspirational journey resonates with you? And, who would you like to see profiled the future posts? #WomenAndMoney #WomenLeaders

xoxo, Ms. Financier

*I drafted this post in Google Docs, which read millionairess as a typo, and suggested millionaire. The patriarchy! And, Merriam-Webster, I prefer definition #1, TYVM. *kiss*


Learn more about Madam C.J. Walker:

Prologue to “On Her Own Ground: The LIfe and Times of Madam C.J. Walker,” by A’Leila Bundles (Walker’s great-great-granddaughter) via the New York Times

Biography.com Profile

Madam Walker, the First Black American Woman to Be a Self-Made Millionaire, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. via PBS

The Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker via Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture

Wikipedia Page

Madam Walker Theater