Growing Up Comfortable with Money

Manisha Thakor, founder of MoneyZen Wealth Management, talks finance education for all ages.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a project in which we are exploring why many women lack confidence when discussing money. You can read the first installment of this series here 
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Manisha Thakor is a finance expert who is dedicated to helping women effectively manage their money. She is the founder of MoneyZen Wealth Management in Santa Fe, N.M., which provides financial planning and investment advice to a mostly female client base. She is also the author of two personal finance books, including “On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance,” and is both a financial fellow at Wellesley College and on faculty at The Omega Institute’s Women’s Leadership Center. Thakor is especially passionate about helping women with their finances because, as she states on MoneyZen’s website, “[s]tatistically speaking, we earn less, live longer, and spend more time out of the workforce caring for family.”

Thakor (who is now in her 40s) told us that her education in finance started early in life, when her father explained to her that “good personal finance habits don’t have to be complex — it’s just about inflows and outflows, and balancing them while you strive for joy.” Her mother also played an integral role in shaping her view of finance when she taught Thakor that “money gives you a choice, and gives you a voice.”

During her interview with us, Thakor discussed the importance of personal finance education for girls, and the roles that parenting and language can play in one’s relationship with money.

Edited interview excerpts below.

The Story Exchange: What contributes to the hesitance some women feel when discussing money?

It goes back to the way we are socialized as boys and girls. By the time we get to college, women are not talking about the same types of things as men — a fact that is exacerbated when we get into the work force. Men socially chitchat about money, and feel comfortable discussing it. For us, it’s not as comfortable a language. We don’t tend to connect with each other over the stock market, or discuss business events.

The Story Exchange: What sort of language in particular might make women feel alienated from finance?

Up until now, the industry has been cloaked in testosterone-based and fighting-based analogies. “We crushed the competition.” “We beat the market.” “We dominated the sector.” As such, men feel it’s their language, but we don’t feel like it’s ours, and that carries over into how we think about it in our business. Also, men are used to using business and money as a form of dialogue to connect and network with each other.

The Story Exchange: How does this affect women in the workplace?

It’s harder for women to ask for money — not because we’re weak, but because in almost any realm, when women talk about money we’re held to a different standard than men. When women ask for a raise, or ask for money in any form, if we ask the same way as a man, we would get rejected — and we would be interpreted as being arrogant, or bossy, or demanding. We have to ask differently. And I have to believe that this affects not just raises, but money to grow a business as well.

The Story Exchange: Do you think that race, ethnicity or geography play roles in this?

As a woman of Asian-Indian descent, when I see female cousins in India and male cousins here, or when I travel, this strikes me very much as a gender-based issue. I’ve been to Peru, Bolivia, China, Japan, India — a diverse range of countries. We see women in power, but often they have to do it in a contorted way. It’s been shown that if you invest in women, your return will be much higher. But look at what’s happening to women in India, when they try to exert independence.

Related: Why India’s Women Entrepreneurs Need to Change Their Self-Perception
Related: A Money Gap for India’s Female Entrepreneurs

The Story Exchange: Do you feel that financial confidence is something that could be taught to girls at a young age?

Absolutely. There are books for parents that allow them to assign boys and girls alike hypothetical jobs for hypothetical wages, so that kids can learn about money in an age-appropriate way. To me, money is like toilet paper – it runs through our lives daily, but we don’t like talking about it. And then you don’t talk about it until you reach a certain age. Often for women, that might not be until a crisis occurs, like job loss or divorce. If you have no experience talking about money in a meaningful way, then it’s no wonder that it feels awkward or scary. Parents need to know that you don’t have to tell kids what a derivative is to give them the confidence they need to be financially empowered.

The Story Exchange: Could you talk about how your upbringing affects your view of it?

It is extremely rare to grow up the way I did in regards to learning about personal finance. It’s not normally taught in schools to either gender. On top of that, the finance landscape over the past 30 years has become ridiculously complex. We’ve seen product proliferation in the finance services industry that’s akin to walking into a grocery story — you have so many choices. Most don’t have an education in this area, and they’re embarrassed. They feel they’re supposed to know about it, even though they were never taught it. It just manifests itself differently, with men being overly confident and women being under-confident. Both genders need equal help. Both genders lack skills because they are not taught. But also, basic personal finance is no more complex than basic personal nutrition – you don’t have to understand multi-varied equations to be financially on top of things.

For all posts from this project, please click here.

Posted: June 5, 2014

Candice Helfand-RogersGrowing Up Comfortable with Money