Growing up, my dad was the consistent breadwinner in our family. My mom homeschooled my older sister and I for a few years, then she worked part-time when we went to an area school. I didn’t know how the money was broken down in our household because my parents seemed to have equal say over how it was spent.
It wasn’t until my parents divorced when I was ten years old that I realized my dad had the lion’s share of the money. When they split up, my mom took my sister and I, and moved us out of his house to a small apartment across town.
My dad paid child support and my mom worked two jobs, but still we were broke. I remember asking my mom for things and she would say, “We don’t have that kind of money anymore.” She never explained why, but even at ten years old, I knew what had happened. The divorce had left her financially high and dry and so I vowed to never rely on a man or anyone else to take care of me.
Learning from Steve Jobs’ Widow
When I heard about Laurene Powell Jobs recently, her story resonated with me. She largely stays out of the spotlight, but you may know that Laurene is Steve Jobs’ widow. Recently, Forbes named her the richest woman in Silicon Valley and the 13th wealthiest woman in the world. The magazine estimated her net worth at $9 billion dollars.
Though Laurene undoubtedly benefited (and continues to benefit) financially from being married to Apple’s co-founder, she felt it was important to have her own career. Before she went to business school, and therefore before she met Steve, Laurene worked for Merrill Lynch Asset Management and spent three years at Goldman Sachs as a fixed-income trading strategist. Laurene and Steve met in 1989 while she was earning her MBA at Stanford and they married in 1991.
While her husband was busy building one of the most valuable companies in the world, Laurene co-founded Terravera, a natural foods manufacturer that delivers organic foods to over 300 retailers in Northern California. She also was the co-founder and President of College Track, an after school college preparatory program for under-resourced high school students.
Why it’s important to be financially self-sufficient
Initially, I marveled at Laurene’s commitment to her career despite marrying rich, but when I read about her motivation (as told to Walter Isaacson), I understood.
In Steve Jobs’ biography, author Isaacson wrote:
Laurene Powell had been born in New Jersey in 1963 and learned to be self-sufficient at an early age. Her father was a Marine Corps pilot who died a hero in a crash in Santa Ana, California; he had been leading a crippled plane in for a landing, and when it hit his plane he kept flying to avoid a residential area rather than ejecting in time to save his life. Her mother’s second marriage turned out to be a horrible situation, but she felt she couldn’t leave because she had no means to support her large family. For ten years, Laurene and her three brothers had to suffer in a tense household, keeping a good demeanor while compartmentalizing problems. She did well. “The lesson I learned was clear, that I always wanted to be self-sufficient,” she said. “I took pride in that. My relationship with money is that it’s a tool to be self-sufficient, but it’s not something that is part of who I am.”
What does being financially self-sufficient mean?
Some may believe that self-sufficiency kills a marriage, but Laurene was married to Steve for twenty years and the couple had three kids together. When their first child turned two, she quit her career for a time to have more children. Ultimately, she was a wife, mother and positive contributor to society – just not wholly dependent on her husband’s livelihood.
Being self-sufficient doesn’t have to mean having an MBA and owning your own business. Financial self-sufficiency simply means you have the capacity to pay your bills each month, with perhaps some left over for saving and miscellaneous spending. In my own life, I saw first hand how important that can be when a marriage ends in divorce–but even in a solid marriage, self-sufficiency can be empowering on a personal level, as well as for the relationship.
What do you think about women being financially self-sufficient in a marriage?