Over the past two years, I’ve read a number of really interesting financial literacy books aimed towards women. While some have effected me more than others, all of them really drive the same message home: “Women need to get educated about money, and they need to get educated now.”
The book that I’ve enjoyed the most is The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts. Leslie Bennetts is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, where she writes on topics ranging from politics to movie stars to the anti-terrorism policies of the United States. Before joining Vanity Fair, she worked as the first female reporter ever to cover a political campaign for The New York Times. As an aspiring writer myself, Bennetts’ pedigreed journalism career was enough to catch my attention at the outset of the book. And I was not disappointed.
In the pages, which are colloquially written and factually dense, she makes the argument that the biggest mistake a woman can make is to drop out of her career to raise children. One never knows what may happen in life—divorce, death, or bankruptcy—and the only way that women can prepare for catastrophes is to be financially independent of men. In the introduction, she states that she learned from her grandmother, who was a working woman her entire life: “I surely got the message that you couldn’t depend on men to take care of you. I also understood that when you asserted control over your life, it made you strong and free.”
The book responds to the early 21st century trend of women who aspired to become stay at home mothers, as highlighted in a 2005 New York Times article about female Yale alumni who were merely working to pass the time until they were able to drop out of the workforce. I remember when the article first came out, the year that I graduated from college. It caused quite a stir amongst women my own age, many of whom were struggling through their first year out of work. Was the work place the right place for us? Would be happier if we could stay at home, and not work at all? Were we really meant to be mothers rather than wage earners?
Of all of the points that Bennetts makes in the book, many of which can be found in other financial literacy books, the point that struck me the deepest was called “The Fifteen Year Paradigm.” Basically, Bennetts makes the argument that raising a child takes up fifteen years of your life (in essence from birth until teenage years). However, a career spans forty years, or even longer as our life expectancy grows. Is it really worth it to give up a long career arc for fifteen years of greater facility in the domestic sphere? Although those fifteen years may be tough, the longer reward is more success, more freedom, and a happier life. It’s kind of like making the argument that if you save a little every day, eventually you’ll have enough for a vacation.
From personal experience, I know that I don’t mind saving my “life pennies” for a career that I love. Doing what you love feels better than any vacation, and I thank Bennetts for driving that home.