Introduction When all 105 pounds of my aunt Lee was carted out of her New York City apartment at the age of ninety-one, it came as no surprise to the women in our family that a bankbook with $50,000 was found buried in her top drawer.
"Remember to shove a little down south from what your husband gives you every week to run the house," she told my mother and all the other young married women in our family. "For a rainy day. For yourself, for the children. You never know when it will come in handy. Be smart."
The humble wife of a raincoat manufacturer had amassed her little fortune by stashing away a few dollars every week for sixty-five years, unbeknownst to my uncle Irving.
Her three sons -- a dentist, a scientist, and a dog trainer -- were dumbstruck when they discovered the bankbook.
"How the heck did Mom get her hands on this kind of cash?" exclaimed Seymour Evans, the Scarsdale dentist, shaking his head. Seymour's wife, Edith, who has been quietly following her mother-in-law's priceless advice for the last thirty-eight years, smiled knowingly to herself and said, "It beats the heck out of me, Sy."
Thus were born the Evans family's "Shove It Down South" accounts. Charles Schwab could do a lot worse.
You never forget such family stories -- and Aunt Lee's eventually inspired an article I wrote for The Wall Street Journal about married women who hide money from their husbands. As I interviewed women around the country from all walks of life, I was amazed by how many of them, including the highly successful, said they kept a secret or separate stash. The amounts ranged from $300 to $200,000. The women ranged from a twenty-six-year-old lawyer to an eighty-three-year-old homemaker who had been hiding her money for forty years in a cigar box covered with scripture that she called her "Jesus box."
It quickly became obvious that this practice of having a nest egg of one's own was not confined to the Aunt Lees of this world -- that is, struggling immigrant wives. Not by a long shot. This exists across cultures -- Chinese women call it hui, Japanese women call it tonomoshia, Americans women call it a nest egg, Jewish women a knipple, and Caribbean women a sous-sous. As I spoke with working-class and professional women, stay-at-home moms and grandmothers, it became clear that I had tapped into a rich vein among women of every age and station. "Get real!" a secretary I met on the subway told me one night when I asked her if she saved money on the side. "Doesn't everybody?"
All of the women -- and men -- you will meet in this book are real. And so are their stories. Their names and some details have been changed only when it was necessary to protect their privacy, their children, or their nest eggs. Whether they earn $25,000 or $200,000, all women have certain common threads in their lives: concerns about financial security for themselves and their children; the desire to make some decisions independently of their husbands; questions of trust and the balance of power in their marriages. The more women I spoke to about this phenomenon, the more light it cast on a larger truth: Money is feminism's next frontier.
In the war between the sexes, money and what it represents unite women in a sisterhood that transcends politics, social status, and anything else. Money -- not sex -- is the key prize in the struggle between most couples. If you want to find the flash point of conflict and resentment in the lives of most American couples, the friction that dwarfs all others, follow the buck. The wallet is the window into the soul of marriage.
Today, believing that our men will always be there, that they will be loyal and loving until death or divorce do you part is right up there with "I'll respect you in the morning" and "My wife will never find out." With the divorce rate soaring and those adorable young interns showing no signs of going away (darn!) we'd be crazy not to cover our assets.
And for those who stay married, having such a stash may be the greatest gift of love you ever give your mate. What husband wouldn't be thrilled to have $100,000 appear out of nowhere? Just think of the possibilities, of what you could do with that wad of cash. You could buy retail, help your kids through college, or go on that much-dreamed-about second honeymoon.
Any woman who is tempted to put down this book and say "It's not for me" needs to read this book even more. We are not talking grand larceny -- we're talking grand planning for the future. You should put money aside whether you love your husband more than life itself, or if you just tolerate him, or if you know deep down that you won't be sharing the same toothpaste forever.
So what are you waiting for?
Copyright © 1999 by Heidi Evans