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Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash

Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash

by Liz Perle

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A bold and personal book that digs below the surface of one of society's last taboos-money-and illuminates how women's emotional relationship with it affects every part of their lives

Long ago, and not entirely consciously, Liz Perle made a quiet contract with cash: she would do what it took to get it-work hard, marry right-but she didn't


A bold and personal book that digs below the surface of one of society's last taboos-money-and illuminates how women's emotional relationship with it affects every part of their lives

Long ago, and not entirely consciously, Liz Perle made a quiet contract with cash: she would do what it took to get it-work hard, marry right-but she didn't want to have to think about it too much. The subject of money had, since childhood, been quietly sidestepped, a shadowy factor whose private influence was impolite to discuss. This deliberate denial eventually exacted its price, however, when a sudden divorce left Perle with no home, no job, and a four-year-old with a box of toys. She realized she could no longer afford to leave her murky and fraught relationship with money unexamined.

What Perle discovered as she reassembled her life was that almost every woman she knew also subscribed to this strange and emotional code of discretion-even though it laced through their relationships with their parents, lovers, husbands, children, friends, co-workers, and communities. Women who were all too willing to tell each other about their deepest secrets or sexual assets still kept mum when it came to their financial ones.

In Money, A Memoir, Perle attempts to break this silence, adding her own story to the anecdotes and insights of psychologists, researchers, and more than 200 "ordinary" women. It turned out that when money was the topic, most women needed permission to talk. The result is an insightful, unflinching look at the once subtle and commanding influence of money on our every relationship.

Editorial Reviews

When divorce and unemployment radically changed her circumstances, Liz Perle was forced to face financial issues she had long swept under the rug. In this intriguing work of nonfiction -- part memoir, part sociological survey -- she examines her own experiences and probes the psychological and cultural factors that influence women's complicated, uneasy, and emotionally charged relationship with money. Filled with "aha" moments of clarity and total recognition, this is an important book no woman can afford to ignore!
Anya Kamenetz
A middle-aged woman who has given up her career to mind her small child and moved around the world for her husband's job suddenly finds herself divorced, homeless and unemployed. This is the doozy of an opener to Liz Perle's intriguing yet frustrating meditation, Money, a Memoir…the heart of this book—the actual memoir part—is compelling…She articulates internal contradictions that many women will recognize: covetous of good things yet afraid of showing it, outwardly independent yet expecting dates to foot the bill, self-indulgent in the short term yet willfully negligent about investments and savings.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Having attained the right to earn and spend their own money only decades ago, women have a more complex relationship to cash than men, argues Perle (When Work Doesn't Work Anymore) in this eye-opening audiobook. Much less a memoir than a call to action, Perle's audio uses her own unhealthy relationship with money as a springboard for a provocative discussion about women's finances-how money anxieties influence a woman's life decisions; how a woman's financial preparedness affects the way she feels about herself; and how, despite their tremendous buying power, women stand a greater chance than men of going bankrupt and of not having sufficient funds for retirement. Perle delivers this material in a measured, matter-of-fact manner. Indeed, some might accuse her of reading too slowly, but her deliberate pace makes it easy to grasp the impact of her weighty revelations. Although the audio lacks a clear organizational structure, it succeeds in driving home its primary message-that women need to be less ambivalent about money and more active in investing in the future-and in urging listeners to think about money in terms of not only what it can purchase, but how it has shaped their lives. Simultaneous release with the Holt hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 31, 2005). (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
One thing women don't think about enough is money-and Perle (When Work Doesn't Work Anymore) draws on personal experience to prove it. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
CD 1-5939-7887-1An impoverished argument about women and money. Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, amusingly explains how she became obsessed with money. She was, she says, a good middle-class girl and feminist. Armed with a solid education and a reasonable amount of self-confidence, she imagined that her first marriage, like her high-powered job, would be emotionally as well as financially rewarding. She was wrong on both counts. Jobs, she discovered, can be as fickle as husbands, and husbands can be very fickle. Perle divorced and became unhappy. The thought of starting her life over again while raising a child sent her into a financial panic. Up until this point, the memoir is frank and unflinching, unafraid to reveal Perle's shortcomings and strengths alike, but it falters when she tries to apply her own experience with money to women in general. Perle occasionally advances lucid social arguments-she recognizes, for example, that social factors condition both women's economic status as well as their response to inequities-but her book grows frustrating when she tries to remedy economic disparities by encouraging women to feel differently about money rather than by helping them figure out how they are systemically prevented from having any. Fails in its effort to address broader issues. Readers would be better off investing the money they might be tempted to spend on this book.
From the Publisher
"One of the most powerful determinants of a woman's quality of life is her relationship with money. If she takes good care of her financial health, she lives life on her terms. If, however, she avoids taking responsibility for this important area of her life, she relinquishes her power to forces outside of herself. In Money, A Memoir, Liz Perle offers a straightforward and deeply personal account of what it takes for women to reclaim their financial and emotional freedom."—Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life

"If you want to understand many women's complex and contradictory attitudes about money, take out your wallet and buy Liz Perle's very personal and very honest look at the subject in Money, A Memoir." Myrna Blyth, former editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal and author of Spin Sisters

"A smart, funny, insightful book on woman and money. Liz Perle writes with love and enthusiasm about this essential topic."—Judith Orloff M.D., author of Positive Energy

"This deceptively powerful book is a must-read for any woman who really wants to be in control of her life. Written with humor and hard-won wisdom, I hope it inspires women to really look honestly at what at their relationship is to money. It's an examination that's long overdue."— Arianna Huffington, editor of the Huffingtonreport.com

"Change is in the air. Someone finally has the courage to be straight about women's emotional struggles with money. Every woman who reads this touching, smart and true book will come away with more insight into one of the most important relationships in her life - the one between her and her pocketbook." — Debbie Ford, author of The Dark Side of the Light Chasers and The Best Year of Your Life

"This is a book for any woman who feels uncomfortable with the subject of money, i.e., nearly all of us. It proves what Simone de Beauvoir wrote fifty years ago—that women will always be the second sex until we take financial responsibility for our lives. Part autobiography, part social science study, Money, A Memoir is an intelligent, reader-friendly book that couldn't be more timely."—Marilyn Yalom, author of History of the Wife and Birth of the Chess Queen

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Prologue: Money, A Memoir

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, I realized I'd better count my money. There'd been no time in the airport. I'd been too busy wrangling a four-year-old and wrestling with my own mix of numbness, efficiency, and sorrow. I'd checked my luggage--a box of toys, a suitcase filled with tropical clothes--and turned to see my husband kneeling by his boy, both of them in tears. My son and I were leaving Singapore, where we'd moved five weeks earlier from New York City to join my husband. He'd been working there for six months. But by the time we'd arrived, he'd changed his mind about wanting to be married.

"Please go home," he said, concluding a tearful discussion we'd had during my first week.

I pointed out that this would be tough since we'd sold our apartment, expecting we'd be in Asia for three years.

"Go. Please," he repeated.

Four weeks later, having exhausted any hope of salvaging our marriage, I stood listing against the Singapore Airlines counter as everyone around me scurried purposefully to somewhere or away from someone. I was having trouble focusing on what was happening. In one hand, I clutched two passports, and in the other, a fistful of bills that had been peeled from a thick wad. Snapping to, I stuffed them in my pocket and took my son in hand, pausing before my husband. Do we hug? Kiss? There was no way for our bodies to say goodbye. I mumbled that I'd call from San Francisco when I got to my friend Sue's house, and headed down the gangway to the waiting plane, tugging my bewildered child.

There were fifteen $100 bills.

I had just lost my marriage and my home, and I had fifteen hundred bucks.

Since this is a book about money, I won't go too deeply into the losing-the-marriage part. Suffice it to say that the first thing on my mind as I flew thirty-five thousand feet over Guam while headed back to the States was not cash. But putting the heartbreak aside, I did have a few concerns: My companion was a four-year-old, I was unemployed, there was no place called home, and every single household possession I owned was in a sealed container on a huge cargo ship steaming its way toward Asia through the Suez Canal.

For as long as I could remember, I'd lived with a kind of chronic anxiety that something like this would happen. That I'd lose my financial footing and end up shuffling around in bedroom slippers pushing a shopping cart down an alley. On the surface of it, this was not a rational fear. Since I was born a relatively middle-to-upper-middle-class girl with all the privileges, experiences, and options that come with membership in the Club of Disposable Income, the chances of my remaining in one end or another of that income bracket were probably going to be pretty good. (That and the fact that, in my saner moments, I did know that my husband was an unhappily married--not bad--man and that he would not leave me and his son high and dry.) But that hadn't stopped me from worrying that one day, without warning, I could plunge from the safety of my nice life into--if not poverty--a quality of life so diminished that I wouldn't be able to bear it. These stubborn fears had persisted through years of economic independence, and they regularly woke me up at 4:00 a.m. disguised as regret over an unnecessary impulse purchase, sure that it represented the first step on the steep path to sheer ruin.

Then, one day, quite suddenly, my worst fears were realized. Without warning, my marriage collapsed, taking with it my financial security. After all, I had (quite willingly) handed over my economic life to my husband. Now he and all our assets were retreating at five hundred miles an hour.

Here's what was clear: that I wasn't getting my marriage back.

Here's what was not so clear: how I was going to afford my life.

There's nothing like losing just about everything to lay bare what's important.

Long ago, and not entirely consciously, I made a quiet contract with cash. I would do what it took to get it--work hard, marry right--but I didn't want to have to think about it. I simply wanted to know I would be financially secure. This intentional avoidance eventually exacted its price. In the service of sidestepping, whenever possible, my anxious feelings (if not my facts) about money, I've signed over a lot of power to anyone or anything that promised to make me feel financially safe--no matter what the consequences. I've left my emotions about money--the fears and ambivalences--largely unexamined. I've avoided facing my contradictory feelings about the whole subject, such as the fact that I want to have my own money with the independence it gives, while simultaneously hoping someone or something will step up to the plate and take care of me. I've invited these highly emotional and unstable sets of feelings into every relationship I've had, and they have silently accompanied and influenced each one--with my father, my work, my friends, my bosses, and my husbands. (There have been two--oddly, both named Steve.)

My nonspecific fears of financial ruin have led to some good things, too, though. They've pushed me to work hard, which propelled me into some good jobs, which, in addition to nice salaries, gave me a sense of identity, some freedom, and extended periods when I felt pretty good about myself. Anxiety about my future has put money in my IRA, has helped me save enough for a down payment on a house, and, in the hopes that the sins of the parents aren't visited on the kids, has prodded me to impart to my children a respect for cash and a sense of its importance. In fact, I've always paid my way, not just out of financial need but because emotionally I've needed the freedom that a decent income ensured me.

None of these facts, however, made a dent in my anxieties.

My financial solvency--like most things in life--has come with a few strings attached. In order to keep the real and imaginary wolves from my door, I've occasionally acted in ways that haven't made me feel too swell about myself. I've been silent when I should have spoken up. Stayed ignorant when I should have paid attention. I've remained tethered to unhappy and unhealthy work and personal relationships. I've been complicit in bad business practices and poor management.

My agreement to trade bits of myself for security has had personal side effects--eruptions of rebellious immaturity where I haven't paid my bills or lived within my means in spite of very real consequences. I didn't change my IRA portfolio from all those tech stocks I'd invested in hoping to get rich quick (whoops). I didn't balance my checkbook and ended up paying 18 percent interest on the overdraft that bounced over to my Visa card. I've left jobs purely because I've hated them, even though they paid me well. Each of these incidents resulted in big reversals in my financial fortunes, and if you graphed my net worth over the course of my life, it would look like the mark of Zorro. Embarrassed and occasionally unnerved by my own tendency toward erratic fiscal behavior, I've stubbornly refused to examine it, instead choosing to pin my hopes on that white knight, dream job, unknown dead rich uncle, or winning lottery number that would rescue me.

This kind of magical thinking--if not downright denial--has allowed me to maintain a remarkably constant approach/avoidance relationship with this most fundamental part of my life--with the emphasis on avoidance. I'm no stranger to the financial fantasy realm. My daydreaming drew heavily and rather unimaginatively on the run-of-the-mill Disney model. It involved the acquisition of a husband who would present me with a "happily-ever-after" life by taking away my money fears. Yet despite my most strenuous efforts, I didn't manage to find one until my midthirties. Buried inside my increasingly frantic search for he-who-would-be-solvent was the fantasy that once married, I would have the security I craved. Insistent feminist that I was (and remain), I still wanted the option of knowing that I, alone, would not have to be the steward of my financial destiny.

I married the first guy I dated who owned a really good suit. (Okay, to be honest, I also married the first guy who asked.) He was handsome and powerful and had an impressive job. He also made more money than I did, which I admit was a total turn-on. (Well, he had some debts and some overvalued real estate. But I overlooked these departures from the script.) On our first date, he told me to get out of the street and go stand on the curb, that he could hail us a cab. He was an alpha male, a self-made man, and clearly comfortable with finance and investment. I exhaled.

In spite of years of paying my own way, I couldn't hand over the checkbook fast enough. He liked to control the cash, pay the bills, invest the money, and govern the expenses. That was more than fine with me. I had a little money in my IRA, a bit more in a 401(k), and some profits from selling a home I'd bought with a small inheritance from my grandmother. We both had good jobs; we both made good money. He managed it. I spent it. That worked for me. I settled into domestic life all too happy to place my financial future in the hands of someone who would show his love for me by paying for everything.

The dream took some unexpected turns--the first being a period when I was out of work. The balance of power shifted quickly, almost toppling our marriage then and there. But when I found a new job with an even better salary than before, things seemed to even out. But then my husband's company reorganized dramatically as it prepared to go public. He'd worked for this firm for twenty-plus years and had many stock options that would be worth a substantial payout if he stayed on. The only hitch was that continued employment meant we'd have to move to Singapore for three years. Since I now had what I craved--a child and financial security--it only seemed fair to support my husband's part of the dream, which involved early retirement, golf, and general relaxation.

I swallowed hard and painted a pretty picture for myself of a life of adventure. I couldn't hold a traditional job in Singapore (there was no way I would get a work permit), so instead I looked forward to reading the classics, settling into a routine as a full-time mom, traveling, and writing. Except for that earlier three-month period of unemployment, I had never depended on someone else for money, so a part of me wasn't keen on a repeat performance. But there weren't a lot of options, and I figured the dependency wasn't for too long. I trusted that at the end of the trip, we'd have enough money for my husband to do what he wanted, and for me to feel secure. I was more than willing to trade three years of ungovernably frizzy hair on the humid equator for a lifetime of financial ease. My husband transferred our finances, we sold our home, and after a six-month separation--he'd had to move earlier than I could--my son and I packed that box of toys and suitcase full of shorts and T-shirts, and we moved to Singapore.

We already know how that turned out.

So it was that five weeks later, at the age of forty-two, I bumped down on the stormy tarmac of San Francisco International Airport with no job, no home, and no clue what was going to happen. I had those hundred-dollar bills and, as it turned out, a small savings account, but almost everything else--even the joint credit card I carried--was in my husband's name and under his control half a world away.

This could have been my Scarlett O'Hara moment when I turned draperies into finery and pulled my metaphoric carrots from the earth, proclaiming, "I'll never be hungry again!" But that's not what happened. Instead, I collapsed on my friend Sue's sofa with a box of tissues and didn't move much for quite a while. As I lay there, my predicament slowly came into focus. I--who had devoted much of my life to making sure I would be financially safe and secure both through work and marriage--had handed my husband that power and now found my economic stability vanished within a matter of weeks. Just like that, I'd fallen through my carefully crafted safety net.

In my stunned and prone state, something became very clear: I could no longer afford the murky and oblique relationship to money I had maintained for most of my adult life. I had to admit that I held a good deal of responsibility for my situation. It was the price I paid for not wanting to think about my financial state, and it explained how I, an independent woman with twenty-plus years of career behind her, had come to be splayed on a couch in San Francisco, watching as El Niño dumped buckets of water down the steep hills and the gray streets.

My reluctant examination of my convoluted relationship with money began in earnest that day. It ultimately led to conversations with hundreds of other women--Americans, Brits, Australians, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Central and South Americans. I talked to women from twenty years old to eighty. I met women online, through financial self-help groups, and through friends of friends of friends. It didn't take much prodding to get them talking. It turns out that when it comes to money, women everywhere have so many fears and fantasies in common. Some differences in behaviors existed due to both generational and cultural differences, but studies backed up my impression that basic similarities existed under these disparities. One 2004 study commissioned by a Japanese investment bank showed that a forty-nine-year-old Japanese woman had the same priority as her forty-nine-year-old American counterpart--saving for retirement because she feared the man in her life took too many risks with money and was putting her old age in jeopardy.1

When I would begin an interview, the woman would inevitably start out by sighing really deeply. "Money," she would say, pausing. Then she would tell me that while she didn't care about money for its own sake, she did care about what it could purchase: freedom, peace of mind, identity, social position, a nice life for herself and her family, some good things, and real independence. Not to mention really nice shoes. "How much do you need in order feel secure about those things?" I would ask. The answer rarely wavered; it was some version of "I don't know. All I know is I don't have enough."

It didn't matter what a woman's age was or whether she lived in a trailer or gated community; when it came to "enough," no two dollars were created equal. Some women believed that $100,000 would solve all their problems, and others were convinced that if they had $1 million, they would experience the same fears, only bigger. "Enough?" one woman echoed when I asked her what number represented that concept. "There's no such thing as 'enough.'"

No matter what a woman's net worth, she was exquisitely aware that her bank balance powerfully affected her sense of well-being. Regardless of their actual assets, women felt plagued by rapidly changing feelings of surfeit and scarcity. Some of the women I talked to were really rich. Others were hovering at the bottom of the middle-class tax bracket. Yet they all admitted that money was the great unexplored territory in their emotional terrain. And in no case did ignorance turn out to equal bliss.

This became particularly evident in a conversation with my friend Alison, a lovely ex-chef in her midthirties who was in the middle of negotiating her financial settlement in her divorce. Her husband had been having an affair. For two years. A fact she discovered when she went to return a really ugly scarf he'd given her and found out he'd bought not one but two of the hideous accessories. Indeed, as she dug through old Visa bills--the ones she had never so much as opened--she realized that this Noah's Ark approach to gift giving had been going on for years. That's how she figured out her husband had a lover. Now she was as hurt and angry as she'd ever been, and she alternated between wanting to rake her husband and his income over hot coals and a more guilt-laden approach--one that centered on blaming herself for having been "such a bitch" (her words) and feeling she shouldn't leave him impoverished because of her character flaws and shortcomings.

Alison asked my advice on structuring child support, division of property, and who should pay for college. She wanted me to help her put a price on mothering and figure out what compensation would be fair for having given up her restaurant career. I'd have been glad to offer help, but I couldn't get her to tell me how much money she thought she needed to live on every month.

"Do you not know? Or do you not want to tell me?" I asked her.

"I do know, and I'm too embarrassed to tell you," she admitted. "What I need and what I spend are two different things."

As I hung up the phone, it struck me that I know more about my friends' sexual assets than their financial ones. They've never hesitated to tell me all about love affairs, dreams, disappointments--even their husbands' most minute physical, moral, mental, and sexual failings--but I have no idea what any of them earn or spend each month.

What is so troublesome about our relationship with money that we're so elusive or dishonest about it--to ourselves, to others? When it comes to money, many of us are completely contradictory, often evasive, and irritatingly indirect. We won't ask people about their incomes, yet we peg our social positions by where we think we stand comparatively. We disguise our appetites by manufacturing "needs." We never reveal how much money we make, or what we have in the bank. We defiantly spend when we know we shouldn't. We're reluctant (sometimes afraid) to negotiate for better salaries and find it humiliating to haggle over prices. We amaze our husbands, lovers, and friends with reports of the things we bought on sale that never ever were, and we routinely shave a few bucks off the cost of something as minor as a lipstick so we won't appear irresponsible.

Not only that; we've developed a whole moral vocabulary to describe our supposed disdain for money: greedy, miserly, moneygrubbing, gold-digging, dirt-poor, nouveau riche, stinking rich, well-off, well-to-do--the list goes on and on. But we can come up with only a few sympathetic descriptors: self-supporting, independent, generous . . . self-made and enterprising can cut both ways. These adjectives reflect our emotions about money: greed, envy, guilt, even shame. It turns out we feel that liking money is somewhat immoral.

We need money and resent the fact that we do. We want it, we like to spend it, and we know that just admitting that qualifies us as potentially superficial and materialistic people. We may condemn our wants as crass consumerism, yet we can be stopped dead in our tracks at the thought of losing our lifestyles. We regularly want more than we can afford, which leaves us in a semipermanent state of deprivation. Buffeted by alternating currents, we either engage in debt-defying impulse spending or plunge our heads in the sand in an effort to drown out our financial anxieties.

We can deny that money matters to us as much as we want, but then how do we explain the degree to which we've endowed it with all sorts of superpowers that can transform our emotional states? We've granted it the authority to single-handedly make us feel safe and cared for. We twist ourselves into impossible shapes to please and stay attached to the people and institutions that dole it out. Put it this way: If we behaved at work, with our friends, or with our husbands as indirectly, ambivalently, dishonestly, dependently as we do with money--we would immediately go into psychotherapy.

When it comes to our concerns about cash, we live in a land caught between our fears and our appetites. What do we do with this money anxiety? For many of us, our response has been a kind of voluntary blindness. We don't mind making money. We don't mind being in charge of our financial destinies. We just don't want to have to think about it too much.

This twisted relationship--and the guilt, embarrassment, reluctance, and avoidance that are involved--can have some serious consequences. In the course of my research, I heard stories from women like Amanda, a nurse who felt so badly about leaving her ten-year marriage to her first husband (who would routinely loan her car, her clothes, her books, and her jewelry to others because, after all, he said, he paid for them, and so they were his to give) that she didn't ask for a dime. She had so much baggage around money, she said, that she didn't want to face the fight and put a price on her life with him. Rather than ask for alimony, she enlisted in the army to pay for her college education. Now, as a single mom with a set of young twins, she can be called into conflict at any minute. Or women like Nancy, a stay-at-home mom who entertained lavishly in a beautiful home that she renovated or redecorated every five years but who hadn't had sex with her husband in ten.

Although I met some women who were truly direct about and in control of their finances, most of the rest of us clearly aren't. More women will file for bankruptcy this year than will graduate from college,2 suffer a heart attack, or be diagnosed with cancer. More than half of all retired women live in poverty. A family with children is 75 percent more likely to be late paying its credit card bills, and according to the work done by Harvard's Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, the single biggest predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse is the birth of a child.3

So with all this at stake, why is it that so many of us don't just "get over it"--as my friend Carole suggested to me one morning over coffee--and deal with our money issues? Why do perfectly brilliant and sensible women admit that their eyes glaze over when individual household budgets and broader financial matters are discussed? Why the drive to spend beyond our means, why the willed insecurity about investing? Why the inability to ask to be paid what a job is worth? Why do we want to earn money and still be "taken care of" by someone else?

I did meet women who, usually because of big reversals due to big debts, divorce, death, or illnesses, had come to grips with their financial demons. Some attended seminars; others bought books by the pound that told them more or less the same things: make a budget, learn about investments, be proactive. These books promise to catapult us from our present paycheck-to-paycheck life into the stratosphere of the most wealthy and privileged. Who wouldn't want to be a millionaire?

But for many of us, these self-help tools backfire. There's no surer way to feel woeful about our financial situations and our financial prowess than to compare our bank accounts and fiscal habits with those of the most disciplined, wealthy people in the world. These personal finance books often seem like an extension of the ads and magazine articles boosting cellulite-reducing creams and ab machines. They all imply we're inadequate on some level. (Otherwise, why would we need their products?) Just below the surface they send the subtle message that whatever we have, whatever we've saved, it's not enough. Almost all the women I spoke to seemed pretty susceptible to these messages of insufficiency and their subtext of peril.

Of course, there are women who are very comfortable with money, who happily and intelligently handle not only their own finances but also those of their families and their corporations. They either had never experienced or had moved beyond an emotional relationship with money. When I began my inquiries, I had assumed these would be the younger women, those who had grown up in an age of postfeminist fiscal equality. And there were some who fell into that group. But for the most part, it was maturity and experience that created harmony and acceptance, not time and place of birth. The women I found who had the healthiest relationships possessed an honesty and a clarity about what money could and couldn't do for their lives. They'd managed to unpack their emotions from their finances, and they took care of themselves with confidence. They were able to bring the same understanding to money that they had brought to issues with their families, their weight, their work, and even their love lives. Their stories inspired me, but, I admit that at first I felt a little out of my league. Yet by the end of my investigation, I began to grasp a little bit of their peace of mind.

I guess that's why this book started out as a memoir--one of money as much as my mercurial relationship with it. Because for me, there's no better way to examine life's troublesome questions than through the show-and-tell of others' experiences. Because all the theory and how-to books either scared me, or shamed me, or, to be honest, put me to sleep. Because I'm not the kind of person who has ever had a lasting transformation from a self-help book. Yet. Because I pay very close attention when other women talk honestly about sex, relationships, alcohol, spending, eating, or anything else that falls into the marginally compulsive category. Because I found that when I confessed my fears and idiosyncrasies to other women, theirs came tumbling out as well. It turns out that when money is the topic, most of us need permission to talk about it because we've been taught that it's not a suitable topic of conversation. And because, finally, I feel a hint of hopefulness when I listen to someone who has made all the mistakes I have, along with a few more that I have yet to sample.

This is not a book of financial advice. Just like the women in this book, I worry about money and wrestle with it daily. I experience these concerns from ground level, eyeball-to-eyeball with the rising and sinking cash levels in the checkbook. I'm writing this book precisely because I'm not a financial expert or a psychologist, but because I have covered a lot of financial ground.

I've been rich, and I've also been poor (and as Sophie Tucker famously quipped, "Rich is better"), and I've inhabited most points along the middle-class spectrum. I've married a wealthy man and one a bit more "fiscally challenged." I've enjoyed years of financial stability, a few of downright largesse, and some that were a little too much on the rocky side for my taste. Now, as I approach my middle-aged years, just when I thought I'd have a modicum of security, I still live paycheck to paycheck, wondering if I've saved enough to support myself in my old age. I'm a woman, like the women in this book, who has spent a lot of time thinking about what makes us truly independent emotionally, spiritually, physically, and yes, fiscally.

So I'm putting my experiences down on paper with the full knowledge that I'm one of the most fortunate women in the world. I've enjoyed the benefits of a great education, supportive family, and excellent career opportunities. Make no mistake; I consider my financial fears a privilege. I am acutely aware that the tyranny of choice is not even a pale shadow in the face of the tyranny of need. And I feel guilty, like so many women I have spoken with, that I have so much and still feel so anxious.

My hope is that this book will encourage women to take a look at their own complicated feelings about money and what money means to them. Perhaps that way we can move closer to liberating ourselves from the fears and fantasies that keep us from asking to be paid what a job is worth, or from saving for our retirement, or that leave us mired in intractable debt. As long as we let emotions influence--even dictate--our financial lives, we remain prey to unhealthy, at times destructive relationships. Until we honestly dig into some contradictory and even unattractive feelings and behaviors, we will continue to live with this equation of ambivalence + avoidance = anxiety. We will continue to enter into relationships that we dress up as love or need and that are, fundamentally, economic contracts. Without consciousness and understanding, we will continue to trade away parts of ourselves in our quest for an elusive feeling of security, locking us into what one woman called "the never-ending path to more."

I often tell my kids that the secret to happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want. But first we need to know what it is we really want "more" of. So much of what we desire involves money and what it can buy. And so much doesn't. Without understanding which is which, we will find ourselves looking to money to give us something that it cannot possibly purchase.

Copyright © 2006 by Liz Perle

Meet the Author

Liz Perle, who worked in book publishing as an editor and publisher for more than twenty years, joined the non-profit world in 2002 where she is the editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, the nation's leading non-partisan organization designed to help families make the best media choices for their children. She is also the author of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore. Liz lived in San Francisco with her husband and two children.
Liz Perle, who worked in book publishing as an editor and publisher for more than twenty years, joined the non-profit world in 2002 where she is the editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, the nation's leading non-partisan organization designed to help families make the best media choices for their children. She is also the author of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore. Liz lived in San Francisco with her husband and two children.

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