Documentary film screening sparks conversation about women taking charge of their financial future

A panel discussion following an airing of the documentary film $avvy examined why women need a say in their own money management.

$avvy Screenshot.jpg

Documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser was inspired to make her latest film “$avvy,” by what she learned when she divorced at age 50.

“For the first time in 25 years, I was totally responsible for my financial well-being. Even though I have a master’s degree in business, and a background in finance, I was shocked at what I didn’t know, and what I hadn’t been paying attention to, while I was married,” Hauser said.

Hauser discovered that many women lacked knowledge about their own financial affairs, as well as no real plan for their long-term financial stability. 

“$avvy” explored some of the root causes for why women aren’t more involved in their own money management, as well as some possible solutions.

On October 10th, the Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA) of Northeast Ohio, which provides interest-free loans to promote economic self-sufficiency and growth among Northeast Ohioans unable to access safe and fair lending resources, sponsored a free screening of “$avvy.” On October 11th, HFLA presented  a panel discussion to further examine the issues raised in the film.

Why aren’t women more involved?

The panel, moderated HFLA’s  executive director Michal Marcus, featured Hauser, as well as  Margaret Mitchell, President and CEO of the YWCA Cleveland, and Heather Ettinger, founder and CEO of Luma Wealth Advisors, and shared thoughts on why women take a backseat in financial planning

“No one really tells us how to talk about finances with family, with friends, and partners, even though it’s the highest source of stress. We need to learn how to talk about money, how to make it more comfortable, how to pull it out of shame and guilt, and to see how it can be so powerful to help us live a more intentional life,” Ettinger said.

Hauser said she was surprised to find that this wasn’t just an issue for an older generation of women, but that problem was growing worse, with millennial women, more than any other generation, abdicating financial decisions to others, most often to the men in their lives.

Hauser said the factors for this vary with time constraints being a chief consideration. Hauser noted that women are often the primary caregivers for children and elderly parents,  as well as the primary volunteers for schools and other organizations, so if there is the chance to delegate a responsibility to someone else, it tends to be money decisions. 

Hauser also noted that when the stock market was created, it was an industry “made by men, for men,” filled with acroynms, war-like analogies, and tough verbiage, which many women found intimidating, creating an “ambient sense of disbelonging.” 

In her work as a financial planner, Ettinger said the industry needs to do a better job in resonating with millennials. She cited a recent study that said that 78% of women would hire a financial advisor, if the advisors were more focused on their quality of life versus just investment performance.

“We need to think about how we are talking about money, in relation to life, and our values and priorities, and how we want to see change in the world, as opposed to the historical way of a lot of jargon, and really not focusing on the life of the family.”  

Ettinger said that what the industry is seeing among millenials, is more of an interest in talking around values.

“If we see a way that they can help change the future of the world, especially women who are very passionate about social change, I think we can engage them far more than just ‘investment-speak,’” Ettinger said. 

Mitchell said the women she works with at the YWCA are often young and have faced a lot of obstacles, including having their financial information stolen. Mitchell noted that black and brown women, in particular, don’t see themselves in the world of finance, feeling they lack an invitation to be part of that world. 

Financial literacy isn’t a luxury

Marcus said that while social justice questions are often at the top of mind for many institutions, they don’t see financial education as being a social justice issue. 

“Financial literacy education is a tool that everyone deserves, and shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury. At HFLA, we see how this often affects women, and communities of color. Without this education, women are ill-prepared  to make important financial decisions that affect their future,” Marcus said.  

Ettinger, who served on a board for a K-12 school, said that conversations about financial education don’t happen often enough.

“In an ideal world, we’d build them into the curriculum, and then when the kids were home they would be talking about what they did in school with their parents, which would tee up conversations around the dinner table, ” Ettinger said. 

Ettinger said studies have shown that 50% of students believe that money management skills are by far more important for their lives than math, social studies, and the sciences. 

Ettinger said that girls in particular, who don’t receive financial literacy education, find themselves at a disadvantage, because they lack confidence when it comes time to negotiate and invest.   

Hauser agreed that while classroom education is vitally important,  if that isn’t available, and parents don’t have the time or knowledge, that it is up to women themselves to change the culture to make it allowable for women to talk about money.

“Men have an advantage because it is culturally more acceptable to stand around to talk about what they’ve just invested in, but women might be at the same cocktail party, being a little intimidated by that kind of talk if they don’t know about it. If I turned to someone and said ‘where are you investing your 401K?’,  they will look at me completely shocked, because that’s not appropriate conversation, therefore we don’t learn from each other,” Hauser said.

Marcus shared that the Ohio Senate did just pass a bill requiring high school students pass a financial literacy course to graduate. The bill now awaits Governor Mike DeWine’s signature.

Making the change 

In addition to gaining a better grasp of financial literacy, there are other steps women might take to educate themselves about finances, especially later in life.

Hauser said there were a number of online educational tools, many of which were free, that can help guide women to understand unfamiliar terms, as well as assist in making investment, and savings decisions. 

“Thank goodness for technology, we can get on “Nerd Wallet,” or any of these other great apps to find out what things mean,” Hauser said.

Both Ettinger and Hauser noted “Savvy Ladies,” an organization of women who are CPAs, and financial planners, who provide free advice to women seeking more financial knowledge.”  

Hauser said, perhaps more than anything for women is to make money a regular part of their conversation.

“I think that it’s important, at least with your partner, if you are in a relationship, where you’re not the one handling money, and you want to know more,  if you have division of labor, and your partner invests the money, because maybe he or she is the one well-versed in that subject, that’s ok, but you need to know what’s going on. You need full transparency, you need to know how much debt you have, you need to know how much you are saving for retirement. These are important topics,” Hauser said. 

HFLA Panelist Resources List

The Land is a media sponsor of HLFA’s screening and post-film discussion of $avvy.

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Dan Polletta is a veteran Northeast Ohio broadcaster and writer. He has written extensively about arts and culture, with a special interest in jazz.

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