Financial Feminism (2022) debunks the money myths and exposes the systemic oppression that keeps many stuck in toxic jobs or cycles of debt. Offering practical solutions that everyone can start today to close the wage gap, ramp up financial fitness, and build the life of their dreams.
Introduction: Smash the wealth gap – face your financial fears and build a life you love
Table of Contents
It’s no secret that the patriarchy is much bigger than just mansplaining and catcalling. It’s a whole system of laws, economic policies, and social conventions designed to further the needs and values of cis-gendered males — often at the expense of everyone else. Realities like the pay gap, the so-called “mommy track” and “pink tax,” predatory lending, and neighborhood redlining can cost people of color, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ communities over a million dollars of personal wealth in a lifetime.
If your reaction to this stark reality is to think that money can’t buy happiness, think again. Within capitalism, money buys freedom: The freedom to walk away from toxic jobs or relationships knowing you won’t starve. The freedom to book that restorative vacation when you’re burnt out, or just fund that salsa dancing course that brings you joy every week. Money brings access to things that fill your cup so you’re not running on empty. So money doesn’t buy happiness, but the freedom and choices that lead to happiness.
Your personal wealth is a feminist issue, because systems of oppression continue when individuals are too stressed out to change them. No matter where you are right now in your own financial journey, this summary will debunk some long-held myths and misogyny around money that could be keeping you from building the life of your dreams. It will serve up clear, practical advice for each stage of the process, and won’t pull any punches about the challenges of thriving in a system that wasn’t designed for your success.
If the idea of getting out of debt and building personal wealth seems like an impossible dream, read on. You’re not alone, and as we’ll find out next, you shouldn’t judge yourself for how you feel, either.
Ditch the shame – net worth isn’t self worth.
Why start a summary about finance with shame? Well, here’s a little known fact: your perceptions of money were formed by the time you were seven years old. Before you ever opened your first account, or swiped your first card, you had already formed attitudes and emotions around finance. If you grew up hearing your parents fight over bills every night, or watched them balance the checkbook together each week, those early experiences impacted you.
You aren’t born knowing how to “money.” It is something that takes education and practice. Men and women often receive very different kinds of financial education, too. Boys are often taught about building wealth through investments, real estate, or entrepreneurship. Financial education for girls, however, is usually limited to managing a household budget, clipping coupons, and cutting spending. Guess which one pays more in the long run?
Society compounds the problem by shaming those who get into debt, who don’t save, or can’t afford a house downpayment for all that avocado toast. As if everyone is in control of their situation with no sudden emergencies, natural disasters, racism, ableism, nor homophobia. As if everyone has equal access to things like healthcare, childcare, and education.
Given that women graduate with more student debt than their male counterparts (and the disparity is even larger for women of color), make lower wages, are the targets of more predatory lending – this financial shaming amounts to gaslighting. Women couldn’t even have their own credit cards until 1974, or get a business loan in their name until a decade later.
So today, right now, this moment – give yourself some grace. The first step toward building your personal wealth is to check in with your emotions around money and see how you can be more mindful of their impact on you. Afraid to negotiate for a raise? You might have absorbed negative messages about your self worth. Confronting these emotions and processing them is a step in the right direction.
This first step – confronting your emotions – will help you be more confident with money. And confidence is important. It can give you the courage to seek a better job, get more education, or call your creditors to negotiate a lower interest rate. Over time, these small changes add up to big accomplishments for your financial goals. How big? We’ll take that on in the next chapter.
In money, ignorance isn’t bliss
So making changes to your financial life begins by processing the deep emotions around money and self worth that led to the present. Even with a clean slate, though, for many the financial present can feel pretty overwhelming. If the idea of your own finances gives you extreme anxiety, what’s important right now is to acknowledge that feeling, and be willing to make changes.
Step two, then, is just to check in with your financial life. Running away from the reality of money makes it impossible to make a plan to achieve your goals. It leaves the hard work of building the life of your dreams to chance. What you need for this check in is to know what’s going on – how much is coming in, how much is going out, and where it’s going.
First, gather information about your income, your savings, and your debt. If your income is irregular, from freelance or commission work, you’ll need several months of information to get your average income. Be sure to make your plan based on the lowest amount you’ll make in a month.
If you don’t have an emergency fund saved with three months of living expenses, write that down, because this fund is vital for your present wellbeing. If you aren’t saving for retirement, note that, too. High interest debt – anything above the 7 percent average stock market return – should be separated from low interest debt like mortgages. Remember not to judge yourself for any of this as you go. Just by checking in you’re moving forward!
Next, you’ll need some information about your spending. While financial feminism isn’t about deprivation, it’s helpful to know where your money goes so you can cut in areas that matter less. For many, the easiest way to find this out is to track it. Using your bank or other online tools, you can categorize and track your spending as you go. You won’t have to do this indefinitely. Just tracking several months in a row may be enough information to work with.
Once you have as much information as you can gather, it’s time to set some goals.
How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time…
Armed with all your data, it’s time to decide on your first three goals. Choosing just three means you’ll make faster progress toward each goal, and nothing is more motivating than seeing progress. Don’t set a new goal until you finish one of these three.
If you are currently living without savings, an emergency fund should be a first goal. Not because some random finance bro said so, but because knowing you’re covered in an emergency relieves an amazing amount of life’s stress. Make your three goals as specific as you can, set a time frame to get them done, and include how they’ll make you feel once you’ve accomplished them.
A great trick at this stage is to state your goals in the past tense, like “I saved five thousand this year for my emergency fund and felt much less stress” or “I paid off my credit cards in seven months and no longer dread getting the mail.” It might feel a bit strange, but by stating these goals in the past tense, you’re signaling to your unconscious mind that you are capable and willing to meet the challenge.
If the goal is long term — more than a few months — break it down into smaller chunks. It’s easy to get lost looking at the whole picture and get discouraged, so divide up larger goals into monthly steps and track those as you go. It can help to think of what each goal represents, too. It’s far more satisfying to save for your “take this job and shove it!” fund than some random number on a balance sheet. If you think of that extra hundred as “Tuscany bucks” — or ten percent of a flight to Tuscany — you’re less likely to feel deprived of some momentary splurge knowing all that good pasta is within reach.
So set your goals with your well being and happiness in mind – they’re yours, and you’ll be the one doing the work of fulfilling them. We’ll take on how, by the numbers, in the next chapter.
Fill your baskets and prioritize.
Now, it’s time to make the plan that will guide your spending from here on out. We’ll set up three categories for monthly spending that take into account your needs, goals, and priorities. It might help to think about these as three baskets, since folk wisdom makes it clear not to put all your eggs into just one.
The first basket is your expenses. This is the basket where you put the money that covers the costs of sustaining life — your housing, food, transportation, utilities, insurance and such. The monthly outgoings that keep the lights on and the belly full.
The second basket represents your goals. These will look different for everyone, since your goals are personal and unique. It will help to follow the priorities we’ll cover in a moment, but in general this basket is the concrete investment in your future.
The third basket represents spending for all of the fun stuff. This, too, will vary for everyone, but in general this covers the spending that isn’t life sustaining, just makes life worth living.
When deciding on numbers for each basket, a good place to start is the 50-20-30 rule. This means 50 percent of your income toward expenses, 20 percent toward your goals, and 30 percent for all the rest. It’s possible that your situation is different, though, so adjust accordingly.
But in planning how to fill that second basket, some priorities can help.
Your first priority should be an emergency fund. The magic of a fund that can sustain you in life’s uncertain journey is that it builds confidence and stability. Keeping a portion in a high-yield savings account means it will grow a bit faster, too. You can automate a transfer monthly into savings, and forget it while it grows. Like a gift that keeps on giving, this priority is a game-changer.
Your next priority is paying off high-interest debt like credit cards, personal loans — anything above 7 percent. Given growth in the stock market averages 7 percent in the long term, when you’re paying more for interest you’re simply lining someone else’s pockets. So ditch the financial deadweight and watch your wealth grow faster.
Priority three should be investing in your retirement while paying off lower-interest debt. Paying yourself for retirement means you’ll have more time for that money to grow through the magic of compounding interest. It’s difficult to plan for retirement early because there’s no end in sight, but making it a priority means that it won’t get lost in the shuffle.
The final priority is the other big life stuff – like down payments on a house, startup funds for your business, or that once-in-a-lifetime trek to Machu Picchu. When you fill your second basket or decide how much to dedicate to this category, following these priorities will pay dividends you might not have anticipated.
Security isn’t selfish!
Now that you’ve checked in with your emotions, faced your financial present, and set goals for your future, it’s time to tackle why it matters so much.
Let’s break down why saving for emergencies is at the top of the priority list. It’s more important than just getting you out of a financial bind– it’s a feminist issue! The wage gap is real, and as an individual you can challenge that far more easily knowing you can walk away from any workplace and be okay while you find a better position. If you spend more than half your income on expenses and find it difficult to save, having the confidence to negotiate a raise or find a new position makes a huge difference over time
Just having concrete goals and a plan can give you the motivation to take other steps that bring you closer to that goal, too. Calling your high-interest credit card accounts and negotiating a lower interest rate is possible with confidence, and might save you hundreds over time.
Taking control of your financial life and goals will — if you stick with it and adjust as you go — help you value your time, grow your self-worth, and give you the confidence to invest in things that matter to you. It doesn’t just give you the power to walk away from things that don’t serve you, but also the power to move to help build a better world.
That’s because having goals, priorities, and a plan that serves your own well being first, gives you the freedom and the power to change the world. Choosing to invest your current spending in local businesses or artisans can grow with time into capital investments in the issues, organizations, and companies that reflect your values.
Think your tiny slice of the economic pie doesn’t matter? Think again. In microlending programs, where as little as 60 dollars are invested in a person to start a local business, women who are granted loans are by far the most reliable in terms of repayment and deliver significantly more returns on investment — which benefit both the program and the community.
Once your savings are secure, your retirement and big life savings underway, make investments a priority. Both to secure your own future, and the future of others. Just putting a fixed amount of money regularly in an index fund and leaving it there for a decade can mean the difference between retiring someday, and retiring early in style.
You can dedicate that investment toward supporting the people and causes that matter to you, too. A little research can turn up funds to invest in the environment, economic equality or minority-owned businesses. As a financial feminist of any gender, when you’re secure enough in your own future to grow causes or businesses that align with your values, everyone wins.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it buys the freedom, choice and security that means a happier life. Facing your financial emotions and reality, setting goals and priorities, and adjusting as you go can relieve stress and fear in the short term, and build a life you love over time. Your success isn’t selfish, either. It gives you the power to help build a more equal, fair, and just world for everyone.
Actionable Advice: track your emotions while spending
To help you decide if that impulse purchase or lunch out is a good value, try a spending diary that records your emotions alongside spending. It can be as simple as a notebook with 3 columns: write down the expense, the circumstance (lunch with colleagues, or new books, etc), and your emotions around the spending – even just with an emoji. Over time you’ll see that some splurges bring big rewards, like time with friends or inspiring reading: so keep investing!
“Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love” by Tori Dunlap is a thought-provoking and empowering book that aims to help women take control of their finances in a world that is often biased against them. With a blend of personal anecdotes, practical advice, and feminist principles, Dunlap provides a fresh perspective on money management and addresses the societal barriers that women face when it comes to financial independence.
Dunlap begins by highlighting the ways in which women are disadvantaged in the financial realm due to systemic biases and gender inequality. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing these barriers and actively working to overcome them. Throughout the book, Dunlap covers a wide range of topics including budgeting, investing, negotiating salaries, and building a financially secure future.
One of the key messages of “Financial Feminist” is the need for women to develop a strong money mindset and challenge the societal narratives around women and money. Dunlap encourages readers to embrace their financial power, reject the notion that money is a taboo topic, and take charge of their financial well-being.
The book dives into practical strategies for budgeting and saving, offering step-by-step guidance on creating an effective budget and identifying areas where women can cut expenses and increase their savings. Dunlap also provides advice on investing, demystifying the stock market, and explaining the importance of long-term financial planning.
Furthermore, Dunlap touches on the importance of negotiating wages and breaking the cycle of undervaluing women’s work. She offers negotiation techniques and empowers women to advocate for their worth in the workplace, helping them bridge the gender pay gap.
Dunlap combines financial guidance with feminist principles, encouraging readers to challenge traditional gender roles and fight against the patriarchal structures that perpetuate financial inequality. She emphasizes the importance of financial independence for women and how it can contribute to their overall empowerment and freedom.
“Financial Feminist” is a refreshing and eye-opening book that offers a unique perspective on personal finance from a feminist lens. Tori Dunlap’s writing style is engaging and relatable, making complex financial concepts accessible to readers of all backgrounds. Her personal anecdotes add authenticity to the book, making it feel like a conversation with a supportive friend rather than a dry financial guide.
What sets this book apart is its focus on addressing the underlying social and cultural factors that contribute to financial inequality. Dunlap does an excellent job of exploring the intersectionality of gender and finance, acknowledging that women from marginalized communities face unique challenges and need tailored strategies to achieve financial security.
The practical advice provided in “Financial Feminist” is actionable and empowering. Whether it’s creating a budget, negotiating a raise, or investing for the future, Dunlap provides clear steps and resources to help readers take control of their financial lives. The inclusion of worksheets and exercises throughout the book further enhances its practicality and encourages active engagement with the material.
While the book primarily targets women, the principles and strategies discussed can benefit anyone interested in understanding the impact of gender on personal finance. The insights provided can help readers develop a more inclusive mindset and become allies in the fight for financial equality.
However, one potential limitation of the book is its focus on the US financial system. Some of the advice and resources mentioned may not be directly applicable to readers from other countries, although the underlying principles and mindset shifts are still valuable.
In conclusion, “Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love” is a must-read for women seeking to gain financial independence and challenge societal norms. Tori Dunlap’s blendof feminism and personal finance creates a powerful and inspiring guide that encourages women to take control of their financial destinies. By addressing the systemic barriers and biases that women face, Dunlap equips readers with the tools and mindset necessary to overcome these obstacles and build a life they love.