The Woman You Want To Be Is Rich

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When I started The Financial Diet as a personal blog to track my budget two years ago, my expectations were very low. I was such a complete wreck with money that simply talking about it felt like the beginning and end of the solution, as if I were running out of a burning building and just breathing fresh air was enough — I didn’t have to think about what I would do once I was safe. Over the past two years, as TFD has grown into the thing that dominates my waking hours and defines a lot of my professional existence, my aspirations with money have grown in tandem. I want control, I want fulfillment, I want not to look like an idiot in high-level conversations (which I still very much do, more often than I’d like). Talking about it is a great start, and breaking the silence for new people is something TFD will always do, first and foremost, but once you’ve gotten past that initial fear, you’ve got to build.

And only through building, through knowing more than I did yesterday about money and forcing myself to put it into action, have I realized the truth about what I’ve always seen around me: The woman I want to be is rich. And there is a good chance that, if you were raised in America like me, watching movies and reading books and flipping past pages and pages of advertisements to get to magazine articles that were nearly-indistinguishable from more advertisements, you want to be a rich woman, too. You may not ever think of yourself in those terms, you may not have a hard number in your mind or a plan for how you’re going to get there, you may not even think that having a lot of money is important to you. But it’s what you want, I can promise you.

In fact, you may think quite the opposite: you may think that your goal is to be happy, to have time and leisure and focus on simpler pleasures like nature or meditation. But I have news for you: all of those things are money. All of the women you have seen who feel like they have the lives you want, almost invariably have them because of money. And that is as much true for the Farmer’s-Market-Reclaimed-Wood-Minimalism Queen as it is for the more traidtional, Louboutin-wielding fashionista. They are both rich, both bathing in their financial luxury and freedom, one is just more honest about it.

The truth of being a woman is that nearly everything we do will come at a premium, to exist in the world and be pleasing enough to everyone around us to get ahead will mean paying more, and the less we want to participate in the game, the more money we need. Our toiletries and cleaning products and clothing items are more expensive, yes, but that’s a relatively small cost in the cosmic financial prank that is womanhood. We are financially punished for being a mother (as opposed to a father, who is rewarded). Our natural states are considered unfinished, so we are financially-obligated to improve them. We tweak and wax and primp and maintain, all to rise to a falsely-neutral state of “professionalism.” We often bleed once a month, which will easily cost us tens of thousands over a lifetime, on top of the laughable indignity of periods being something we don’t talk about. Because, gross, right?

So we continue to aspire to an idea of womanhood which is above all this, which frees us by giving us a more pure definition to reach for.

We may find a huge variety in the expression of the women we aspire to be, denoted like limited edition Barbie dolls — the Career Woman, the Perfect Mom, the Fitness Guru, the Nature Girl, the Domestic Goddess, the Fashionista, the Traveler — but we must all come back to the same ultimate conclusion when we try to figure out how to be her: she costs money. To be a stay-at-home mom with a high quality of life is a crème de la crème luxury. To spend your time performatively ridding yourself of possessions and getting back in touch with spirituality requires no debt, lots of savings, and no serious obligations. To treat your body as a second career requires enormous time and energy. To throw yourself full-heartedly into your profession as a mother means someone at home to do all that inconvenient child-rearing, at least much of the time.

None of the paradigms we’re taught to aspire to, or the Photoshopped highlight reels we drool over on social media, exist without an enormous amount of money or time, which are ultimately the same thing.

The women we are taught to reach to — the ones who contort their lives into perfectly-curated displays of motherhood or personal style or culinary ability as part of a “brand” — all must be rich. This used to only apply to the starlets and socialites who filled our TV screens and glossy magazines, but now they are everywhere, surrounding us and (much worse) convincing us that their lives are organic, accessible, and not a full-time job. Scratch the surface of your favorite star blogger, and there is a very good chance you will find the smiling banker husband just out of frame. (Don’t believe me? Try it, seriously.)

The women we are taught to be today may feel superficially like more nuanced and human versions of the celebrities or fictional idols we used to model our ideas of womanhood after, but their underlying truth is the same: they are women of leisure, they are women of financial ease and control, whether that manifests in them navigating a major city in their upscale athletic wear, or chronicling their journey to live in a tiny house with their bearded partner. In order to make the choice to be a certain kind of woman, we must have the means to become her, the means to curate our life in a specific and determined way. Not all aspirational women are as clearly financially buoyed as Carrie Bradshaw, but each of them benefit from an ease in self-definition. They can afford to throw themselves into one thing or another, become a capital-W Whatever They Are, because they have the support to do it.

I used to think that all of the things I wanted as a woman — cooking dinner each night, traveling, having children and a career at the same time, living in a well-appointed home that I loved being in — were simply lifestyle choices, and that being budget-savvy would be my way to get them without ever seeing a particularly high number on a paycheck. But what I’ve learned since starting TFD is that it’s quite the opposite: the version of all of these things that I had in my head were put there and maintained by women who were rich enough to pursue them as a life choice. I may have come of age in the era of social media, where it’s easy to pretend like the luxuries of someone you follow come naturally to them, but we are all playing a role. Behind every woman you envy from afar is almost certainly a day job, or someone footing the bill. If she has made it far enough that her lifestyle is her income, it will have been because of a stroke of good luck or because someone was able to push her up while she climbed over the wall. It’s true of me, and it’s true of every woman I know.

The things I want out of life are going to take money, and the only way to get myself to the level of financial freedom where it’s possible to throw myself into what I love is to work really, really fucking hard right now, and to use everything I have to my fullest advantage. But what I want, because I was raised to want it, and because you were raised to want it, too, is ease. I don’t want to spend my life as so many women did before us, all frayed ends and apologies for not quite being good enough at one thing, because you are attempting to be good at everything. I want the new version of female aspiration, which isn’t the red carpet starlet and her contoured face, but rather the woman who is effortlessly focusing on one thing at a time, because she can afford to embrace it entirely. I want the word “effortless” itself, because I have been deceived into believing it actually exists as a result of anything more than money.

Our options are to throw away the idea of what a woman’s fullest expression actually is, or to get rich enough to embody it. And after two years of thinking about it, I’m honestly not sure which one is easier.

Image via Pexels

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  • Anon

    I largely agree with this but have to say, as a reader, nothing puts me on edge more than the phrase “I have news for you.” It’s condescending and makes me think of the sort of thing my mom always says right before she lays down some banal pronouncement like, “I have news for you: work isn’t supposed to be fun.” Nobody said it was!

    Also, meant gently, have you thought of quitting Instagram? It seems a special brand of crazy-making. As someone not on it or Pinterest, I often feel like I can’t relate to these professed ideals that you talk about as ubiquitous. Maybe you can’t avoid it for career reasons, but it certainly seems to make you unhappy.

    • Sara

      Definitely second the latter part of this comment re Instagram and Pinterest.

    • Christian Gonzales

      Ditto, with the condescension. When writers tell me what i want or who i want to be, even if they make valid points, just sets me on edge. No one likes being told what they like, right?

  • Shelby

    These ideas are something I have come to recognize myself over the past few months. I’m glad there exists a space like TFD where I can learn and talk about money.

  • This is truly brilliant. I used to say that I only wanted to be well-off enough to be able to spend money without agonizing over each purchase or worrying it will break my budget. But even just being “pretty well off” comes down to *wealth*. Even if my imagined extravagances are only a new pair of shoes for a birthday instead of a Bentley, it still requires a measure of continued prosperity that I don’t have. This was really insightful and I’m glad you published it.

  • Bri

    I respect this. I also assume you don’t mean what TFD has told people time & time again isn’t entirely true: when you make more money you’ll be able to save more & hence, do more. Because there are people who make good money but their life doesn’t feel effortless – they spend it all quickly or to make that kind of money they have to constantly work really, really hard (until they can retire) & it drains them. I don’t want to be working so hard for that kind of dough that I get caught up in feeling like it’s never enough. Maybe I’m just optimistic & don’t want to believe my happiness relies on my income. Ik that’s not what you’re saying so much as that, to have this certain effortless lifestyle we’ve been raised to want, a lot of money is involved. But I don’t agree that all us women want that life. It’s good that you said, “women you admire from afar” because the women you’re describing I’ve only seen on popular Instagram accounts. The happy women in my life aren’t rich & have an effortless lifestyle or pursue one thing because they have the means to. They work for an average income & don’t have picturesque online profiles & are okay with that. Or they work for a high income & don’t feel their life is effortless at all, but all the hard work they try to put into every single thing in their life is worth it to them. I don’t know, maybe I’ve misunderstood, or I want to live in denial about the kind of woman I want to be. Except I know I want happiness. Which is sometimes, but not always, related to a paycheck.

    • Christian Gonzales

      Agree; i read this in exactly the same light and had the same feelings! I’m hoping I misunderstood as well because the way I read the piece and felt the way Chelsea feels about these other people’s lives just almost made me feel sorry for that point of view. Maybe you’re right and we’re both overly optimistic and don’t want to think that way.

      • Violaine

        Oh I didn’t read it that way. It’s great you have people around who show you you can be pretty amazing without much money; but a lot of it still comes to money I think. I consider myself quite protected from the influence of Instagram (mainly because… I don’t have a smartphone!! (I know!!)), I don’t read magazines, I don’t really follow fashion… And still the dreams I have require some serious money. I admire people around me, like my friend who travels so much, but she can because she earns a lot more than I do. I admire girls who are so polished, with a nice hair and nice nails, and my hair is so messy and my nails are always naked, but that’s because they can afford the time to take care of themselves and to pay somebody to do that.

        I find it reassuring in a way that these other people don’t travel more than me because they are more adventurous, or don’t have nicer hair because they have great genetics. It’s mainly because they have more money! Probably because they work hard for it, maybe because somebody provides for them. But it makes me feel better that it’s down to what I don’t have rather than what I am not. If I am not well-travelled, don’t go to the gym everyday and eat all organic, it’s not because I am unhealthy/uneducated/etc, it’s just because I can’t afford better. I am not less artistic, deep inside, than my friend who gave up her job to become a painter. I have the potential to do that too if I find a way to pay for it. It’s nice to know, it’s reassuring I think.

        • Bri

          Yes for sure! I definitely don’t think not pursuing what you enjoy (like traveling) because you don’t make a lot of money means you’re not smart enough to budget for it or anything like that, I just don’t like to feel that I need to make good money to do what I love in my spare time. Money makes your life easier in many ways, I was just saying it doesn’t mean your life can’t be enjoyable if you’re not rich.

          • Violaine

            Oh yes, I agree with you! I didn’t mean that it means not smart enough to budget (i.e I think I am doing well with money now but even if I was saving 80% of my salary, some things are still out of reach); I meant the qualities associated with the activities/lifestyle: the woman who travels is adventurous, the woman who has a gorgeous house is elegant, the woman who eats all organic is very health conscious… But I “would be” just as adventurous, elegant and health-conscious if I had the means. That’s kind of nice to think! 🙂

    • Maggie

      Agree! Maybe I’m just naive or optimistic but I’ve usually find that when I’m stressed or overwhelmed or unhappy more money wouldn’t help all that much. Sure maybe sometimes, but more often I find it’s about prioritizing and letting go of things that aren’t really important(*cough cough Facebook cough Instagram*)

  • Major truth bomb. Fav tfd article thus far.

  • Lina Abascal

    This really resonates with me, thank you. Shared on FB. Realizing the life I want involves me needing to be part of a household of 250k+ most likely terrifies me but I’m really coming to realize that’s the case. That sounds so high but I guess that’s the new norm for those instagram lives in LA/SF/NY

  • Amanda

    A lot of what you’re talking about is really good and interesting and needs to be talked about. Thank you! However, I really feel uncomfortable about your contention that the majority of women who are successful bloggers and lifestyle brands are being supported by their rich husbands. It’s such a terrible way to rip successful women down and your support for this claim is anecdotal – I know no study that actually quantifies the income levels of bloggers’ spouses (because hey, those women could be married to a woman, too). There are tons of anecdotes of kick butt women bloggers and lifestyle branders supporting their spouses if you want to trade anecdotes!

    I get where you’re coming from but I don’t think we should be pitting women against each other. The women on Instagram that you’re talking about are sharing their curated versions of their lives and those lives are rich lives and it’s important that those who are aspiring to that recognize that but that might be a richness that they’ve created through their own efforts. In which case, holy cow! Awesome job. I salute those amazing gals on their hustle!

    I know women who construct those Instagram images and it’s an artform for them. It’s their creative expression just as much as your creative expression might be writing blog posts (which you do so well – you rock, seriously!). It’s not something that they’re doing so that other people can be jealous of their great lives. They just want their lives to be beautiful because it satisfies some part of themselves. It makes them feel safe and secure. It makes them feel like they’re creating important memories for their kids. Heck, it makes them money as a lifestyle blogger. It’s not a way of saying that other women suck because they don’t have the time, energy, or money to do similar. It’s meant as an inspiration, not as a dictate. But I think a lot of women interpret it as pressure – and that’s not a good thing for anyone!

    I believe that we can acknowledge the privilege of their position without having to pretend that what they do is effortless or that they’ve gotten it because of some man. We can also acknowledge that we each have different talents and priorities and income levels and that we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves because we don’t have time to set a table like someone on Instagram because we’re working hard at our day job or afford the shoes of another Instagramer because we don’t make that kind of bank.

  • JH

    I like this, because I think women aren’t supposed to want to be rich. It’s too nakedly ambitious. Maybe we can want money to provide for our families, but to want it of our own accord, to fund our own projects and lifestyles? That’s subversive. For a long time, I paid myself the bare minimum salary because it felt wrong to pay myself anything more – I felt like my money should remain in the business, because funding the business was more important than funding myself. This is the first year I’ve been able to pay myself a decent salary, and it feels so good – but I had to decide that all my hard work was worth it.

    Another thing that crossed my mind when I read this, is that many of the things that Chelsea writes about wanting – time, financial security, a family, money for your personal upkeep and personal projects – are a lot easier to have if you’re not in a place like New York. There, financial security really does take a fortune. But in, say, Cleveland, or Dallas, or Pittsburgh, you could have that lifestyle on a smaller budget.

  • Judith

    Brilliant, just totally brilliant. Also, everything I’ve come to respect TFD for: brutally honest and unapologetically practical, even when (well, mostly then) it’s an inconvenient truth. This one’s actually the finest piece of writing I’ve read on TFD, or maybe just the one that resonates with me entirely.

  • “To treat your body as a second career requires enormous time and energy.”

    this is *SO* true.

  • BTampa

    More money means more options. I think that’s really the gist of this and it’s true.

    But more money and options won’t necessarily turn you into the person you want to be or a person you can be proud of being. Watch a few episodes of any of the “Real Housewives” shows and you’ll see what I mean. The women on them have plenty of money and a multitude of options – and what do they decide to do? They buy things and engage in petty arguments with each other.

    I knew as a young man, just graduating college, that I would never attain true wealth. My grades were high, I had plenty of potential, no reason I couldn’t. But I knew I wouldn’t because I’d studied the business titans of that era and to a man they worked incredibly hard. Even after they were rich, they still worked with the drive of an obsessive/compulsive. I knew myself well enough to know I would be content long before I was wealthy – and so it has been.

    Over the years, I’ve made enough money to afford the options that were important to me – and I’ve enjoyed them. I work at a job while I enjoy it, and when I stop enjoying it I go do something else. It’s certainly not the path to attain the lifestyle you speak of, but depending on what you really value it may be enough.

  • Danie De’dreamer

    Whoa, it feels powerful just to utter those words, “The woman I want to be is rich”! I’ve only recently started learning more about my spending habits and the role money plays in my life. The lifestyles that we see on t.v and social media especially are so skewed that its difficult for us to even draw a parallel between the occupation and the lifestyle. I once heard a CFP say that Carrie Bradshaw would need to make 4x more than the average freelance writer in New York City to afford the life she portrayed on T.V! Thanks for this very generous and honest piece.

  • Karina Bhaiwala

    Just a quick note – traditional is spelled wrong in the sentence: “And that is as much true for the Farmer’s-Market-Reclaimed-Wood-Minimalism Queen as it is for the more traidtional, Louboutin-wielding fashionista.”

    Fabulous article!

  • BG

    On the money. Money does ease stress and care, money is freedom and responsibility, money allows contributions to education, medical research, arts, community. Money is necessary to live the good and complicated life in any first world country today.

  • Prudence

    This is so true. Thank you for writing this. I’m sharing this article with every woman I know.

  • Don

    Total garbage. It’s one thing to offer take-it-or-leave-it financial insights (typically backed by facts) that have worked for you. It’s another thing entirely for a blogger who’s not even 30 years old to posit that she’s come to the realization that everyone thinks just like she does (whether everyone knows it or not). Reminds me of my undergrad days.

  • Chase

    I read this months ago and then came back to it today. This is so right. This is just so right. I’ve thought so much about this article over the last 6 months since it was written as I struggle as a working mom who’s going to school at night (kid, husband, grad school, another kid on the way, and oh yeah, full time work). Ease is what I want. And ease costs money. There’s always something just out of frame making the way for the ease. You’ve really hit the nail on the head by outlining it this way.

  • Wow! So true.

  • I really love this post!