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Make a Down Payment on Your Dream

by Whitney Johnson

Perhaps you’ve heard Charles Dickens’ aphorism, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Spend less than we earn – I couldn’t agree more.  But once we’ve achieved this basic principle of money management, then what?  How do we spend our money?  Do we spend in a way that reflects the lives we want to create for ourselves?

When we spend money to house, feed, clothe, educate and play with our children, aren’t we making a down payment on their happiness?

When we buy new shoes, clothes, handbags so that we are properly attired for professional pursuits, aren’t we saying that we prize our careers?

When we participate in philanthropic pursuits, aren’t we casting a vote for a world where we take care of our own and others?

There are plenty of fantastic things to buy in this world, and women are increasingly the ones doing the buying. But as the power of your purse increases, does your budget include investing in and funding your dreams?  If not, a recent USA Today article would suggest you aren’t alone:  “Women are gaining financial independence to an unprecedented degree — they now make up the majority of college graduates, are nearly half of the labor force and are becoming the primary earners in many households. Yet most remain uneasy or uninvolved when it comes to talking about and managing money.”

If taking stock in you is profoundly discomfiting, there’s a reason for it.  According to the Bem Sex-Role inventory, women are only considered feminine in the context of their relationships. The inventory also notes that “femininity” only exists when women give to others. It’s no wonder, then, that “feminine” women have little difficulty spending (think Kim Kardashian), but are rarely seen investing. The problem is so pronounced that one of the social entrepreneurs in Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women shared with me that she chose to move into the non-profit sector to make a business idea work because women were willing to make donations hand-over-fist, but they wouldn’t invest.

From a financial perspective, donations are illogical. When we donate, the money disappears; when we invest, it (sometimes) grows. But from an emotional perspective, the decision adds up. Donations are gifts – they allow us to maintain our “femininity.” Investments may offer the opportunity for profit, but will they bankrupt our femininity?

In the 1950s, acclaimed writer and poet Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote of self-investment in Gift from the Sea:

“If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it.  As it is they feel so unjustified in their demand that they rarely make the attempt.  One has only to look at those women who actually have the economic means or the time and energy yet do not use it, to realize that the problem is not solely economic…When one is alone, it is among the most important times in one’s life.  Certain springs are tapped when we are alone…women need solitude to find again the true essence of themselves.”

Wherever we allocate our resources, whether time or money, we are making a down payment on the world we want.   We can choose to spend, with society’s stamp of approval, our way through life. Alternatively, we can take stock in ourselves, and then invest in others — because that’s what a feminine woman does.  My money is on the latter.

2012 Pennsylvania Conference for Women speaker Whitney Johnson is a professional investor, the author of Dare-Dream-Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream (Bibliomotion, 2012), and a founding partner of Rose Park Advisors, Clayton Christensen’s investment firm.  Ms. Johnson is available for speaking and consulting.  Follow her on twitter at @johnsonwhitney.