Manisha Thakor is the founder of the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative and the co-author of two critically acclaimed personal finance books: ON MY OWN TWO FEET and GET FINANCIALLY NAKED. Manisha’s financial literacy advocacy work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Forbes, Smart Money, Glamour, Real Simple and Bust. Her national TV appearances include CNN, CNBC, PBS’ Nightly Business Report, HGTV’s Home Rules and The Rachael Ray Show. Manisha earned her MBA from Harvard Business School, her BA from Wellesley College and is a CFA charterholder. Her website is ManishaThakor.com, and her Twitter handle is @ManishaThakor.
1. What inspired you to start the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative?
SHORT ANSWER: I’m 40 years old. When I look back over my adult life, it’s about 10 hours of personal finance lessons that made all the difference in my ability to be financially secure today. I want to share that information with as many other women as possible.
LONGER ANSWER: As someone who worked for 15 years in the financial services industry, I feel working women are currently under-served by this sector. Most financial institutions are focused on the “high net worth” market – those earning over $250,000 a year. Yet the vast majority of working women earn significantly less than that. With the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative I want to create a safe place, “where women go to make their money grow.” Specifically I want to teach women the 80% of personal finance basics that are the same for all – and then teach them how to find qualified financial experts to address the remaining 20% of their financial needs that are unique. Since the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative seeks to help women on a one-to-many basis through online personal finance classes, women can pay an affordable price for that core 80% of their financial education and then work at a higher price point with a qualified specialist for the 20% of their needs that must be addressed on a one-to-one basis.
A key catalyst in my actually moving from thinking about this to actually doing it was reading Gloria Feldt’s phenomenal new book, No Excuses. For quite some time I’ve had the idea to launch affordable online personal finance courses for women – I was just afraid to walk through the door, stand tall, and claim my power and expertise.
2. What are some preconceived notions about money that typically get associated with gender?
It pains my inner feminist to no end to say this – but my experience is that women of all ages, ethnicities, demographics, and sexual orientations can fall pray to “rescue thinking.” It’s that nefarious thought in the back of our brains that tells us somehow it will all just work out – that our princess or prince charming will swoop in and solve everything or “something” will happen to make our finances okay without having to teach ourselves about this potentially dry topic. Men, generally speaking, get non-stop societal messages from an early age that their role and identities are tied up in earning money. We women – get the IV drip of rescue thinking.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that both men and women tend to be equally as confused by the world of personal finance. And with good reason – we’re not formally taught this stuff! However, I have noticed men of all sexual orientations tend to over estimate their money skills where as women of all sexual orientations underestimate their money skills. Bottom line, the need for basic personal finance education for all genders is huge.
3. In your experience, why do you think women have a hard time demanding to be paid what they’re worth?
It’s tough for me to speak for all women – but I can speak about myself. I’m a consummate people pleaser. Despite 15 years of working in high finance, earning my Harvard MBA and my CFA… I still to this day have a brutally hard time asking to be paid what I’m worth. I’m working to change that, using Linda Babcock’s wonderful book Ask For It as my guide. I’m going to be writing an entire blog post about this subject soon, as I think it’s an issue that entirely too many of us women struggle with. I don’t know what exactly causes it, but I sure as heck want to find a way to fix it!
4. What’s your first significant memory related to money?
Sitting down with my dad at around age 11 or 12 and having him show me how much I’d have if I contributed $2,000 a year (the limit back then) of my babysitting & lawn mowing money a year to an IRA. He then showed me how to use a financial calculator to see what I’d end up with if my investments earned various different interest rates. Wow, when I saw the power of compounding I was hooked on money and investing!
5. What was your very first job? How did it teach you the value of a dollar?
My first real part-time job was as a cashier a gas station in Columbus, Indiana. I worked on weekends during my senior summer in high school… and loved the feelings of satisfaction and power that came from doing a good job and earning a paycheck.
My first full-time job (which I lasted at for less than a year) was as an analyst for a big investment bank. I hated the work. When I quit to move to a money management firm I thought senior management would be furious. Instead, several senior executives pulled me into their offices to praise me for “getting out” while I could before I had a family that had grown used to my income and I was forced to stay in a career that made me miserable. This was a British investment bank full of lots of stiff upper lips, so to say these were big revelations is a huge understatement. It taught me that money alone does not make a person happy.
6. What sort of financial risks did you take to start the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative?
A big one – I quit my deliciously lucrative corporate day job in institutional money management to focus on my true passion of helping working women “own their finances and own their lives.” Because I followed my own advice, today at age 40 I am able to give this a run for a few years and see if I can turn it into a profitable endeavor. But starting a new for-profit venture in this economy is definitely a risk!
7. What is the #1 piece of advice that would you give to women who want to become financially literate?
Teach yourself. Good personal finance does not have to be – and should not be – difficult. No one else will ever care about your money as much as you do. Just as you can’t outsource your health or happiness, you can’t outsource your financial literacy. You can get help learning but you have to make the conscious decision that you are going to empower yourself with this information. And since you likely were not taught this information in school, you’ll have to be proactive about teaching yourself this information.
8. How did you develop your business and financial sense? Did you have a mentor of sorts, or learn through experience?
I am blessed to have a feminist mom and forward-thinking dad. My brother and I grew up with discussions of business at the dinner table. Beyond my incredible parents – when I was an undergrad at Wellesley College it was drilled into my head that learning should be a lifelong endeavor. So I invest a fair amount every year in books and eCourses on entrepreneurship and marketing. I also make an effort to meet and network with women who have already achieved the kind of entrepreneurial success I aspire to (and it’s an effort because I’m a huge introvert – so if crazy shy me can network, anyone can!).
9. Money can buy great experiences, but can it buy happiness?
Increasingly studies are showing that one of the greatest sources of happiness is … experiences! I’ve long been what can only be called obsessed with money. And people often ask why – especially when seeing me in my standard work outfit of ripped jeans and a tee shirt. I’m clearly not into bling! But to me – money symbolizes freedom and choices. And those are two things that for centuries women have not had enough of. With freedom and choices comes the ability to select the experiences that make your heart sing. That why I’m so interested in spreading the word about financial literacy for women and would argue that in a sense, yes – money can buy happiness.
10. When you’re not busy helping women become financially savvy, what are some of your favorite ways to unwind?
To be honest – I have trouble answering this question. For better or worse I am obsessed with my goal of getting 1 million working women to take a basic personal finance class through the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative. I think my family may soon stage an intervention. No joke. my laser focus on this issue has gone to the extreme. I can tell you that I love watching movies with my fabulous husband, listening to Jazz, reading novels in indie coffee houses, and sweaty workouts in the gym. When I stop working long enough….