We need to ditch the bag lady syndrome!
“Bag Lady Syndrome” was a term coined in the 70’s which referred to those who fear growing old, destitute and penniless. It is a real feeling that many women struggle with no matter how successful you are or how much money you have in the bank. A third of the highest-income earners ($200,000+) say they worry about becoming a bag lady.
MSN money columnist Jay McDonald wrote in an article in January 2006. “Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.”
According to the Allianz survey, the Bag Lady Syndrome can come after the loss of a husband, or even a difficult marriage. This thought of running out of money in retirement still is what we think and worry about.
Sometimes in the culture we have been raised in, women have not been or weren’t allowed to be the financial decision makers; groceries yes, clothes, small things but still depend on their significant other to handle the finances whether bills, debt, investing, saving or what to do with it.
Many of us who have become widows had a huge learning curve if these thoughts prevailed. Some of us have faced this long learning curve with a tremendous fear of failing at it and that can sometimes end in self-sabotage by giving it away. We don’t think we can manage it, we don’t want to be responsible for money, we hope that a knight in shining armor might show up and rescue us. Be honest. We think our husband was better at making the ‘really big’ money decisions. We might balance the household budget and decide what to buy, but maybe he handled the investments for our future. Our financial decisions result in money spent and gone, not invested for growth.
Divorce or widowhood is the wake-up call that we really are on our own. Our future now is dependant on us and what if we blow it? After talking with a few men who are wonderful husbands it seems, they both realized after we talked about how challenging the transition could potentially be if their wives would have to walk through something similar. They both were saying their wives would be taken care of, I responded that financially taken care of is one thing but do they know what to do with that, can they pay the bills? You could see that was a good question to ask. Both said they weren’t sure. Even if we inherit some finance, the tendency is to feel fear, fear of making a mistake so sometimes the anxiety begins and after a lot of research on my part, I found that affluence does not eliminate that anxiety.
Many of us as widows will watch our money go down the drain either through neglect, overspending or bad advice. I have dealt personally with all three. It took a lot of work and I still have to think through the process of who am I and what are my financial goals and planning for my own retirement, if I ever retire.
This is not funny thought but a serious one. I live close to an area where there are many homeless people and I see them when I cycle down the Santa Ana River Trail. Whoever thinks that their child, mom, dad, or a sibling will end up there but they do and some are. I quietly and humbly ride by thinking that could have been me.
How do you change these sometimes prevailing thoughts? I think facing and exploring them is the first, bring them into the light and see if you have been undermining your willingness to take risks. In Money Shy to Money Sure, Oliva Mellan states, “Whether we are aware of it or not, this fear of being helpless and in poverty drives many of our decisions.” Furthermore, it helps to educate yourself then realize you now must take financial responsibility concerning your financial life.