A friend of mine, who happens to be a successful, self-employed business owner, was the victim of financial fraud. Not from a stranger, but from someone he knew very well.
When his daughter suddenly requested more money for college expenses, he suggested a later time to discuss her request. However, his daughter’s mother – his ex-wife – had a more immediate solution to his daughter’s cash flow needs. After all, she knew her ex’s social security number and could imitate his signature.
When my friend discovered what had happened, he did not lay down like a doormat as the ex had hoped. He took legal action.
It was complicated (for everyone), embarrassing (for her), and frankly, the only self-respecting option he had. More than happy to discuss and provide for his childrens’ real needs, he was not about to be taken to the bank in such an underhanded way. He stood up for himself, and righted the wrong, removing the item from his financial record, and placing the responsibility with the person who had signed the fraudulent loan papers.
Shortly after hearing this story, I met someone else, a middle-aged woman. She was exhausted, working three jobs.
As I inquired about her circumstances, she revealed that she was paying off a number of credit cards – that she had not opened or authorized herself.
Her own ex had hijacked her social security number and forged her signature, obtaining credit cards against her knowledge. She discovered the situation when angry creditors started calling. The cards were maxed out and late, and her credit was ruined.
“Why are YOU paying them off!?” I asked incredulously. “You realize, that’s FRAUD!?”
“I know, but I didn’t want to sue him or get lawyers involved,” she answered with a tired sigh.
“But… but… you shouldn’t have to pay something off that you weren’t responsible for or even aware of! Did you contact the creditors about it?”
She had failed to advocate for herself, opting instead to take two extra jobs and commit herself to a few years of drudgery to pay for her ex’s sins with her own hard work.
I was fascinated with the similarities and the contrasts: Two middle-aged people, both with responsible money habits and good credit. Two ex’s with opportunistic agendas and questionable ethics. Money borrowed from each against their knowledge or will. Creditors with hands outstretched, wondering who is going to repay the debt.
One says “no” and places responsibility back on the perpetrator. The other allows the person who took criminal advantage of her to walk away scot-free, while she pays the price with her own time, dollars, and quality of life.
One man. One woman.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Of course, you can’t draw strict lines between “male” and “female” and predict behaviors, but some stereotypes exist because they are, more so than not, true. And what do these culturally ingrained generalizations tell us? A person stands up for himself “like a man.” A person looks after and nurtures others “like a mother.”
You can be a “tough guy” or a “pushover,” and we all know whose “work is never done.” (Maybe because we’re working three jobs.)
Are women (or anyone of a more feminime persuasion) pre-disposed to be financial martyrs? The woman is the first to “rescue” other family members at her own expense (literally). Caring more about the relationship (a top priority for the feminine soul) than her own best interest, she might even forget to sign a contract or discuss terms, saying instead, “You just pay me back when you can, alright?”
In one family, a woman worked a job she hated while her husband and grown son refused to work. As well as sheltering the men in her life (I use the term “men” loosely here , she also took in stray animals – dogs, cats, fish, you name it – and attempted to care for them as well.
Meanwhile, she maxed out the equity in the home that had once been her free-and-clear inheritance, and her sister with the better-paying job closed the gap of the expenses she couldn’t meet.
I saw Suzi Orman speak once, and she described the importance of putting on our own oxygen mask before you help those around us.
“Ladies, I’m talking to YOU!” she exclaimed to a room of knowing laughter.
It’s true. As women (or as people of any gender with strong feminine energy), we forget our own worth. Sometimes we sacrifice balance, health, even our self-respect in the quest to “take care of” those around us. Our desires to nurture ourselves and maintain healthy boundaries are sometimes sacrificed to the crises of others, our inability to say no, and our own motherly guilt.
We become martyrs in our families. Sometimes, we’ve got to draw the line in the sand and say, “I’d love to help you, but you’re going to have to find another solution.” Sometimes, we’ve have to say, “I’m sorry you felt desperate for money, but forging my signature is fraud, and I’m not going to pay for it.”
We become martyrs with our creditors. Women forget that in times of emergency, when divorce, severe illness or death strikes, that sometimes our super-women capes are not enough.
Sometimes the money doesn’t stretch far enough, and we have to remember that things like our mortgage payment and our health insurance come before the credit card bill. Sometimes we have to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t afford to pay you this month.” Sometimes, we have to ask for help, and be willing to receive it. And sometimes, we’ve got to hold onto that oxygen mask with all we’ve got, and just… breathe.
We become financial martyrs whenever we sacrifice ourselves to the needs, requests, and demands of others. Sometimes, we’ve just got to say NO.
You might be a financial martyr if:
- You always “find” money when other people need it, but you never have enough for yourself.
- You’ve taken responsibility for another person’s financial irresponsibility or fraud.
- You’ve let “essentials” such as insurance and health care lapse.
- You give or loan money to family members who are capable of earning it themselves.
- You loan money to people who don’t pay it back.
- You always seem to be on the “giving” end of the money stick.
If this sounds like you, I highly recommend this breathing exercise:
- Inhale from (metaphoric) oxygen mask regularly.
- On your exhale, start practicing the word “No”.
- Meditate and visualize the things that you want and need. See these things as important, valuable, and available to you.
- See others as capable, and resist the urge to rescue them.
You are your own greatest responsibility. Particularly if others are counting or depending on you – bosses, children, spouses, partners and customers – you must realize that self-care is the basis of being able to help anyone.
Maybe that’s why I called the first financial workshop I designed “Love Your Money, Love Yourself.” Because loving your money (and caring for it, not giving it away to anyone who asks for it) IS loving yourself. Would you give away a child to anyone who asked (or could forge a signature?) Of course not! Likewise we should protect our money and treat it with care.