Are Black Women Just Undisciplined Spenders?

19This is not breaking news: African-American women are usually the primary decision-makers and chief breadwinners for our families; we must make the decisions for all family consumption from shopping for food, clothing, and shelter as well as well-being (healthcare), transportation and recreation. We, however, in many cases need more support and financial literacy to help us make well-informed financial decisions for our families.

Last week, I was reading up on some research for an article that I am writing about black women, poverty, spending behaviors, and retirement and here are some statistics that are definite food for thought. In 2008, The ING Foundation commissioned a survey among African-American women who were preretirement, at least 18 years of age, and with household incomes of at least $25,000. The survey results found that 68% of the women surveyed said they buy what they want whether the economy is good or dreadful and that nearly 70% did not have professional financial advisors, despite being concerned more about their finances than about their health, appearance, job, or relationships. A 2008 report conducted by Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) also found that the poverty rate for single Black women over age 65 is 38.5 percent, over twice the rate of White women, 16.7%. Moreover, fifty-nine percent of unmarried black women rely on Social Security as their primary source of income retirement, even though Social Security was not designed to be a retiree’s sole source of support, but instead was meant to provide only a “minimum of protection.”

When I read these statistics, I started to shake my head in frustration about the spending habits and the lack of planning that seemed to be keeping black women disproportionately represented among the brackets of poverty. But then I got to thinking some more about the why of the spending habits.

Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to imagine because this is your life): you work, take care of everyone else and their problems, which includes lending money that you don’t have to friends and family, and you may feel overwhelmed and hit the mall or browse the internet. I am not justifying spending as a healthy coping mechanism, but I would be naive and dishonest to say stress does not impact our spending (or that I haven’t resorted it emotional spending to make me feel good in the past). So, by the time retirement rolls around, you done dipped, double dipped, and tripled dipped into money that should have been set aside for your future and now you are a statistic and relying on a measly Social Security to sustain you through your wonder years.

So, are black women just reckless and without financial discretion? Some are, but I bet a lot are just everyday women with an extraordinary responsibilities to bear and need more support. I would even argue that the issue goes deeper than this. Black women, as the antithesis of the white, patriarchal power class in the United States, are on the losing end of classism, sexism and racism, which ultimately leaves them poorer.

Frugal Feministas: What are your thoughts? What can we do in our families and through our sister circles to ensure that we respond to these statistics?

If you’re waiting for a sign that it’s time to make a change, consider this it. Money Therapy may be just what you need to break through your financial blocks and release your money guilt and shame.   

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