At The Hoopla we recently ran a story on the record numbers of older, homeless women in Australia.
The response was tremendous and heartfelt. You asked for more on this vital topic of women and poverty. We hear you.
No more mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters or daughters living on the streets, anywhere, in our prosperous nation.
We want every Australian woman to be financially secure… for the rest of her days.
Former single mum, advisor, mentor, psychologist and former Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Julie Boyd shares her valuable insights and real life stories…
At 68, Margaret found herself homeless after being widowed. A proud great-grandmother, she helped raise her grandson, shown at right of the family photo. Margaret dreams of finding a two-bedroom house so she can have her grandchildren for sleep-overs. Photograph by Ella Rubeli. Courtesy of The Global Mail.
Romantics and psychologists tell us that we never forget our first love.
True, he was gorgeous… but I’ve also never forgotten my first bank manager.
He was an anachronism – completely at odds with the misogynist culture that existed in banks at the time.
“Hi. I’m William,” accompanied by a smiling face and outstretched hand, to shake both mine and my tiny son’s, as I walked into his office.
Newly divorced, with a toddler and baby to raise, I had plans to go back to work as a teacher in the near future and had $400 that had been squirelled away from food shopping money over 18 months as the ‘escape fund’.
Divvying up marital property in those days (early 1980s) meant selling the family home to pay off the mortgage with miniscule leftovers, and going through the shared record collection.
Husband’s superannuation was considered sacrosant and was untouchable.
When I’d questioned the divorce lawyer, his answer was: “That’s to support him and his new family into old age.” Seriously!
He’s now left his wife and kids and is living with a man. No doubt their retirement is very comfortable.
Superannuation for women in those days was a relatively new after-thought, and if you stopped work to have kids, so did any contributions you were even allowed to make.
Some friends had a house to sell for $20,000 and I had no clue as to how I could buy it. Short of hitting up the parents for a loan, home ownership for women was pretty much out of the question.
To even be considered for a loan you had to have your Dad, husband or brother co-sign and guarantee.
Enter the shining knight.
After the initial handshakes, William talked to me as if I was an intelligent human being. He asked about my plans for the future, what I wanted to do professionally and what place this house I was looking at would play in all of this.
He then put us into his car (seatbelts for kids were not taken seriously then either), and we drove to the house so he could take a look around and speak to the current owners.
He’d let me call them first of course (no mobiles then), so Fiona had a batch of scones cooking in the wood stove and a cuppa waiting when we arrived.
To cut a long story short, William gave me a loan, under my own signature, with no other guarantor.
He knew what a risk he was taking, but he was convinced I’d pay it off, and that I’d follow through with my plans.
I didn’t let him down, and he didn’t let me down.
Every few months he’d drop by to check on renovations and he and his wife even helped clean a few second-hand bricks for my courtyard.
He was genuinely interested and he had faith in me and advised me to put any excess money, no matter how small, into the newly created ‘offset account’.
We lived in a country town and his mentorship was an amazing experience that I still treasure.
It’s a pity he was one of a kind and I’ve never met his like since!
Although his faith now shows in microfinance schemes that lend money to women in third world countries and report repayment rates of a mere fraction below 100%.
So what are the lessons from women of that era for youngsters today on how to poverty-proof yourself?
The camaraderie of the kitchen. These women, along with four others, live in Our Lady of the Way Community home in western Sydney, which provides three months’ crisis accommodation and welfare programs for victims of domestic violence. Service manager Karen Devins (second left) says, “They cry coming in because of what’s happened, and they cry going out because they don’t want to leave.” Photograph by Ella Rubeli. Courtesy of The Global Mail.
Buy a house if you can in personal name(s), either yourself or as a consortium (but make sure you have proper legal agreements), and live within your means.
Buy more if you can, but have one dwelling tucked away you can live in if you need to. Use offset accounts and, by whatever means you can, pay the mortgage off quickly.
Some cautionary tales:
Rosalie. She learned be careful whom you trust. She had a successful company, built a network of trusted advisors – accountants, lawyers, etc. – or so she thought.
What she didn’t realise was that the safety net they built for her would collapse because it was the same one they had created for a famous pop-star who died. Millions disappeared from his estate and her business partners had conspired with them to rip her off.
She reported them, but nothing was done. She ended up escaping with $60,000 which she has used to buy a house in a country town. The first home owner’s grant, for which she was eligible (at 60), is paying for repairs.
Joan. Her lesson was to be careful who you buy real estate from.
She got caught by a Queensland scammer who sold her property for much more than its value, thanks to a fraudulent valuing scheme she can do nothing about.
The scammer sucked her in as a good friend for two years and then arranged a loan through mutual acquaintances.
Joan lost her job and is now stuck with a 10.5% mortgage she cannot get out of and is about to be bankrupted.
She did however put $1000 into a trust account for her grand-daughter several years ago when the baby was born which is now looking quite healthy. She also taught her daughter the difference between good and bad debt.
Maree. She always had ‘yours, mine and ours’ bank accounts with her past and current partners and a clear understanding of who owns what so she does not incur any STD (sexually transmitted debt). She lives well but understands how to make the most of her money, and has also trained her partners to be financially aware.
Jill. Clever girl. She learned as much about the stock market as she could. After disastrous losses on options (courtesy of a broker who failed to pick up a jumped stop-loss) she now stays with long-term stock buys, is a member of an investment discussion group online, and leaves options to the testosterone-fuelled boys who created the GFC.
Laurene. This woman gave up renting on her own and now shares a large house with two other friends so they can split the bills.
She also does a lot of housesitting, so it works well for them. She wished she’d gone straight to work instead of getting a university degree that gave her knowledge but not skills and sees not a little irony in the fact that one of her housemates now also shared a house with her at uni.
All of these women started off with the best of plans. They even understood the difference between:
1. Financial COVER
2. Financial SECURITY
3. Financial STRENGTH
4. Financial INDEPENDENCE
5. Financial FREEDOM
6. Financial PROSPERITY
7. Financial LONGEVITY
Life has a way of both creating and destroying dreams.
What we need now is not simply ’leadership for women’ programs, or financial planning.
We need real financial literacy.
We need people to have faith in the wisdom and capability of women to help them escape these quick-sand traps.
We need bailout plans to help pre-retirement women who are in trouble, before they do become suicidal.
We also need a powerful lobby group that actually understands not just what the issues are for women, but how to fix them for both current and future generations.
Perhaps we could have a Women’s Bank.
Maybe my first love William could be found and asked to help.
*Julie Boyd is an advisor, mentor, speaker, facilitator, psychologist, and former Telstra Businesswoman of the Year with particular interest in women’s leadership, and deep concern for friends and the planet. For more information visit here or follow Julie on Twitter @jboyded.