April 13, 2006

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Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions & Cash, by Liz Perle (Henry Holt and Company, 2006, 269 pages)

You just can’t marry rich any more.

This realization seriously bums out Liz Perle, author of Money, A Memoir. Even though she got a degree, worked hard and bought a home of her own before getting married, some part of her girl brain was hoping that Prince Charming would show up and she would never have to work or think about money again, she says. Shockingly, she discovers when her husband dumps her and she must make her way in the world with her small son, that isn’t a realistic plan.

Forget realistic plan — for most women this isn’t even a financially feasible fantasy. Real estate alone in some parts of the country (ours, for example) requires both members of a couple to work. (And we’re not talking McMansions — an average home in Manchester runs about $220,000.) A key problem with Perle’s women’s-relationship-with-money argument is the implication that it’s the same for all women. Perhaps the book should be subtitled Upper Middle-Class Women in their Mid-Thirties to Late Fifties, Emotions & Cash.

As other critics have pointed out, Perle’s assertion that her money woes have much to do with her gender is flawed. Her money woes have to do with her class, race, age, family, self-image, wants and dreams and gender. Perle bemoans an investment that turned sour when the dotcom bubble burst and seems to suggest that her womanly ignorance played a role. But, as with most investment-related mishaps, isn’t her loss better explained as a function of the economy and a population-wide failure to understand the tech market?

In addition to giving plenty of examples of why it’s good to understand where your money is going (from the daily $3 for coffee to the IRA you only partially understand), Perle makes a good case for both members of a married couple participating in all financial decisions. She talks at length about how women of certain generations expect their husbands to pay the bills and don’t want to hear the details. She then includes stories of these women filching a few bucks from their husbands’ wallets to pay credit card bills or to stash in a secret savings account. She also talks about couples fighting over the woman’s runaway spending. While she’s busy pinning this on social hardwiring, her stories actually suggest these problems have less to do with girlie emotions and more to do with knowledge and control. The women she describes have no control over the money so they binge-shop (a passive-aggressive way to fight back) and horde (to have something, other than debt, to control). In the few stories Perle tells in which the women in the house pay the bills, the men tend to be the ones to drink or gamble or otherwise piss away the family’s money, suggesting that the doubling-up of X chromosomes isn’t necessarily to blame. C

— Amy Diaz


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