Boys, girls and the money divide

Young women are still falling behind when it comes to financial skills and savvy. Do they really still think that money is a guy thing?
By Abby Ellin, MSN Money

Financial habits start early. Even at age 10, twins Spencer and Sophie Bortone have developed different ways of handling their money.

Hey says, she says: How they spend

"Spencer has always been the saver. He can tell you to the penny how much money he has at a given time," says their father, Lou Bortone, a writer in Kingston, N.H. "He knows that 'If I want a new video game, that's $25. That means I'll have $25 less in the bank.' So he's always calculating what he has."

It's different for Sophie, Bortone says: "My daughter doesn't worry about spending it or (care) if it's her last $5."

Boy talk: 'She just wants to spend'

It's hard to talk about girls, boys and money without resorting to generalizations, but the Bortone twins are typical, experts say. When it comes to finances, girls fall behind in both the knowledge and the confidence to attain desired goals, according to a report from Girls Inc., an organization that works to inform girls about the influence of economics on their lives. That's not to say girls don't care; both girls and boys show pragmatism and ambition about future financial success, the research indicates. But gender differences that start early persist in adulthood.

Starting early: ATMs in preschools

Last year, blogger Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich conducted a reader survey about gender and money. The results were telling: Fifty-eight percent of men felt confident about money, as opposed to 44% of women. Twenty-six percent of women were apprehensive about it, compared with 15% of men. Eighty-three percent of men were interested in investing, compared with 70% of women.

"Women, who are trained to nurture and seek acceptance, view money as a means to create a lifestyle," says Jay MacDonald, a contributing editor for "Women spend on things that enhance day-to-day living. Theirs is a now-money orientation.

"Men, who are trained to fix and provide, view money as a means to capture and accumulate value. Men don't spend; they invest. Men don't want something; they need it. Theirs is a future-money orientation."

12-year-old girl CEO breaks stereotype

Take Meagan King and Caleb Albertson, two 14-year-olds who attend school together in Minot, N.D. Ask Meagan how she feels about money, and chances are she'll giggle nervously. It's not that she doesn't think about it; it's just not high on her list of priorities. The eighth-grader gets about $20 a month for doing chores around the house, such as cleaning up her room, taking out trash and doing laundry.

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She has a savings account, but she's not sure how much she has in it. "If my parents don't tell me to save my allowance, usually I spend it at the mall on a movie ticket or on clothes," she says with a laugh.

Calculator: How much can you save?

Meagan's parents often discuss finances with her, talking about city taxes and where taxpayer dollars go. And, she says, "I actually do listen, which is surprising." But she starts to tune out when they begin waxing poetic on stocks and investing. "Most if it is confusing, so I don't pay attention."

Caleb also gets money for doing chores -- about $10 a week. But he puts his money in a bank and estimates he has $200 dollars saved. His goal is to put a stereo in his car -- once he is old enough to drive, that is. His father, a software and Web site developer, is teaching him about business.

"We've been talking about buying a vending machine for his office, and I've been looking into that," says Caleb, also an eighth-grader at Minot's Ramstead Middle School. "We are researching it, like how much it costs and what the employees would like in the machine."

His father also bought some property, and Caleb is learning about investing, which he loves. "I hope to take over the company one day," he says.

No one is sure whether nature or nurture is at play when it comes to gender differences, and the truth is it's probably a little of each.

But Joline Godfrey, the CEO of Independent Means in Santa Barbara, Calif., a company that provides financial education for high-net-worth families, believes parents need to overhaul the way they talk to kids about money.

In general, she says, parents treat girls differently. A son might be asked to go with Dad when he buys a car, for instance, while a daughter won't be.

"Boys are probably in the conversational loop about what things cost, because there is an assumption that they'll get a job and boys are going to have to know something," Godfrey says. "(With) girls who say, 'I'm not interested,' parents have to keep coming back to that and not let them stay checked out.

"Most girls know they can hold out longer than their parents -- that if they just refuse to pay attention, parents will eventually give up. Parents can't give up. It's wrong not to have a kid be prepared for college. You should be treating the boys the same as the girls," Godfrey says.

"One of the big differences is that a lot of girls still think, 'This doesn't have anything to do with me . . . because Mom and Dad are taking care of me, and after Dad, some guy will,'" Godfrey adds.

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That kind of abdication is keeping girls from learning the financial basics, says Kim Deep, the founder of Kidz Make Cents, an organization dedicated to empowering youths to manage and invest money.

"Girls need to let go of some of the traditional programming and realize that a man is not a financial plan," Deep says. "Boys are more results-oriented, so once they have a system, they stick to it better. Girls have a tendency to be more emotional in their spending decisions."

Those differences play out in how kids spend, too. Boys like to spend on bigger purchases, such as technology, cars and other status symbols, notes Vince Shorb, a co-founder of the National Youth Financial Educators Council, a group that creates products and events to teach young people of all income levels about money and entrepreneurship. Girls "tell me about the things they want," he says. "They mention short-term types of things -- beauty products, purses."

Parents need to change the way they talk to kids of both genders, Shorb says. "I tell parents not to say, 'You need to save,'" he explains.

The real questions for kids are these: What type of lifestyle do you want to live? What are your goals and dreams? Where do you see yourself in five years?

"A lot of parents talk in terms of retirement," Shorb adds. "That's not on the forefront of your brain when you're in high school."

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Produced by Elizabeth Daza / Graphics by Joe Farro

Published Oct. 7, 2008