As published on LinkedIn as part of the SheMoney newsletter.
Why is money called dough?
Because we all knead it.
I know, I know. Not the greatest joke about money. But I’m about to start talking about something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and so I thought I’d open with a joke.
But puns aside, let’s talk about money. That’s right. Money. Let’s say it together shall we? Money.
Money is any object that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally, a standard of deferred payment.
When you think about it, it’s a rather small word for something that means so much. Like air and water, money is a resource that we all need to survive. It is something that shapes all of our lives in countless ways, and yet, for many reasons, money remains a taboo topic. Especially among women.
I want to change that.
That’s why for the first anniversary of the SheInvests newsletter, I am changing the name to SheMoney. I want to broaden the conversation beyond just investing, because money is so much more than investment capital. Importantly, SheMoney will continue to employ a gender lens, because as a woman and a financial feminist, my primary goal is to help other women on their money journeys.
I should note that writing about money is not new for me. The SheInvests newsletter may have only launched last September, but I have been writing about money since 2008 when I started blogging under the tagline, “On women, money, and changing the world.” Nearly 800 articles later, I’ve learned a few things. And as I look ahead to the next 800, I know there are a lot of things that I have yet to learn. But one of the things that I have definitively learned is just how many people have money “issues”. Heck, I have money issues. I have a history with money, beliefs about money, and habits around money. Some of them are serving me, and some of them are not. And I’m sure the same is true for you. So I’m inviting you to join me on this money journey to explore how we all might positively engage with our financial resources to better serve us, our loved ones, and the world more generally.
Money is like an iron ring we put through our nose. It is now leading us around whever it wants. We just forget that we are the ones who designed it. – Mark Kinney ( and pulled from the highly recommended book The Soul of Money by the incredible Lynne Twist)
A great place to start is with an invitation to you to think about your money story. What are some of your earliest memories about money? What did your parents teach you about money? What did they not teach you? Do you remember the first time you got paid for your labor and how that felt? Do you have a propensity to be a saver or a spender, and where do you think those habits might have originated? Do you have any fears around money? Have you had any extremely negative or positive experiences with money? Right at this moment, how would you rate on a scale of 1 to 10 your comfort level as it relates to talking about money issues with your partner and/or best friend?
Are you uncomfortable yet? I told you this wasn’t the easiest topic to wrap your head around. So in the interest of getting the ball rolling, I’ll start. Here is a bit of my money story.
I grew up in a small town in Canada called Kelowna. I had very hard-working, awesome parents. For most of my life, my dad worked at, then managed, then finally owned a grocery store. My mom worked in insurance, real estate (their Century21 Real Estate photo), and other jobs. My mom’s family was lower income than my dad’s, and my grandmother, who lived until the age of 97, was a housekeeper for most of her working life. Her name was Sadie and I wrote about her in this article a few years ago. My sister and I are first generation university graduates. We were a family that had enough, but we only had enough because my parents worked their butts off to provide for us. Of course, there were many times when my parents had financial stress, but they pretty much kept it hidden from us as children. It is only now when I have asked them about their money stories that I have learned just how much they struggled, especially when they mortgaged all they had to buy the a business, a grocery store, when interest rates were 18%.
Looking back, the primary lesson I learned from my parents is that money is what you earn when you work hard. It is what you are paid for producing a good or a service. I also learned that money went into a bank account where you would earn interest, you should never spend more than you earn, you should only borrow money to buy a major asset like a business, car, or house, and finally, that money should not be wasted! Both my parents, but especially my dad, has ‘fairness’ as a thinking talent , and how that manifests is paying the ‘fair and right’ price for goods and services. I have that embedded in me too. To this day I get a lot of anxiety when I feel that I have overpaid for something, which is not the same thing as paying a lot for something. Overpaying is connected to feelings of being taking advantage of while buying something that may cost a lot is a choice.
Before I had a bank account, I had a piggy bank, and in it would go the coins and bills that somehow ended up in my possession. I remember liking the clinking sound when another one was dropped in, and I understood at a very early age that having money meant you could get the things that you wanted. Not needed, that was mom and dad’s job, but wanted. And what I wanted was to be rich.
Rich like the people on the shows Dallas and Dynasty. People who had mansions, great clothes, nice cars, servants, and lived in Texas. They were also all white, but I wasn’t socially aware enough at that point to realize the social and societal implications of that just yet. Nor did I understand the enormous amount of privilege I had growing up in a white, middle class family, with ample social structures designed to support people like me. That awareness and knowledge would come later. All I knew as a kid watching those shows was that I wanted to grow up to wear expensive jackets with shoulder pads and attend fabulous parties.
My first job was working at a concession stand at the local hockey arena, and I think my pay was around $2.75 an hour, which was the minimum wage in 1977. Let me tell you, it was an awesome job for a 13 year old hockey loving Canadian girl. I got to do math in my head all day long, I got paid a fixed amount per hour (plus tips!), I got to meet boys, and I got to snack on popcorn for free whenever I wanted. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite foods.
Awesome first job? Check. And this is very important, because it meant I had very positive early experiences around money and math. I was both money confident and math confident from a young age, and I know that that made a huge difference in terms of why I ended up having the career that I did. This confidence followed me from job to job, and I went on to work at Dairy Queen, Footlocker, Fashion Corner, and as a cashier at my father’s grocery store. Being a cashier in those days was a whole different experience than it is now. It meant a lot of memorization of prices and codes, handling cash, and making change the old fashioned way. There was no computer telling me that if the total was $17.50 and someone gave me a $20 that the change was $2.50. Again, money and math, all before I turned 20. Looking back, I always had a job growing up, and the vast majority of the money I earned, I saved. What I did spend was very intentional and on things I really wanted and loved. I was very money motivated, always. In fact, in my high school yearbook where you capture your aspirations, I said, “I want to make a million dollars by the time I am 30”. The year was 1982.
After high school, I went to study psychology at a local community college. I was planning on following that up with law school, because all the wealthiest characters on TV seemed to be lawyers. However, on a trip to Vancouver to visit the University of British Columbia, I happened to attend a party at my cousin’s place with all her commerce and business school buddies. Far too many beers later, they had convinced me that business was the way to go, and I applied to the faculty of commerce the next day.
Luckily I was accepted, and I was working towards a marketing degree when I heard of a brand new program being created at the university called the Portfolio Management Program. Six students would be selected to manage a real endowment fund, and I was fortunate enough to get picked. I quickly changed my major to finance, did internships at a brokerage and money management firm, and graduated with several job offers in the field, including one to become an analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York City in the mortgage finance department. The professional world of money was now my world.
Slight side note. I feel I need to acknowledge that college was very inexpensive in Canada at that time, and due to scholarships, bursaries, my savings, and help from my parents, I did not incur any college debt. I’m also very much aware of what an extraordinary privilege that was. The carry forward of educational debt is a huge issue today, and it will be the subject of a future article in terms of its magnitude, implications, and inequities, as well as tips on managing it. But back to my story.
I still remember my first day at Goldman Sachs. I arrived so early that I sat on a bench outside 85 Broad Street in downtown Manhattan and wondered how in the world someone from small town Canada could ever end up there. But I was there, and it was at Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most prestigious Wall Street firm, that I truly learned about financial instruments and markets, economic systems, and the power of money. I went from my starting position as an analyst, to the youngest woman and first female trader to make partner in just eight years. My husband, now of over 25 years, also made partner the same year as me, and we became Goldman’s first partner couple.
During my time at Goldman, I worked for many men. In fact, I only worked for men, and many of them were legends in the field of finance. Three of them went on to become Treasury Secretaries of the United States, including the most recent one in the Trump administration, Steven Mnuchin, who was my direct boss for many years. Throughout my career, I had many sponsors and champions, but I also experienced some pretty extreme sexual harassment. I saw first hand how few women and people of color were in leadership roles, both at Goldman and in financial services more generally, and I made it my job to try and change that. For me, money was, is, a resource, but it represents something so much bigger. It represents careers, institutions, power, the patriarchy.
For example, I received many big pay checks while working for Goldman, but I also knew that I was underpaid at different points of my career relative to some of my peers, almost all of whom were men. Early on in my career, I found myself working for someone I did not respect and who did not treat me with respect. As a result, I interviewed outside of the firm and got a job offer that was double my Goldman salary. However, when I went in to resign, my boss at the time, Michael Mortara, would not accept my resignation. Instead, he took me to lunch in the partners dining room and asked me why I was leaving, and I went on and on about how I was treated and underpaid. Together we came up with a plan to make things better. While he could not match the competing salary, he promised me that he would effectively be my sponsor, keep a closer eye on my career, and look to move me away from my manager at the time. I grabbed a pen and wrote his commitments down on the back of a cloth napkin, including a line that said, “I will do my best to help Jacki get paid $1 million dollars one day”, and he signed it. I still have that napkin.
That was the experience where I learned to self advocate. I learned to ask for what I wanted, and to make sure I had a sponsor who believed in me. And I did. I had an incredible sponsor in Mike Mortara and I made partner. By 1997, I was married with our first child, and despite our combined salaries, we were living well below our financial means, living in the tiniest make-shift three bedroom apartment you could find in New York. My husband had a similar financial upbringing as me, and it worked for us. However, in 1999, Goldman went public, and I was suddenly and very officially a very wealthy person. It was weird, and I worried a lot about how it might affect relationships. That feeling was driven home one day when a dear friend told me, “Jacki, I don’t think we can be friends anymore because we are now in very different socioeconomic classes.” I challenged her, arguing that I would continue to be as cheap as ever, and we laughed it off. But it was something that has stayed with me all these years. I’ve known a lot of rich assholes, and I vowed never to become one.
I ultimately left Goldman in 2002. I was the mother of two young kids, we had moved to the suburbs, and we were financially set because both my husband and I had benefited greatly from Goldman’s IPO. But as the saying goes, with great (monetary) power comes great responsibility, and I felt the weight of that responsibility greatly. That’s why I was determined to manage our wealth in a way that would also benefit others. It is a value that my parents imparted on me from a young age, especially my mom. Even though we didn’t have a lot of extra money when I was growing up, I absolutely consider my mom to be a philanthropist. She cared for and served others in countless ways, and she taught me to do the same.
Therefore, my new professional mission was to “give back”, and I embarked on a journey into philanthropy that lasted for over a decade. I joined a campaign called Women Moving Moving Millions, which sought to inspire high net worth women to give a million dollars or more to support women and girls’ causes. I became WMM’s founding President, and spent the next decade building that community into a global philanthropic network. As a result, I was recognized as cofounder alongside Helen LaKelly Hunt. Side note: the show Dallas is actually somewhat based on Helen’s family, the Hunt oil family of Texas, or so the rumor goes.
There were so many money moments and learnings from the decade I spent in women’s philanthropy. Far too many to list here. But one of my big takeaways was the fact that philanthropic capital will never, ever, be enough to solve the world’s problems. It’s why I’ve changed course in recent years and focused more on investing, and it’s why I continue to encourage other women to do the same. I will never fully understand why so many high net worth women are completely comfortable writing large checks to a non-profit, but are completely uncomfortable writing that same sized check to a fantastic female founded start up. But research shows us time and time again that while women tend to give more charitable dollars at every income level than men, we are not as engaged as investors. There is so much unused power in our collective investment capital, and it is one of the main reasons why this newsletter began as SheInvests.
That being said, most of my experiences with money as it relates to my decade with WMM were amazing. I met countless women (and men) who were profoundly generous and humble, and who realized just how fortunate they were to be in a position to give away significant amounts of money. I also met women, and men, who were the opposite. Over the years, I even met some who thought that if you have a lot of money, it meant you were right and that you knew what was best for people who had less of it, and they wielded their money power stick in ways that were as gross, if not more so, than some of the masters of the universe I encountered on Wall Street. Turns out there are assholes everywhere, and I tried my best not to be one.
But back to the present. I will wrap up this origin story knowing there is so much more to it in terms of my money beliefs that are both serving and not serving me. Today I describe myself as a financial feminist. I want to use my wealth to invest in, and with, those who are traditionally excluded and underserved by our current financial systems–financial systems that are exploitative, extractive, and patriarchal. Yes, I benefited greatly from Wall Street. But I also had a front row seat to the injustice of its operations, and I want to help change that. That is why I have spent the past 20 years building up my experience and knowledge around money. I have used my wealth and resources to create, build, and partner with like-minded people, products, and companies, to create new systems that are more just, equitable, generous, and generative. Not just in investment, but in every type of monetary exchange, because there is power in them all.
At the end of the day, I aspire to be holistically financially intentional and generous. I want to have a healthy relationship with money, seeing it as a means and not an end. And I try to recognize the fears of scarcity that still show up for me, as well as my fears around how money affects relationships. To counteract these fears, I try to stay grounded and honest on my money journey.
If you have made it this far, I encourage you to think about writing your own money story. Have fun with it. See where it takes you, and try to end with a summary statement of some sort that can help keep you grounded and well on your way to having a healthy relationship with your financial resources. You might just be surprised where this journey will take you, but I promise it will be worth the trip.
And please join me on Clubhouse @JackiZehner and the new group SheMoney. I have yet to start conversations on this explosive new platform but I will soon.