11 Steps to Becoming A Financial Superhero

A cartoon of four women standing in a line, all dressed as superheroes, with monetary bills for capes.
Original cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published on LinkedIn for the SheMoney newsletter.

I have been writing about women and money for well over a decade. And if you are a longtime reader of mine, you will know that I am somewhat obsessed with the character of Wonder Woman. As in, I-have-a-whole-room-full-of-Wonder-Woman-memorabilia level of obsessed. While the story of Wonder Woman began back in 1941, I did not discover her until much later, and my introduction didn’t come from the comic books. Instead, when I was a little girl, I used to watch the television show starring Lynda Carter, as well as the animated television series, Super Friends. Like so many other little girls, I wanted to be Wonder Woman. I twirled, I lassoed the bad guys, I pretended I had an invisible plane, and I dressed up in that iconic costume.

A photo of author Jacki Zehner sitting in front of a wall filled with Wonder Woman memorabilia.

But then Wonder Woman went off the air, and I kind of forgot about her and went on with my life. Or so I thought. I fearlessly rode horses. I started working at age 14. I graduated top of my class from high school. I became a Canadian Junior Body-Building Champion. Yes, really. I got into an elite program at the University of British Columbia that allowed me to become the first undergraduate recruit from the school to be hired at Goldman Sachs in New York City. And in 1996, I became the youngest woman and first female trader to make partner at Goldman. I also became a wife and a mother of two. I realize now that I was busy trying to become my own kind of Wonder Woman. One who had a successful career, served her family, was there for her friends, and gave back to her community.

It was at the height of my struggle to try and balance it all that I rediscovered Wonder Woman. The year was 2001. At the time, I was working in Goldmanʼs executive office reporting directly to the most senior leaders of the firm on issues relating to the firmʼs culture, diversity, compensation, promotion, retention, and most importantly, leadership. I became obsessed with the concept of leadership, and I would devour anything that was written on the topic. One such piece was an article written by Tom Peters in Fast Company Magazine called “50 Rules of Leadership”. It became my favorite resource, and I would pass it along to anyone and everyone because it represented diverse, creative, and bold thinking. Peters left one rule blank at the end of the list, and he invited readers to submit their own rule of leadership. I sat there trying to determine what was missing, and for whatever reason, the following popped into my head.

Leadership Rule # 50: Be a SuperHero. Remember what it was like to jump out of bed on those Saturday mornings so you could rush to turn on the TV to get another does of Superman, Batman, or in my case Wonder woman! These characters inspired you to change the world, to do the right thing, to fight evil wherever it reared it’s ugly lead. To be an example, and yet hide your true identify because it was not about personal glory!! They never asked “what is in it for me?”, they never get the bad stuff get them down. They had a job to do and damn it they approached with with absolute enthusiasm and discipline. Be a Superhero!

I typed up this statement and shared my idea with a colleague. She added some great visuals of superheroes to my new motto, including Wonder Woman of course, and I proudly displayed the finished product on my desk. Wonder Woman was back in my life, and this time, she was here to stay. From that moment on, whenever I was facing challenges at work, at home, or in life in general, I would think to myself, Be a Superhero Jacki. Be a Wonder Woman. Not THE Wonder Woman. A Wonder Woman. In all the years since that day 20 years ago, I’ve never stopped wanting to be a superhero. *

Fast forward to a recent morning when I woke up knowing that I had an article to write. An article about women and money. And then the thought popped into my head. What if every woman, girl, human were their own financial superhero? What would that look like? I imagined it would look something like this:

  1. A financial superhero has a healthy relationship with her financial resources. In last month’s issue of SheMoney, I talked about how money, despite being a resource that we all need to survive, somehow remains a taboo subject. Most people have habits, beliefs, and/or issues around money that are complicated. Often, people’s relationship with their money is downright negative. But a financial superhero knows that the most important thing about money is to have a healthy and positive relationship with it.
  2. A financial superhero has an abundant mindset. For me, this means knowing that there is enough out there for everybody. It also means knowing that YOU are enough.  I am currently rereading the incredible book The Soul Of Money by Lynne Twist, and right in the opening pages she says that “this book is about finding a new freedom, truth, and joy in our relationship with money, whatever our circumstances.” She speaks brilliantly about how scarcity, “this mantra of not enough carries the day and becomes a kind of default setting for our thinking about everything, from the cash in our pocket to the people we love or the value of our lives.” As an alternative, she invites us all to adopt a sufficiency mindset, which she describes as “an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”
  3. A financial superhero is financially fluent. By this I mean she has a basic mastery of the role that money plays in our world. She knows what financial products are and do, and she knows how to budget, spend wisely, save, invest, protect her assets, and give philanthropically. Her knowledge extends in to the emerging, and hugely important, areas of cryptocurrency and blockchain! (I will be writing about these areas soon) And not only does she know what to do, but she actually does it. Over the past 25 years, I have studied how to deliver financial education to women. In fact, one of my portfolio companies, SmartPurse, does exactly that, as did one of my earliest direct investments, Learnvest. I chose to invest in these companies because report after report continues to highlight the fact that so many women lack this basic financial literacy, and the results are profound. There are so many resources out there to help you achieve financial fluency, and I will continue to share them with you in future issues of SheMoney.
  4. A financial superhero does not over-consume. You might have seen the news last weekof a woman crashing the Louis Vuitton Paris Fashion Week show with a sign that said, “Overconsumption = Extinction”. When I saw her, I knew she was talking to me. Earlier this month, at the ripe old age of 57, I bought my first Louis Vuitton bag as a birthday present to myself. It was a used one, but still. Did I need another handbag? Absolutely not. There is actually nothing in the categories of clothing, shoes, accessories, beauty products, anything really, that I actually need. I am a huge over-consumer, and I justify it because I can afford it, and because most of what I buy is used. But I can’t justify it any longer. Overconsumption is hurting our pocketbooks and our planet.
  5. A financial superhero is a conscious consumer, meaning she cares not just about buying less, but about buying products and services from people and companies that demonstrate they care about their employees, communities, and the planet. Taken a step further, a financial superhero tries as much as possible to buy from companies that share her values. For myself, I care a lot about gender and racial equity, so I try to make an effort whenever possible to buy from companies that are female and BIPOC founded. If the company is public, I try to check to see how they rank in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and whether or not they have shown a commitment to doing what they can to address climate change. I recently attended the Gratitude Railroad Investor Conference, where I heard from one of the most educated and powerful voices on climate change, Nat Keohane, President of the Center of Climate and Energy Solutions. He referenced a new report, IPCC 2021, in which scientists from around the world make irrefutable scientific claims about the state of our planet. As you’ve probably already guessed, the consensus is not good. In fact, it’s pretty darn bad. I admit I have had my head in the sand for years, doing so little to help the planet, and that stops now. A financial superhero makes it her business to make sure that the skies she flies in, the soil she walks on, and the water she drinks from is tended to for all future generations.
  6. A financial superhero strives for financial independence and knows that “a man is not a financial plan”. I remember hearing that quote at some point early in my life and it has always stuck with me. I understand that in today’s world of student loans, medical debt, and the insane cost of housing in major cities, it is so hard for so many to imagine a life without debt or financial worries. I also know that many women make the choice to leave their careers to be the primary care-giver of their children, and in so doing become dependent on their partners earnings. Additionally, due to so many circumstances, you may be in a situation where you are dependent. Imagining a life where you have your own financial resources to care for yourself and your dependents may be out of reach, somewhat unimaginable, but imagine it anyways. Strive for it, anyways.
  7. A financial superhero knows her worth and is ready, willing, and able to negotiate for it.  Sometimes, when I am awake in the middle of the night because I can’t slow my brain down, I stare at the ceiling and imagine a world where certain things are true. One of those things I try to imagine is true is a world where everyone, but especially women and girls, knows that they are valued. Valued not because of what they look like, what they can do, what they own, or what titles they hold. But are valued simply because they are human beings. I also like to imagine a world where we are all paid fairly for our labor. Unfortunately, the gender wage gap still exists, especially for women of color, and while we can all hope that companies will do the right thing, it is up to each of us to negotiate our salaries and be willing to change jobs if needed.
  8. A financial superhero uses her investment capital as a tool for positive change. She is an impact investor, and incorporates a gender lens when making her investment decisions.  “Simply put, gender lens investing is the deliberate incorporation of gender factors into investment analysis and decisions.” Sound complicated? This awesome book, co-authored by my friend Jackie VanderBrug, makes it easy to understand and apply.
  9. A financial superhero knows that money is a power tool that can be used to hurt and control others, and knowing this, she does not do it or put up with it. I’ve already written a full article dedicated to the topic of financial abuse because this point is so important. Especially since women are much more likely to be victims of this type of abuse. That’s why we need to know our rights, help ourselves, and help each other. Financial abuse is abuse. Full stop. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful and effective methods of keeping a victim in an abusive relationship. As financial superheroes, it is our job to fight back against this abuse in all its forms. In terms of not using money as a power OVER tool I admit to not being as aware as I need to be regarding how financial privilege affects, well, almost everything. Again, such a huge topic that I look forward to writing more about.
  10. A financial superhero is generous. Generosity is the outcome of an abundant and caring mindset. Financial generosity takes on a number of forms including helping a friend or family member in need, charitable giving, and more regular activities like being a good tipper. It also includes what we pay people that may be in our employment. With respect to giving, in the United States, 70% of all giving dollars are donated by individuals. Meaning it is people, not companies or corporations or foundations, that hold up the non-profit sector. How financially generous we can show up in the world is certainly related to our own financial circumstance, but what I know for sure is that many of us could be more generous than we are.
  11. A financial superhero is a good investor. My husband suggested this point when I asked him what he thought I was missing from my list. But what constitutes a good investor? Frankly, I am still figuring that out. I have been an active investor for over 20 years, and I have done so many things wrong. But I’ve also done a few things right. I’m going to make it my mission to create a separate list of what I think it means to be a good investor, of course informed by the experiences and insights of many others. Stay tuned.
A cartoon of four women dressed as superheroes, flying in a row, with their capes flowing behind them. The capes are made of monetary bills.
Original cartoon by Liza Donnelly.

So there you have it. My list of 11 ways to be a financial superhero. I know these sorts of things usually come in the form of top 10 lists, but I have always had a special affinity for the number 11. Especially 1111. That said, this list is far from complete, and therefore I welcome hearing from you and what you think is missing, or for that matter, not resonating. In addition I want to acknowledge that I am a wealthy, white woman writing this article. Though I grew up in a more modest way, I no longer have to deal with financial stress in the same way that most people do. My hope in writing this is that we might all aspire to be financial superheroes. I have a long way to go myself, but I know that attention and intention are a precursor to action. Here at SheMoney, we are on this journey together.

*A number of years ago, together with my editorial collaborator Laura Moore, we wrote a report called Why no WonderWoman? Yes this was way before they finally made the first movie. Check it out here.

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