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Gender spender: Sex sets your money DNA

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When it comes to money, men and women view it, spend it and invest it very differently.

Despite better education, despite more and simpler ways to manage it, despite tons of books on the subject, even despite just plain having more of it, there is one thing we seem dead set against doing with our money, and that’s talking about it.

Sure, you may know your spouse or partner’s blind spots where money is concerned. But do you know your own?

Read on.

Born to shop
From birth, American women and men are raised to view and spend money quite differently. Our socialization, a trained behavior, is primarily modeled after our same-sex parent. While experts agree these generalizations are breaking down, the money paradigm most of us have been dealt is similar.

Women vs. men:
Women, trained to nurture and seek acceptance, view money as a means to create a lifestyle. Women spend on things that enhance day-to-day living. Theirs is a now-money orientation.
Men, 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.

“Women have been taught to invest in lifestyle and children. Men have been taught to invest in things that hold value — a house, retirement,” says Ruth Hayden, a financial counselor and author of “For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples.” “The way that translates into spending is that women spend more money on the stuff that makes the day work. The problem with that is, most of that stuff has no asset value, no visible value.”

In other words, let the bickering begin. It usually starts with the words, “Where did all the money go?”

Even our approach to shopping differs greatly.

Consider the innocent trip to the mall. She will dive into the clothes racks seeking an outfit she likes, one that expresses her view of herself, something in fashion, something now. He will make a beeline to the first shirt that will work, then stand with bag in hand, tapping his toe and fuming about what he perceives as her inability to make a decision.

“Women are the collectors of stuff. Women do the clothes. Women are taught that what they need to get through life is approval. They have to look good, act good, be good,” says Hayden. “When men go shopping, they expect that whatever they’re shopping for to ‘get fixed,’ because men are supposed to fix stuff. They don’t want to be part of the process.”

Our spending, our selves
Our sense of who we are is intricately entwined with our spending habits, according to a study by Tahira K. Hira, professor of consumer economics and personal finance at Iowa State University; and Olive Mugenda, professor of Family and Consumer Sciences and dean of the home economics faculty at Kenyatta University in Kenya, published in the Journal of Financial Planning.

— Updated: Jan. 30, 2007

Based on a study of 2,000 Iowans, of whom 529 responded, women were far more likely to buy something without needing it (36 percent vs. 18 percent), buy something because it’s on sale (24 percent vs. 5 percent), shop impulsively (36 percent to 18 percent) and shop to celebrate (31 percent vs. 19 percent).

But when polled on their level of savings, just 49 percent of women said they were dissatisfied with their bank accounts, versus 60 percent of men.

“Money is an emotional-laden thing,” says Hira. “We spend because others are doing it. Women may have more need to be accepted by others. Maybe they think that if they have the things that others have that they’ll be better off, they’ll be liked and accepted.”

Hayden says the shop-till-you-drop syndrome is more than a harmless female pastime; it also deprives women of the opportunity to grow money through investing. In their 20s and 30s, when their male counterparts are buying homes and investing in mutual funds, many women are spending on clothes, cars and decorating the apartment.

“The biggest risk for women is they stall. It’s a huge risk for women because time grows money,” she says. “With our increasing longevity, it’s becoming a critical issue.”

— Updated: Jan. 30, 2007

The bigger the boy …
The male money blind spot is a little less obvious.

“The biggest risk for men, and it’s kind of a new risk, is men’s egos, men keeping up with men and bragging about how much they’ve earned in the market,” Hayden says.

“People don’t talk about these things. Everyone brings his or her own money behavior from home and we think that is the way to do it.”

Guys also tend toward a curious quirk when making buying decisions.

“Men will say, ‘I need a new computer.’ No, you want a new computer because it’s faster, it has more bells and whistles,” says Hayden. “Men move those things they want into an investment category, ‘This is a good investment.’ And then they can’t even enjoy it, they can’t go, ‘Oh, this is so much fun!’ Everything is a serious need and everything is an investment. What men need to do is kind of ease up a little bit and enjoy what they’re actually able to provide for themselves.”

When it comes to spending, Hayden says it’s about a draw. Women spend their money gradually over time, and men spend it on a number of big things. “They spend really big to show off because there’s a lot of ego risk on men today to do better than the next guy,” she says.

New money role models
If any of this even remotely fits you or your significant other, join the club. Hira says 46 percent of male respondents said money worries interfere with their relationships and 55 percent of the women said managing money troubles interferes with their lives at work.

Our biggest collective money blind spot may be our unwillingness to talk openly about it.

“People don’t talk about these things. Everyone brings his or her own money behavior from home and we think that is the way to do it. Then we struggle in our relationship until we settle on something that neither one of us is really happy with, instead of sitting down and deciding how it will be done in our house.”

Hayden agrees.

“Where people are struggling is they still have the old socialization, but they’re living their lives differently. We have two people putting in eight- and 10-hour days, we have much higher standards for partnership and intimacy than our parents did, we have much higher standards for child raising, for ourselves and our homes. Our standards have changed entirely, our roles have changed, and yet we still have this socialization model that is archaic. What couples are trying to do is to figure out new models. It’s wonderful, but it’s very hard.”

— Updated: Jan. 30, 2007