Ginita Wall and Candace Bahr Teach Women to Become Financially Savvy
Two decades ago, in the throes of my divorce, I discovered a workshop that became my lifeline. It’s called Second Saturday: Divorce Workshop for Women, and for me, participating in it helped me get through one of the most difficult, wrenching periods of my life.
Second Saturday is the creation of Ginita Wall and Candace Bahr, two financial experts who identified a need to fill a void when they first founded WIFE (Women’s Institute for Financial Education), 25 years ago. As financial experts who happen to be women, they realized that the world of investments, savings, and buying stocks, is largely that of a man’s. In fact, it’s 85 percent male, with women financial planners being practically a rarity.
And looking inward, they had to admit, that even as women, their first instinct was to deal directly with the “dominant manager in the family, and basically, that’s the husband, not the wife,” says Bahr, who figured that if she didn’t have the awareness, her male colleagues didn’t either.
So, they set out in search of a nonprofit where they could refer women who were dealing with divorce, death of a spouse, or other major changes in their life, and they quickly discovered there were none to be found.
“Everybody who was doing classes, had an agenda and it was basically to sell products or do whatever,” observes Bahr.
Wall and Bahr, who are being recognized by KPBS and Union Bank as 2013 Women’s History Month Local Heroes, decided to use their financial know-how, to do something about it. They determined it was up to them to help women navigate through life’s significant transitions.
At the core of WIFE.org, named one of the top 500 financial sites by Online Investor, is their motto:
A man is not a financial plan.
Building on this tenet, WIFE.org is a robust, engaging website with hands-on tools that can help anyone get their budget in order and on a path to saving. It features information on shopping for a house, refinancing, credit scores, investing, mutual funds, inheritances, building a portfolio and financial transition from divorce.
About a year after starting WIFE, Wall and Bahr went full-speed ahead in tackling divorce. They did this after learning that the San Diego Mayor’s office had conducted a study of women in San Diego and their needs, and learned that what they needed most was help with their divorces.
“A woman’s financial status after divorce generally diminishes,” observes Wall. “So, we said, as part of our nonprofit organization, that’s something we can do to help the mayor’s office. So Candace called the mayor and said we’d really like to help, and the mayor’s office said, ‘Well, we’re not doing anything. We did a study and we’re done.’ And, we said to ourselves, that doesn’t make sense that it would end there, so we came up with the idea of Second Saturday.”
Second Saturday is a monthly workshop offered at Mira Costa College for women thinking or going through divorce. Since its beginning, over 10,000 women have enrolled in the one-day session—and, of those, one of them happens to be me.
Having recently moved to San Diego, I suddenly found myself facing the possibility of divorce. Frankly, nothing prepares you for it, and I had no idea where to begin. So, trust me when I tell you, I was thrilled to learn that such a class as Second Saturday existed. Because of it, I was able to get information, referrals and a solid understanding of what I needed to do in order to move forward and get on with my life.
The four-hour workshop, which attracts approximately 35 participants each month, focuses on the legal, financial and personal and family issues of dealing with the breakup of a marriage. Experts on each of the subjects offer tips and advice, with a sprinkling of compassion, giving women hope, that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.
Since starting the program, Second Saturday has expanded to other cities as well—42 in all. Two years ago, Bahr and Wall added a Second Saturday workshop for men.
“One of the beautiful things about Second Saturday, is that women do share,” says Wall. “They attend and find that they’re not alone. They see others going through the same things and maybe even some who have it worse. When we asked men what would induce them to come, we found they wanted the workshop to be shorter and cheaper ($25 versus the $45 fee women are charged). The men also said they didn’t need psychological content.”
The workshop participants’ behavior differs across gender, too. “During the breaks, women are talking to each other,” observes Bahr. “They may be making plans to meet for lunch, and making new friends. But, during breaks in the men’s session, they are all turned away from each other, talking on their cell phones, and in the classroom, they are scattered about as far apart from each other as they can.”
Another program, Money Zones, was developed in response to the many product-sales parties hosted by friends that, as Bahr puts it, “always make you feel like you have to go and buy something.” Bahr and Wall figured, if those parties work for spending money, why not create a model for saving?
“The essence of the way women learn and the way we are is that we will work to help each other before we help ourselves,” notes Bahr. “A study conducted by Emory University hooked women up to an MRI machine and asked, ‘If you can either work for a higher award and work competitively, or you can work for a lower award and work cooperatively, which would you choose?’ And, no big surprise, they chose working cooperatively. But, what was the shock, when they saw their brain scans, in this process of working together, the pleasure centers of the brain lit up like a Christmas tree. We’re wired to work together. And what’s interesting is so much of what’s going on in the financial arena is competition, authoritative—I’m the man, I’m going to explain to you how to do it—and yet the way women learn is cooperatively. So we applied this to our money clubs.”
Through their work, Wall and Bahr have become nationally recognized experts on women and money. They are regularly invited to speak at conferences, events and corporate meetings, and have written a book, “It’s More Than Money-It’s Your Life! : The New Money Club for Women.”So, how do they explain their success?
“One of the things Ginita and I have worked to do is make finance unintimidating,” explains Bahr. “We tell women, you can do this. Just save a little on a regular basis, keep track of what you spend. There’s a reason we’ve been on the web 17 years, and send out 55,000 newsletters once a month to people throughout the country. Wife.org is Internet based. It’s all free. It’s the oldest nonprofit in the arena of financial education, and we have never taken a dime.”
“It’s never too late to improve your life,” chimes in Wall.
“You just have to be ready to do it,” Bahr agrees. “In a way, managing your finances is like managing your weight. It’s never too late to take care of yourself. You just have to be ready to do it.”