When I was a child, my favourite bedtime ritual was to have fairy tales read to me just before falling asleep. I knew all my favourite stories intimately – my heroines Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were all beautiful damsels in distress saved by dashing Prince Charming who brought them out of misery and danger, into a life of “happily ever after.”
Years go by as I waited for my Prince Charming in vain. As a single woman who must take care of herself financially, I now look at my childhood heroines differently. Why wasn’t Snow White smart enough to realise that the juicy apple was a scam? Why didn’t Cinderella ask her fairy godmother to bestow financial freedom, rather than a pretty gown and glass slippers to go to the ball?
As for Sleeping Beauty, lying comatose for so many years must have affected her intelligence. Would you jump into the arms of the first man you see? Didn’t our mothers warn us not to trust strangers?
I also feel sorry for The Wicked Queen and Wicked Witch. In all these fairy tales they came to an ignominious end. Yes, they were wicked because they tried to destroy their rivals. They had no choice – they had few career options, you see. In today’s context, the Wicked Queen would have graciously mentored Snow White to become the next Queen, while she goes on to become the next Oprah Winfrey and earn a billion bucks. Not only that, she would still look fabulous because of plastic surgery.
I’ve thankfully left the fairy tales of my childhood in the dust. However, as a money fitness coach and former financial adviser, I realise that Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Queen are still alive and well in all our collective psyche, subtly influencing us as women, in the way we choose to manage our lives and our money. Here’s how:
Cinderella – You work more than 8 hours a day and weekends to provide for yourself and/or family. You’re mentally and physically exhausted and resent having to work so much, yet you can’t seem to stop. You buy lottery for stress relief and think – “ah yes, someday perhaps, I’ll strike it rich and leave all this behind!”
There’s a bit of Cinderella in all of us – it’s true that we need to work hard to pay off the mortgage and fulfill our responsibilities. However, Cinderellas are also chronic “underearners” – they hate to confront their bosses to demand better pay and treatment. Their anxiety level goes up whenever they think about their lack of time and money, so they tend to do nothing. If you’re a Cinderella, understand that a lottery win and fairy godmothers are hard to come by. It’s time to pause from your frenetic activity, reflect on what you truly want from life, and take steps to achieve it.
Sleeping Beauty – I’ve met her several times in my career. She’s the woman who doesn’t open her mail, who forgets to pay her bills, who’s vague about her insurance and who thinks that financial planning is a bore. Sleeping Beauties tend to hand over the management of their money and investments to their spouses, their friends, their associates and their bankers to do as they please, never questioning or participating actively in the decision making process. They tend to be easily swayed by appearances – the too-good-to-be-true promises, the expensive office, the parties and the headlines. Sleeping Beauties end up being vulnerable targets for Wall Street conmen like Bernie Madoff or hurt by errant husbands and financial advisers.
To guard against the Sleeping Beauty syndrome, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions: do you know where your money has been saved or invested? Do you understand your investments? Do you keep yourself updated? You may hate doing your own money homework or questioning your husband/friend/banker, but staying comatose forever won’t do you any good in the long term.
The Wicked Queen – Unfortunately, she feeds into our negative perceptions of powerful women – that they are bit**** who are aggressive and manipulative. Powerful men don’t get saddled with these negative labels – they are called “dynamic” instead. Yes, the Wicked Queen is also dynamic, resourceful and ultra competitive. She’s the woman who wants it all and wants it now. She will borrow and gamble with impunity, running after get-rich-quick-schemes and buying high risk stocks and properties with no savings or safety nets. She also tends to run up huge credit card debts. If you are a Queen, learn to moderate your excesses and follow a proper financial plan before you go over the edge.
Mulan, the Woman Warrior – After hearing my introduction of the above characters at a talk, someone suggested that I include Mulan – the legendary Chinese woman warrior who disguises herself as a man to defend her country. I agree – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Queen can all learn a thing or two from gutsy gal Mulan. She’s not only feminine but brave, practical and decisive. Mulan is not afraid to confront her life or money issues, identify her vulnerability and take action. She trains herself to be a strategic thinker and isn’t afraid to pick up new skills – like wielding a sword!
Today, I believe that all women have the ability to be “Mulans” who can take decisive action to work towards their own financial freedom and well being. The role models of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and other damsels in distress just don’t hold water any more, in a world where information, career choices and opportunities abound. Let us retire Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother for good, and let’s take up our swords.