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#17 - Financially Fearless Women with Barb Provost and Maggie Nielsen

Ladies, have you ever considered the unique aspects of your finances?

Today’s dialogue sheds new light on the critical topic of women’s financial empowerment. Eric Blake welcomes Dr. Barb Provost and Maggie Nielsen, founders of Purse Strings, to explore the critical topic of women’s financial empowerment. Together, they uncover the unique financial challenges faced by women and emphasize the importance of adopting a “financially fearless” approach.

 Key Highlights: 

  • Systemic Challenges: Addressing the pink tax, wage gaps, and the additional caregiving responsibilities that disproportionately affect women
  • Becoming Financially Fearless: The need for women to engage in proactive financial planning and decision-making
  • Industry Critique: A look at how the financial services industry’s male-centric models fail women, and the urgent need for female-focused financial education and services
  • Proactive Financial Planning: The importance of women taking charge of their financial planning, especially as they approach retirement
  • Purse Strings – A Vital Resource: The discussion showcases Purse Strings as an essential tool for financial literacy, connecting women with vetted financial professionals
  • Diverse Financial Professionals: The wide range of professionals available through Purse Strings, catering to the varied financial needs of women
  • Overcoming Financial Barriers: Strategies for overcoming financial shame and insecurity, empowering women to use money as a tool for achieving dreams and impacting the community
  • And much more!

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Ways to Enjoy Today's Episode

📚 Read a Transcript of the Episode Below
👀 Watch us on YouTube
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Episode Resources: 

➡ Join the Simply Retirement Newsletter
➡ Ask a Question
➡ Website: Pursestrings.co
➡ LinkedIn: Dr. Barbara Provost, EdD, MS Ed, MBM
➡ LinkedIn: Maggie Nielsen, MBA
➡ Website: Pursestrings.com/Podcast

Episode Transcript

Eric Blake: "Women are not a niche market. They are the market." - Women everywhere.

Wendy McConnell: Hello, and welcome to the Simply Retirement Podcast with your host, Eric Blake. I'm Wendy McConnell. I like that quote. 

Eric Blake: I knew you would, and I would love to take credit for it, but it comes directly from today’s guests. They're the founders of Purse Strings. That's the first place I saw it, but they may also be the ones who are shouting it most loudly and, maybe more importantly, doing something about it. 

Wendy McConnell: Well, I love that, and I love that they’re our guests today, too. 

Eric Blake: We've got this amazing dynamic mother and daughter duo again, the founders of Purse Strings, Dr. Barb Provost, and her partner and daughter, Maggie Nielsen. They’re also the hosts of the podcast with the best name in the financial services space and maybe any space when it comes to podcasting: Women and Money, The Shit We Don't Talk About. Honestly, I don't even know if I'm allowed to cuss on my own podcast, but I guess we're going to find out very soon.

Wendy McConnell: You're the boss. 

Eric Blake: Hey, there we go. Perfect. In the meantime, Barb and Maggie, welcome to the Simply Retirement Podcast. 

Barb Provost: Yay. We're so excited to be here, Eric. Thank you. 

Maggie Nielsen: Yeah. Thanks for having us, Eric. 

Eric Blake: I'm going to break every podcast rule in the book right now, if it’s okay with you because I'm going to share a quick story about why I have you on the podcast.

As I think I've shared with all three of you who are on here, I’m a very early riser. I get up at 5 AM, no matter what. Saturday, Sunday, Friday, doesn't matter. On weekends and holidays, I get up at 5 a.m. And one Sunday morning, I'm just kind of looking around on YouTube, looking for something to listen to on my morning walk. And I came across this interview with Ellen Rogin, who you guys are very familiar with, and she's interviewing Barb. And they're talking about Purse Strings, and they're talking about how the financial services industry has failed women when it comes to providing education and helping them to live financially fearlessly.

As a result of that, I reached out. I found out about what they call their Purse Strings-approved professionals, and I said to myself, ‘That sounds very interesting.” And this was really before I made the 100 percent commitment to focusing on women, but I was very close. A lot of what we were doing was focused on women, but the website wasn't fully directed that way.

And I reached out to Barb. We had a great conversation, and I became one of their approved professionals. The experience has been one of the best decisions I've made in my career. The connections we’ve made, the professionals I've gotten to know, many of whom have already been on the podcast, the opportunity to participate in different events, the caregiver event that Jeannie Doherty, another professional in the group is going to be putting on by the time this airs. Just so many great opportunities and so many great people I've gotten the chance to connect with. So, I want to say thank you for that opportunity and what you guys have done. 

Barb Provost: Eric, thank you so much for your kind, kind words. It just warms my heart.

Maggie Nielsen: Yeah, I think this podcast is over. We're good to go now. 

Eric Blake: Maybe breaking rules is a good thing sometimes, right? Well, let's start there. If you don't mind, tell the audience what Purse Strings is, what it's all about, and why you started it. What was the driving force behind you starting Purse Strings together?

Barb Provost: Well, I'm an adult educator. My work over 20-plus years has been educating within the financial industry services across many, many different organizations: I’d come in and build out educational strategies, content, and curriculum. I’d work with facilitators, everything from onboarding new financial professionals to helping them open their businesses, product process, procedure, marketing, everything.

I was very close to the work and the role of financial professionals. My concern was that 99% of them were male, and 99% were white male, and a lot of the work that I saw going on was a very linear process to sell a product, and all the product marketing materials featured a white man and woman sitting across from a white man at a desk and I just thought, ‘Boy, this doesn't really reflect the world, and who are these products really for?’ I kept saying to management, ‘I think we're missing a female market. I think there's a lot of disconnects here that could be corrected.’ I went on to tell them all the reasons why, and they just weren’t interested. So, long story short, I saw the same thing happening across many organizations without anyone listening or considering making changes to really focus on women.

I went through a divorce and met other women going through divorce. They all felt they were underserved by the financial industry. They had very fundamental questions; didn't know if they could afford it. Lots of questions, and these were smart, bright, educated women, but no one ever taught any of us about money.

Then, when Maggie was in high school, I’d grab her to run some errands, and we’d see women of retirement age bagging groceries or handing out samples at Costco, and I’d turn to her and ask, ‘Why are these women of retirement age doing this work? I mean, what's going on here?’

So, I hired a researcher to dig into the data and grabbed Maggie again, and said, ‘Maggie, be my scribe.’ And we talked to hundreds of women. Maggie, you take it from there. 

Maggie Nielsen: The main thing women would say to us was that their financial professional never even looked at them. I was amazed that someone was handing their life savings over to someone who wouldn't look at them. I was astounded. So Barbara and I came together to provide women with a lot of free tools and resources to get their foundational questions answered and to get the wheels turning.

But then women would ask us, ‘Who can I go to? Who can I really trust?’ And that's why, on our site, we have a list of top-tier financial professionals who are our Purse Strings-approved professionals. They’ve all been vetted and approved and love to serve the female market, just like you, Eric. Great professionals like yourself.

This way, women really do have a trusted place to go to get that knowledge and work with great professionals who will look at them and do a lot more for them as well. 

Eric Blake: There's a phrase I touched on earlier, but I’d really like to get your input on what you feel it means for women to live financially fearless.

Barb Provost: There was just a stat published that said that 56% of women worry about money once a week. Women have a lot of money worries and with good reason. We're behind in so many ways. The pink tax, the pay gap. 

Maggie Nielsen: Caregiving, over-educated, being underpaid. All these different things. Student loans.

Barb Provost: They’re so far behind in so many ways. Women are the hardest workers — like during the pandemic, we saw it like no other. They were the safety net for everything. They were the teachers. They were the nurses. They were the moms. They were the caregivers. They were the ones who really were the hub of the family and held a lot of things together.

Women put everyone else ahead of themselves, and they don't put their own oxygen mask on first. That’s why we're calling out to women and saying, ‘You need to think about yourself first. You need to think about your retirement. You need to think about your health and welfare and oversight.’

As you age, you're going to age alone, and you can't start investing too late. Women’s number one regret is that they've started too late or didn't invest, or didn't make smart financial decisions. It’s hard to catch up. Being financially fearless is really stepping into your power and coming to a community that doesn't have any judgment, helping you to start learning wherever you are, and working with the right financial professionals so you can put yourself first and get smart about money. 

Eric Blake: Well, I have my feelings and opinions about this next question, but as a man, quite honestly, my opinion doesn't matter. But from your perspective, how do you feel the financial services industry has failed women when it comes to education and helping them make decisions? 

Maggie Nielsen: There are a lot of different things there, but one is just the lack of education, and that goes for men and for women. Even in school these days, there's not a ton of financial education, but a lot of the advertising in the financial industry is very much geared toward men. It's always been a very linear sales process, and that's not always how women buy. They want to think about things. They have more questions, and it's always about ROIs and KPIs and things like that, where women are more focused on whether everyone is covered and whether everyone is protected. We also get messaging that suggests that a man should handle our money, either our fathers or our husbands.

They just kind of ignore us in the conversation. Being ignored leaves us out and leaves us behind. 

Barb Provost: And I’d add to that when you think of financial services, it's a model built by men, for men, to sell to men. That really hasn't changed, Eric. Making changes in this industry is like trying to turn a big tanker around.

Even to this day, only maybe 17 or 20% of financial services providers are women unless they're in an administrative role. The problem with that is the model doesn’t accommodate what women want and need to manage all that they have to do in their lives. Even if she's interested in this type of role, it's hard to maintain the work effort required because it's set up to a standard that doesn't help support them in their daily lives and routines. 

Eric Blake: I feel like it takes some type of drastic event or experience for a man to have a better, different attitude when it comes to educating women. In my situation, it was being raised by a single mother. I never knew my biological father. She got divorced a couple of times, and now she's in this retirement phase of life on her own, having to make all these important decisions. And my grandmother was widowed when she was 62. 

You hate to think that's what it takes for a man to realize the significance of what's going on here. That’s why, from my perspective, if I work with a couple, we’re going to take it from the wife's point of view. We're going to make sure we do everything possible to make sure she's going to be okay because she's going to live longer.

Barb Provost: You really need to step into the shoes of women, which I'm sure is hard for men to do, but you really need to see what they're up against from their perspective. It's a scary place for women — money and their financial future and the expense of aging alone and their own health and wealth oversight.

So many gentlemen come to Purse Strings and say, ‘My dad died, and I had to go help my mom, and I didn't realize that she didn't know much about where the money was. My dad didn't make great decisions. She didn't have as much money as I thought. I had to unravel this rat's nest.’ 

I don't want women to have to go through that. So yeah, there's usually some kind of ‘Wow’ realization that this is a big need. 

Eric Blake: We're getting into that retirement age and beyond, where we're going to see more and more of these stories popping up where the right decisions weren't made, or the woman wasn't involved in the decisions.

Maggie Nielsen: It’s kind of a bummer that we have to have these scary events to set us straight rather than just being proactive about it and having a beautiful life later on. 

Eric Blake: Sometimes it just takes that slap in the face to get you on the right path. 

Barb Provost: It's unfortunate, though. You know, our call to action is for women to start today. Just get started. That's what we're here for at Purse Strings. There’s no judgment. No shame, which is so much of what goes on around money and women. It's fear. It's embarrassment. It's, ‘I should have known better, or nobody taught me this.’ It's all of that. We have to step through all that yuckiness that we feel and into a community that says it doesn't matter.

Let's just start where you are — build some strategies and work in partnership with the right professionals, and learn what you need to know and make the right moves. You can have a beautiful financial future. 

Eric Blake: Why is it important for women to work with a financial advisor? How do they find the right financial advisor for them? What do you think women should be looking for when they’re looking to hire a financial professional? 

Barb Provost: We always tell women to interview them. We have a list of vetted professionals right on our site. Every professional has their own webpage, and we ask them to explain why they love serving women. We also require their bio, their credentials, and three things they do in their off time.

[We want them to tell a little bit about who they are, who their family is, what they love to do, and what their costs are. That's a question women never want to ask. They always think, ‘I'm not going to go because I don't have enough money for them, or it's going to be too expensive. I won't be able to afford it.’ They don't even want to venture into the conversation. So again, on our site, we ask the professionals to include their minimum fees on there. Some of them start from zero to $10,000. Some start at half a million, some are more, but there's a wealth of different starting points and different advisors who can provide for anybody who comes to our site and make it easy for them.

Barb Provost: With one click, they can link to your website and learn about you. They can look at all the different profiles and pick two or three that they think they’re gonna vibe with or they like what they’re hearing on an advisor’s page, then make an appointment and interview them. They’re going to get financially naked with these people, so they want to make sure they feel like it’s a person who’s going to be in their court, answer their questions, and treat them with respect and dignity.

You want to really make sure that you’re interviewing a couple of different financial professionals and finding the one who you vibe with. 

Eric Blake: Can you go through the process of vetting these professionals? What would you look for in a financial advisor? You kind of went through a couple of those, but is there anything else you’d add, any specific questions you feel like women should be asking? What would you be looking for if you were going to hire a financial advisor? 

Maggie Nielsen: One thing is always make sure your financial advisor is a fiduciary, which means they have your best interest in mind because that's a huge thing when it comes to financial services. You don't want to be sold the product. I would also like to know what their specialties are. What are their key areas? As a younger person who has student loan debt and who’s going to be a high-income earner, I'm looking for someone who can help me approach my debt. Barb might be looking for somebody who can help plan for retirement, who understands the second marriage aspect and how you want your assets divided between different families.

So, really understanding whether their specialties align with your needs because there are so many different certifications and designations out there. I always like to make sure that their specialty is in the area that I'm looking for. 

Eric Blake: That was one of the things that was a challenge for me, being a financial advisor. You feel like you want to help everybody. Every woman that comes to you with a question, you want to be able to help them. One of the things that I found is it’s very difficult to specialize in everything. I don't deal with student debt. I don't really deal a lot with 529s. But I know I can help someone who’s in that five-year window plan their retirement income strategy.

And that's been one of the most valuable things for me about Purse Strings, knowing that if I’m not the right fit, there's somebody else I can refer them to.

Maggie Nielsen: I love when someone can say, ‘That's not my strong suit, but here's somebody who can help,’ because that means you're well-versed in what you do. I think more highly of a person who can give that person away and who's not trying to hold on to every person who comes their way. 

Eric Blake: It’s hard. There's the other aspect of wanting to make sure that whoever you’re referring to is as passionate as you are about helping women make those decisions. So there’s a level where you're questioning yourself., 

I'd like to hear a little more about the podcast. Who came up with the name, and how long did it take for you to agree upon it? 

Maggie Nielsen: I think we were just having lunch with a girlfriend who's pretty funny, and we said, ‘We're going to talk about the shit we don't talk about.’And then we said, ‘Why don't we just call it Women and money and the shit we don't talk about,’ and we kind of looked at each other like should we commit to that? And we both said, ‘Yeah, let's make it straightforward.’ I don't think there was much debate after that. We just were like, ‘This is exactly it.’

Barb Provost: Exactly. There’s so much we need to unpack for women, and we need to start opening up the dialogue. The same friend had a funny saying and I put it in my wallet. It said, ‘Is this lighting a fire under anyone's caboose today?’ That's really what we want to do. We want to shake it up a little bit. Of course, we say you need to save for retirement and your emergency fund. Those are the basics of what we do. But we also need to say, ‘Hey, if you're thinking about going through divorce, then before you even mention the D word, here's a worksheet of the top 10 things you need to do first.’ Who's telling them that? Or if they’re leaving the workforce to care for children, before they do that, here's what they need to have in their household first. They need to make sure they know where the money is.

Barb Provost: You know, you're a beneficiary on things. You have life insurance. He has life insurance. You know who the beneficiaries are, and you have a will, you have powers of attorney. You need to set yourself up. That's a very family-centric thing to make sure you're set.

If you’re making changes in your marriage and your income, you need to make sure you’re not walking away from all your benefits, all the contributions you made to Social Security, and all the contributions you made to your 401k. Who's telling them that?

We have to unpack these conversations that women are afraid of or don't know what they don't know. We're just starting to talk about it. 

Eric Blake: I think that's a good point, too. We've talked about financial advisors and financial planning and that kind of thing, but there are so many other different types of professionals that are on Purse Strings and that you've interviewed on your podcast. What are some of the other examples of professionals who women should have access to, or be able to connect with? 

Maggie Nielsen: We always start with an attorney. We need the estate plan. We need wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. That's always a huge one. But you know, 18,000 women are opening new businesses every day. We need people to help us with the books, whether that’s a fractional CFO or an accountant, and a business coach. 

We also have people who can help purchase an already-existing business. I didn't even know that was an opportunity you could have. Just bringing that conversation to light to show people they can start a business or they could just buy a business. 

Then there's real estate. We buy and sell homes, either that we're living in or that we own as investment properties, and it can get very intricate, especially during a divorce. We have some people who specialize in just purchasing a home during a divorce, who understand what alimony and child support can go into buying that house. What counts, what doesn't count, how to make sure that not all the money is going into the house, leaving you with no extra money. 

I'm trying to think who else we have. Some financial coaches to help pay down debt and get your budget straight. 

Barb Provost: Everybody has unique slices they go deep on. Like you said, Eric, if you have someone who needs special needs planning, you may not be the expert, but you can partner with somebody at Purse Strings who has that area of expertise.

Eric Blake: I'm going to ask this question once, but I would love to get each of you to respond. What haven’t I asked that I should have? Are there any other nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share for women who are looking to live financially fearless?

Barb Provost: I always say there's so much shame that women feel about money and insecurity, with good reason. We were given poor money messages growing up. We’re still given poor money messages from all the marketing that comes our way. That we spend too much. That we should save, whereas when they're talking to men, it's all about invest, invest, invest.

I'll tell you what … women are a powerful market. Hashtag Taylor Swift. We are making big, big moves, and women are coming into the largest transfer of wealth in history, to the tune of 30 trillion dollars. We want women to step into their power and start learning about money. At Purse Strings, 99% of what we give away is free.

We're here for the asking. We have professionals lined up and ready to help women because, with this large transference of wealth, women are going to have a one-time opportunity to really leverage any inheritance they're getting and to really set themselves up for a beautiful financial future.

Our fear is they won't know what to do with it. We've seen this before. They start giving it away. People start realizing they have some money,, and they start asking for it, and women feel like, ‘I need to help little Johnny with his tuition,’ or whatever it might be. And they start giving it away. Women really need to start stepping forward and putting themselves first.

Get smart about money, learn what they need to know, and connect with financial professionals at Purse Strings who have their best interests at heart and can help them plan a great financial future where they can have it all. 

Maggie Nielsen: I think I would say remember money is just a tool, and let's get excited about using it. There are so many great opportunities. I mean, we talk about all this shame and stuff, but I’m so excited for what's to come with women and all the power in our hands. I think we're going to change the world and live the best, most empowering lives. When women are doing well, we empower and help so many other women and men and children. It's amazing. So I'm just so excited to see what's possible. And dream big. Don't just think small picture, think big picture. There are a lot of amazing things that can happen out there, and we're all capable of doing it. 

Eric Blake: I was so excited to have you both on. You two have made such a difference in our business over the last year and a half. I couldn't be happier with our relationship and getting to know you and some of the opportunities you've given me, being on the podcast, and being on some of your live events. It's been, it's been an excellent experience. 

What are the best ways for our listeners to get in touch with you and connect with you? What is the website, the podcast? Are there any specific details you want to share? We'll make sure we get those in the show notes as well. How can people reach out to you?

Maggie Nielsen: We're at Purse.Strings.co on all social media. I’d love a follow. Our website is www.pursestrings.co. And you can go to our home page and check out our professionals: the directory is right on our home page. Then listen to our podcasts — Women and Money, The Shit We Don't Talk About. It's on all your streaming platforms. Give it a listen, and let us know your thoughts. I can't wait to hear your feedback. 

Barb Provost: I would add that we're always looking for financial professionals like you, Eric, who love to serve the female market or who have a natural female following. Whether you're a financial planner, advisor, attorney, CPA, or bookkeeper, however, you might help women in any way financially, we'd love to talk to you and just let women know we're there for them.

We're free—no barriers here at Purse Strings. We're here so that all women can be financially fearless. 

Eric Blake: Awesome. Again, thank you so much. It's been excellent. If you'd like to learn more about our firm, Blake Wealth Management, please visit our website at www.blakewealthmanagement.com. You can find more about my story and access a lot of our free resources... from our newsletter, YouTube, and blog. All that fun stuff.

If you're a woman who is less than five years from retirement and you have questions about how to optimize Social Security, minimize your lifetime tax liability, and invest smarter, just click that "Start Here" button on the website. There, you can learn more about our process for helping you make an educated and informed decision about whether we’re the right firm to help you navigate your retirement journey. 

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