By Emily Merrell
What if high school taught you about personal finance rather than algebra? It would probably yield a much more prepared adult. Fortunately, there are amazing people like Kelsey Smith who have founded organizations like Girlfunds. Rather than googling how to pay off your debt, Kelsey organizes events to empower and educate women on all things finance. Learn more on how she took a hobby and evolved it into a constant stream of events.
SDS: As the founder of Girlfunds, can you tell us why you saw the need to create it?
KELSEY SMITH: Girlfunds was inspired by my personal financial journey. After living in San Francisco for a few years after graduating college, I felt like I had developed solid budgeting techniques but wasn’t doing enough to really make money “work” for me. Despite a career in the finance industry, I didn’t feel properly equipped to make investing decisions or even take full advantage of my employer’s retirement plan, ESPP (employee stock purchase plan), etc.
I started asking for advice from friends/some of my female coworkers and realized that I wasn’t alone – not only did my peers have many of the same questions, but they actually wanted to talk about money! These conversations were incredibly helpful in furthering my education, encouraging me to ask more questions, and most importantly, take action! In experiencing firsthand how much of an immediate impact discussing money can have, I was inspired to create an organization that could bring women together to do just that.
SDS: How has community impacted the conversation around finances?
KS: Community plays a HUGE part in furthering the conversation around finances. For many of us, there is a stigma surrounding the discussion of money, even with your closest friends and family. That stigma often creates barriers to seeking advice, sharing knowledge and taking control of current and future financial lives. One of the primary goals of Girlfunds is to remove that stigma through a community that promotes financial literacy and action.
SDS: What is one aspect of finance that most women seem to be missing? What’s one thing you wish you had learned at a younger age?
KS: That women can be (and are!) good at it! Being financially literate is not reserved for one gender or profession. Both men and women are “experts” in our values and what we want to accomplish in life – money plays a part in both of those areas. Research has actually shown that women are stronger investors than men, both professionally and personally.
One thing I wish that I had learned at a younger age is the power of compound interest – and that one doesn’t have to be making a lot of money to start investing. In college and for the first few years living in San Francisco, I was so focused on budgeting and saving that I put investing on the back burner until I was in a more “stable” financial position. However, a key component in compound interest’s magic is that it’s not about how much as it is about how early: even putting aside a small percentage of your paycheck when you’re 22 can be incredibly impactful to your future financial life.
SDS: Financial literacy can be daunting – how do you see women differing from men when approaching finances?
KS: In our society, girls are typically taught to be careful with money and save it, while boys are taught to pursue money and grow it. As a result, men are often more confident around money – when it comes to investing, they tend to dive in and learn-on-the-go while women are paralyzed by perfectionism and prevented from taking the first step. We also see these differences play out when it comes to career trajectory. Women often don’t ask for a promotion until they’re “ready” – when in reality, no one is ever truly ready. Take the plunge!
SDS: How can we learn more about Girlfunds?