Dollar diva$: Women-specific advice for weathering economic storms


To get the real scoop on women, money and the economy, we talked with four top executives in the Twin Cities banking industry about how women are reacting to the economic crisis and about their own personal money philosophies.

During tight economic times, are women impacted differently—and do they react differently—than men?

BR: Absolutely. They don’t have the earning power that men do. And a lot of them are single mothers. They have to take care of the family.

The bankers we spoke with were:
Heidi Gesell, president and CEO of St. Paul-based BankCherokee, a family owned community bank celebrating its 100th anniversary

Christine Hobrough, a senior vice president and regional manager of U.S. Bank, a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp, which was the sixth-largest commercial bank in the U.S. as of September

Gail T. Mikolich, executive vice president and COO of Northeast Bank, and

Belva H. Rasmussen, board chair and CEO of Northeast Bank, which has served the northeast Minneapolis area as an independent community bank for 61 years.

GM: For women in these times, I think a lot of it goes back to ‘what does my family need first’ and then worry about the rest later. Not to say that men don’t worry about their families, but I think that it’s always women’s first instinct.

CH: Not really. … Women and men make choices depending on their situation, education and resources. Most women have multiple priorities at any given time. Women tend to be good at looking at the big picture and the impact of decisions on those around us. I think this helps us balance needs and make appropriate choices all of the time.

What’s your personal money philosophy? Who mentored you about money?

BR: Right now in this economy, be frugal. Don’t spend what you don’t have and save a little bit. I grew up in a banking family. My father was a banker … and my mother was a very frugal woman. Because of it, they started very simple in life. And she carried it on and absolutely passed it on to us­-that you don’t spend what you don’t have, and you save some.

Economic stress hits women harder. Older women especially feel the crunch

Women were more likely than men to report the economy as a “significant” source of stress, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) released in October. And women 44 and older were most likely to rank the economy as a significant stressor.

The APA found that 80 percent of those surveyed online between June and August 2008 reported the economy as a significant cause of stress, up from 66 percent in April.

“If Americans continue to experience these high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, they are at risk for developing serious illnesses,” said Katherine Nordal, Ph.D., APA’s executive director for professional practice.

In general, the annual Stress in America survey found that more women than men reported experiencing more physical symptoms of stress, like fatigue, irritability, headaches and feelings of depression and sadness.

Women also report coping with stress in unhealthy ways at higher rates, like eating poorly, coping by shopping and napping to manage stress. Dr. Nordal advises women to be more mindful of their stress levels as well as the emotional and physical symptoms of their stress.

“People’s emotional and physical health is more vulnerable, given the high levels of stress in our country right now,” she said. “Pay attention to what’s happening … but refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype. Take stock of your particular situation and what causes you stress. Reach out to family, friends and trusted advisors. Research shows that receiving support from others is effective in managing stress.”

If those strategies fail, the APA recommends seeking professional help. More on the APA survey and advice on staying healthy during tough times is available at the APA’s website,

Source of stress for women by age group:

Ages 18-29: housing costs

Ages 30-43: money

Ages 44+: economy

Sources of stress for men and women:

Economy: Women 84%, Men 75%

Money: Women 83%, Men 78%

Job Stability: Women 57%, Men 55%

Housing Costs: Women 66%, Men 58%

Health problems affecting their families: Women 70%, Men 63%

Physical symptoms of stress in women and men:

Fatigue: Women 57%, Men 49%

Irritability: Women 65%, Men 55%

Headaches: Women 56%, Men 36%

Feelings of depression or sadness: Women 56%, Men 39%

Women and men coping with stress in unhealthy way:

Eating poorly: Women 56%, Men 40%

Coped by shopping: Women 25%, Men 11%

Napping to manage stress: Women 43%, Men 32%

HG: Spend some of it, save some of it, share some of it-pretty basic. What percentage of it goes to which bucket varies. … It’s a philosophy that I learned from my parents. And I have a 10-year-old and it’s something that we try to impart with him.

CH: I tend to be more conservative and look for real value. I use coupons and avoid full price whenever possible. I save as much as I can in our company’s 401(k) program and have worked hard to build savings accounts for our children’s future. I am well insured to be sure my family will be taken care of. And, I give back generously to the community. In all of these areas, I started small-even $1 per paycheck 25 years ago-and have grown my deposit or contribution over the years. … I grew up with four sisters and a single, working mother. Money was tight and I landed my first job at a young age. I truly learned the value of hard work and money by going without wants, and even missing some of the needs, at times.

Should we be talking more about credit card debt as we try to fix the economy?

BR: I don’t think we’ve been diligent enough to pass it on to the young people. We learned to live within the means of our parents. But as you got affluent yourself-second generation and now third generation-we were probably remiss in stressing to them ‘hey, we have it today. But you have to worry about tomorrow.’

How can women be empowered during tough economic times?

CH: Women who take ownership, seek guidance when needed and continually learn are empowered at all times. … Knowledge will be more important than ever going forward. Be informed and involved! Read, study and learn as much as you can about finances and the financial markets. Be pro-active with your finances and make active choices with your long-term goals in mind. Ask for help from a professional banker, accountant or an attorney when you need it. … Step back from any emotion involved; look at the pros and the cons to make the best decision. … Don’t be afraid to change direction if you aren’t satisfied with the result.

HG: Be conservative, be frugal, save money. If you don’t need to buy something, don’t buy it.

Any thoughts on the efforts to fix the economy?

BR: Bailing [the banks] out isn’t going to teach any lessons. … It troubles me that it’s so easy for them to get off without putting any constraints on them so it doesn’t happen again to this extent.

GM: As a conservative I’d rather see the market work. I did think they needed to do a bailout package, though, with the financial industry. Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac] impacted so many financial institutions and we all know that banks are the cornerstones of many communities.

But the ones that really got in trouble were not your community banks. It was your investment banks, your mortgage banks-they kind of lump us all into one. I’m on the board of the Minnesota Bankers Association and that’s really been one of our key messages these past several months, that Minnesota banks are strong. That we are well capitalized and that those that aren’t will do whatever they need to in order to be well capitalized.

HG: Many banks, especially community banks, are making nowhere [near] the kind of money that they’ve been talking about.

One of the downsides, obviously, of all these foreclosures is what it’s done to certain communities. It’s been devastating. … It’s good to see some positive happening in the new program allowing [nonprofit] community groups to buy foreclosed houses [directly from lenders]-that’s good. [Minneapolis and St. Paul launched a program in November that allows nonprofits the first option to buy foreclosed homes prior the homes being placed on the market. It’s the first program of its kind, according to Finance and Commerce newspaper.]

What do you think you will be saying next year?

HG: Reminding people to save and to stretch. … This is an economic cycle and it feels different, certainly, from what we’ve seen in the past. Part of that is because it’s a much more global marketplace, and we’re dealing with different factors.

GM: I hope it’s almost over and that we’re on the way up a year from now! I really hope that’s what we see.

CH: More of the same-build a strategy to achieve your long-term goals, learn more and ask for help.