Monthly Archives: March 2014

Bag Lady Fears Endure

Bag lady – a term used to describe a homeless woman who walks around the streets of a city carrying her possessions in a bag. This is still a real and persistent fear of even the most successful women.

I wrote about this eight years ago when I read that the rich, the talented and successful admitted to having bag lady fears. “Bag lady syndrome is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute,”  MSN money columnist Jay McDonald wrote in January 2006. “Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.”

What’s surprising is that years later, a survey conducted by Allianz Insurance company, showed that bag lady fears still torment the wealthy woman and cut across all corners of life and levels of education and income. Half the women who responded to the survey say they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ fear losing all their money and becoming homeless.

A third of the highest-income earners ($200,000+) say they worry about becoming a bag lady. Even 46% of Women of InfluenceSM, who generally are less worried about their retirement savings, can’t shake this fear.

While bag lady fear may be irrational for Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem and Lily Tomlin,  it may not be for most women. It’s not just about money. It’s about the fear of not being in control of one’s life, of feeling weak and unsure about our ability to survive on our own. Psychologically, it goes even deeper – it’s the anxiety of being utterly alone.

According to the survey, after the fear of losing a husband, the thought of running out of money in retirement is what 57% of women say keeps them up at night. Many of us who are or have been married don’t have a history of managing our own money. We’re not used to thinking about the bigger picture. We think our husband is better at making the ‘really big’ money decisions. We balance the household budget and decide what to buy; he handles the investments for our future. Our financial decisions result in money spent and gone, not invested for growth.

Divorce or widowhood is the wake up call that we really are on our own. Our future is up to us and what if we blow it?

Men, whether successful or not, don’t seem to worry about becoming destitute in their old age, invisible, unloved, roaming the streets, scrounging in garbage cans for food.They don’t spend their adult years fearing it. There is no ‘bag gent’ syndrome.



Stalked by Randomness

One week ago, 239 people boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Kuala Lumpur, expecting to land in Beijing a few hours later. The plane vanished and has still not been found. Vanishing from the world’s radar screen practically never happens.

A woman vacationing in Florida is killed by a giant stingray that leaped out of the water and struck her as she sunbathed on the deck of a boat. Stingrays practically never do that.

In the same week, a tourist visiting a friend in Manhattan was sleeping late when he was killed by a construction crane which toppled and crushed the friend’s townhouse. Cranes rarely topple.

Freak events always catch us off guard. We can’t even picture the weird things that can happen to us. The ones we can imagine, we try not to think about.

Last week, the invoice for my long-term care insurance arrived. It’s a payment I’d rather not make.  For that money,I could take a cruise or other trip, landscape the front yard or redecorate the living room. Why should I pay this premium when I feel good? Do I even want to hang around if I can’t do things for myself? Wouldn’t the money be better spent investing in Amazon or Apple stock? And on, and on…..

My husband died in a freak accident. So did the daughters of two of my dearest friends. No one who suffered a traumatic loss because of a random event ever feels truly safe again.

Most of the people I know don’t have long-term care insurance. They’re protected by the same illusions I used to wrap myself in.  Perhaps the difference between us is that they haven’t been on the loss side of a sudden freak event.  They’re not stalked by the feeling that disability or death can rob them of someone they love in an instant.

Temperament still inclines me towards optimism. In an ideal world, I’ll be vibrant and vital until my late nineties, then die quickly without pain or fuss.  In the meantime, I’ll just pay the premium.

Control Freak or Financial Abuser?

I’ve written about this before, but I keep meeting women who can’t tell the difference between a controlling husband and a financially abusive one. Many wives admit to fears they had while they were still engaged. They married anyway, thinking that their husband’s financially controlling behavior would change after the wedding.

Financial control can be a precursor to financially abusive behavior. A husband controls the purse strings, refusing to share financial information with his wife but expecting that she account for every choice and every penny spent.

Many wives suffer in silence, telling themselves that their husband’s controlling behavior is a personality quirk.They may still have access to joint finances, reasonable mobility and buying choices. They may be frustrated by their husband’s attitude and behavior, but they don’t live with a gnawing sense of fear.

Financial abuse is different. It is behavior designed to isolate a woman into a state of  financial dependence and fear. The most important thing to remember about financial abuse is that the abuser is not out of control. He can, at the drop of a hat, change his behavior to suit the social circumstances. He can be charming and persuasive, but his objective is to isolate his partner and make her dependence on him total.He is deliberately choosing to control his partner’s behavior by cutting off her access to money, mobility and choice.

Financial abuse can often lead to physical abuse as well. It happens within all age ranges, educational levels, ethnic backgrounds, and financial levels. The rich socialite who lives in the largest house in the best neighborhood is as likely to be a victim of financial abuse as the poorest wife in the toughest section of town.

The thing to remember about financial abuse is that it often precedes emotional, verbal and ultimately physical abuse. Here are some signs to watch out for:

Controlling the finances.

Withholding money or credit cards.

Giving you an allowance.

Making you account for every penny you spend.

Stealing from you or taking your money.

Using your assets for his personal benefit.

Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter).

Preventing you from working or choosing your own career.

Sabotaging your job (making you miss work or calling constantly, etc.)

If something about your relationship with your husband or partner scares you and you need to talk, you can get help by contacting the following:

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go to

This website lists the numbers and locations of domestic violence hotlines for the 50 states.