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Ladies, Let’s Get Financially Savvy

Nonprofit Helps Women With Free Financial Education, Empowerment

Photo Courtesy Savvy Ladies

Stacy Francis’s mission to help women achieve financial literacy was carved out of her childhood. Her grandmother, Myra, found herself in an abusive relationship. She explained the experience of coming to understand what was going on in an interview with Irene Weinberg, host of the Grief and Rebirth: Finding the Joy in Life Podcast

“I found myself, as a young girl, seeing that my grandfather didn’t treat her well,” she said. “As I became older, it became more and more apparent that it wasn’t just not treating her well. It wasn’t only yelling at her. It was physically abusing her. Along with that is financial abuse. In fact, in 98% of domestic violence situations, there’s financial abuse as well.” 

Her grandmother passed away due to that abuse, but beforehand, she told her family that she had stayed in the situation because she felt “financially trapped.” Francis wanted to help others and never see another woman in such a situation, which is why she created Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit that offers financial advice and education free of charge. As she told CNBC, “It really is my love letter to my grandmother.” 

Photo Courtesy Savvy Ladies

It all started in 2003 when she began hosting workshops in her apartment in New York City. Now, more than two decades later, Savvy offers a whole suite of free offerings to ensure every woman can get educated about their finances and become economically secure, thereby reducing the number who fall prey to financial abuse. 

“Financial knowledge is power and helps make families stronger, communities better, and ultimately change society,” the nonprofit says on its website. 

Savvy Ladies is completely independent of any other financial institution or organization, further insulating these women against economic manipulation. Programming comes courtesy of sponsors like BlackRock, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, and Nationwide, but there are no solicitations for services that would cost them money. 

Photo Courtesy Savvy Ladies

This financial literacy gap between women and men is well documented. This year, the TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index (P-Fin Index), an annual report about the financial literacy of American adults, found that men answered 53% of questions correctly but were only correct 43% of the time, on average. 

Meanwhile, 23% of men had “very high financial literacy,” compared to only 9% of women. A 2012 study that used data from RAND American Life Panel Internet surveys theorizes that this is largely due to the division of labor in households, where men “more often than women specialize in financial decisions, thereby acquiring more financial knowledge.” 

Francis would seem to agree, based on the experiences in her household, which she described in detail on Morningstar’s The Long View podcast. As the family’s investment manager, she said, “Because I see what happens when you go through a divorce, or God forbid, if I passed away, he would actually be in a really difficult position unless he was fully integrated into understanding the finances.”

That is why once a month, they go on a “financial date night,” where they cover their expenses and investments in full. 

Unfortunately, not every family has such a system. Because of the possibility of divorce and women’s longer expected lifetimes, they could find themselves unprepared to make important decisions later in life. 

Photo Courtesy Savvy Ladies

It makes sense that 75% of the women reaching out to Savvy Ladies are single, divorced, or widowed. Fifty-two percent have household incomes of $50,000 or less, and 46% are women of color or multi-racial. 

However, Savvy Ladies’ resources and services are available to all women aged 18 and older, no matter their income level or race. Fifty-two percent seek help with budgeting in the face of hardship; 39% need support to deal with overwhelming debt; and 31% require support in dealing with inadequate retirement income. 

One of Savvy Ladies’ most valuable resources is the Free Financial Helpline. It virtually connects women with pro bono financial advisors for an hour at a time about their financial questions.

By filling out an intake form and submitting their question online, women can get matched with the best available advisor who can offer unbiased, independent answers. Frequent topics include budgeting and debt management, divorce and money, family finances and small business planning, home and rental financial arrangements, marriage and financial planning, school loans, retirement, investing, and saving. 

Other resources are available to explore in your own time. The Savvy Financial Wellness Quiz is a great starting point, helping users discover the gaps in their financial knowledge to create a financial independence roadmap. The Savvy Blog features posts from experts and professionals. 

More than 100 FINRA-compliant financial literacy classes also are available on the website. They offer the same topics typically covered by the Helpline but in an in-depth delivery, allowing women to learn more. Created in partnership with the Fitness Financial Group, experts design the courses, and a Helpline Volunteer introduces each with a video. 

In fact, video is a powerful learning tool often used by Savvy Ladies. The nonprofit’s Savvy Series Panels consist of virtual conversations between a keynote moderator and a panel you can register to join live and are also recorded for later playback. Themes in prior years have included Get Health Savvy, Get Divorce Savvy, Get Career Savvy, and Get Success Savvy. Video webinars are also available in the Webinar Library, divided into topics like Credit 101 and 7 Things Every Woman Should Have in Her LinkedIn

Video Courtesy Savvy Ladies 

The impact has been enormous. According to the organization, it has connected more than 25,000 women with online and in-person programs across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than 200 women use the Helpline each month, and more than 180 volunteers operate. 

A 2021 study conducted with Foundry10 found that women who participated in the Debt Education program “reported less financial anxiety, greater financial self-confidence, and greater financial self-efficacy.” The team was honored with the opportunity to ring the Nasdaq closing bell in April of last year to celebrate all its accomplishments and more than 20 years of hard work. 

However, none of this would have been possible without Francis’s other venture, New York-based financial advising and wealth management company Francis Financial, Inc., which she launched the year after Savvy Ladies. It also seeks to empower clients both financially and personally and “to create a place where our clients feel taken care of in every aspect of their financial life.” 

Photo Courtesy Savvy Ladies

She realized that no matter how valuable her nonprofit’s mission was, no one was just going to write her a check to make the world a better place.

Francis Financial provided the funding to push back into the nonprofit until donations, grants, and sponsorships were pouring in on their own. 

Savvy Ladies has, therefore, been able to diversify its services over the years. The Power of the ASK podcast is hosted by Lisa Zeiderman, board chair, and Precious Williams, board director, otherwise known as the #KillerPitchMaster, for her incredible elevator pitches. The podcast pitches itself as “your dose of no-nonsense guidance and actionable advice to master your finances, skyrocket your career, and find your inner strength.” 

Francis also used to have a podcast through Francis Financial called Financially Ever After, and episodes are still available for listening. One of the last episodes was about Recognizing Financial Abuse and Gaslighting, featuring an interview with a woman who found herself in a similar situation as Francis’s grandmother. 

Both Savvy Ladies and Francis Financial harken back to her grandmother, who lives on through her work. 

“I feel her all the time. I have a special dress that she left for me. Whenever I do something in honor of Savvy Ladies®, where I spoke on Capitol Hill at International Widow’s Day, talking about the financial challenges women face as widows, I channel her, and I wear that dress,” Francis told Weinberg. “She also left me some beautiful jewelry that I wear, whether it’s our gala or I was in front of a large foundation asking for a grant. She’s here with us.”

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