When Barb Provost’s mom came home from her fourth grade parent-teacher conference, she relayed the teachers’ feedback, “You’re not as smart as the rest of the children, but you’re going to make it.” After hearing this, Barb realized that even if she didn’t fit in now, she knew that her skills and knowledge would be valuable later. There wasn’t something “wrong” with her then and she certainly isn’t wrong now.
Barb is a 25-year veteran of the Chicago business industry. She holds multiple master’s degrees and has a doctorate in adult continuing education. She’s taught leadership at universities and at some of America’s foremost financial companies. She’s also the founder of Purse Strings, where she provides women with free online tools and services to help them make smarter financial decisions and searches for top-tier financial professionals to serve women.
In this episode, Barb discusses her early struggles and what it means to conquer imposter syndrome, the power of proving people wrong, and how her experiences led her to create a truly unique business with a focus on finance for women.
Overcomer Playlist Recommendation
Pearls of Wisdom
- You can do anything that you put your mind to.
- There’s no such thing as an overnight success, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
- The importance of having a good support network around you.
- Wherever you are in life, take control of your finances now. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Tweetables“If it's a priority for you, you will find a way to make it happen.” - Barb Provost Click To Tweet “You just have to believe that you can fight your way past it, that you can find the people who have done it, who have gotten past it. They can encourage you.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “No matter what the bumpy road is to get there, if it's important enough to you, continue the journey.” - Barb Provost Click To Tweet “If you are focused and you have a goal, you'll find a way to get through it.” - Barb Provost Click To Tweet “Women are going to be that last woman left standing to handle it. So, make sure that you know where your money is and what's going on with it.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.” - Henry Ford Click To Tweet
- She Handled It, So Can You!: An Inspiring and Empowering Financial Guide for Women
- Purse Strings
- Purse Strings for Financially Fearless Women (Facebook)
- Beyond Bitchy Podcast
- Think and Grow Rich
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Connect with Arwen Becker
Arwen Becker: You know, I was thinking back to a story I told a little bit about in my book, She Handled It, So Can You!, and I talked about when the Great Recession hit our financial planning practice. And the financial impact that it had on those years was very, very significant. It was, in fact, devastating as it was for many of you. Our practice went through at about an 18-month time period and lost about 66% of the revenue. So, at that point, I realized something had to give, both Randy and I did. And so, as we were looking at our lives, we certainly were going to keep our business running. We were going to keep our employees employed and we were not going to go bankrupt. But something had to give. And as I spoke about in my book, that was having our personal residence foreclosed on. And for me as a mother, that was really devastating because my youngest son, our 13-year-old, was actually born at that house by design. That was intentional. And so, it just felt terrible that I had to give that up. But as I was looking at the years of being a financial advisor after that, I felt like a fake. I felt that I had become a fraudulent advisor that I was somebody that people could not believe in anymore. Like I was this shadow that kind of hung on the wall in the room and people could see right through it.
But yet what I also realized going through that experience is the amount of women, the thousands of women that I have talked to over the years, so many of them have been through very significant financial experiences. So, it actually created a relatability. But it still was those many years where I felt like an imposter. And today's guest knows that feeling that I had all too well. Barbara Provost is a 25-year veteran of the fast-paced world of Chicago business with multiple master's degrees and a doctorate in Adult Continuing Education. Barb is an expert on how adults learn. She's going to talk a little bit about that. In her role as educator and adjunct professor, Barb has taught new and emerging leaders at some of America's foremost financial companies. Over the past five years, she launched and has grown Purse Strings, which provides free online tools and services to women so they can make smart financial decisions and she searches for top-tier financial professionals who know how to serve a female's market. Important. Now, women have this finely curated list of all things financial and experts that they can use as part of their financial team.
Arwen Becker: Barb, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Barb Provost: I am so glad to be here, Arwen. Thank you for your invite.
Arwen Becker: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I can't wait to dive into this topic and some of the fun things that I've already learned about you. There are little bits of conversation. But before we go there, why don't you tell the audience what song you chose for the Overcomer’s Playlist and why did you choose it?
Barb Provost: Oh, sure. So, a song that I must have listened to a thousand billion times is Brave by Sara Bareilles. And I think when I think over some of the things that I've done in my life to kind of push me and move me ahead, it took so much courage to kind of step out on that skinny limb or step in front of that classroom or apply for certain things that I didn't think I was capable of doing, and you just had to really be brave about doing it. And even if you were going to fall or even if the answer was no, you still had to have the courage. So, that is a song that I've listened to a lot. When I was afraid to do something, I would just listen to that song and just say, "You just got to try it.”
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Because all of us feel that way at times. It's just how we can get ourselves through it and past it. That's good. Are you going to sing it for us? No?
Barb Provost: No. I'm not going to sing it for you but I'll share with you a couple of the lyrics that really resonated with me. And it's just really:
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out”
It’s so often we feel like we need to come up with the best line or the best comeback or the best answer all the time and curate everything so that it's perfect and, really, you just have to step up and advocate for yourself and be brave and say what you want to say to people that sometimes may be very intimidating but how can we move forward if we aren't brave enough to do that? And it's really about letting those words fall out, advocating for yourself, and being brave in doing that.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Absolutely. And you and I were talking about initially before we started recording about being introverts as well. And so, that's something I deal with, too. It's kind of like that hesitation of entering into a conversation, not sure whether or not I'm going to say the right things or probably more importantly when something does need to be said. And you need to speak up because it's the right thing to do, not worrying about how it comes out but knowing that this is the moment where I just need to be brave and say something and speak up.
Barb Provost: Yes. Especially if it's not the popular opinion or it's not an agreement that others are all in agreement about. That's even the hardest part when you're kind of saying I don't really agree with that or why are we doing this, and I've had a lot of those situations. And in my mind, I remember thinking, "If I don't say this, then we're going to go down a road that I really, really, truly feel is not the right road so I just need to just say something. I need to say something.” So, even when it's not popular or you might be at risk of losing something from it, you have to be confident in your own integrity and really speak up.
Arwen Becker: Beautifully stated. Agreed. So, as a woman who has multiple degrees, a couple of master's degrees and a doctorate, why don't you take us back to high school where I think from what you said, you might not have even made it out of there. So, why don’t you take us back to that time?
Barb Provost: Yeah. I think about that a lot. It's kind of woven into, of course, the fabric of who we are, our life experiences. I went to a Catholic high school. As I mentioned previously, I'm one of 13 children. So, Irish Catholic family, Catholic high school. Catholic grade school and high school. And also, I came from a family that had a very good work ethic. My parents owned a convenience store that my mother really managed and ran and all of us worked there for many, many years and while my father also had a job. So, we worked really, really hard growing up. As you know, running your own business, a store like that, and having all these children was a lot of work, and it was really the primary focus of the family. So, school itself really for me became secondary for several reasons. One was I didn't really like to go to the school that I had to go to. It was a Catholic girls school. It was far from my house. It took a long time to get there, public transportation, and I didn't feel like it offered me what I really wanted. But at the time it didn't matter because that wasn't my decision to make. I was told that that's where I would go. I think I learned a lot in retrospect about the way that I learn. I don't learn the way that a lot of the content was taught, which was just listen, don't ask questions, regurgitate, take this test.
I, like I said, live a lot in my mind. I have a lot of questions. I like to think things through. I have some critical thinking that goes on and I often ask, "Why this? Why that?” not in the sense that I didn't agree but because I wanted to go deeper and it wasn't really the place for that. It was at a place where when you're in high school, let's just do this, take this test, and do as I say.
Arwen Becker: Fit into the one hole that we've created for you.
Barb Provost: Exactly. I didn't fit and I didn't care that I didn't fit and I just didn't really want to even be there most of the time.
Arwen Becker: Did any of your siblings struggle with school like you did? Or were some of them just doing so well that that also made it a little bit harder for you to try and fit in?
Barb Provost: Funny you should say that because I remember in fourth grade my mother, she regrets even telling me this. She came home from my parent-teacher conference and I said, "What did sister say?” because there are always nuns. “Well, you're not as smart as the rest of the children but you're going to make it.” I laugh about that to this day. So, that set the bar. There were not a lot of high expectations so I just kind of skidded through. It was fine, you know.
Arwen Becker: Was that hard to hear? Did that hurt you at the time?
Barb Provost: Of course. Of course, it was because I didn't realize that. I thought I was doing okay but sometimes in retrospect, words make a lot of impact, and that one did. But I also thought to myself, well, maybe I don't kind of fit in there but I knew in my heart of hearts that I had my own skills and knowledge to offer at some point. I didn't know where, I didn't know how, but it wasn't there. Like you said, I didn't fit into that round hole but I had other places I knew I could go.
Arwen Becker: So, where was the next phase? So, you managed to graduate high school. Did you still graduate with your class and on time as it was supposed to happen?
Barb Provost: I did. Oh, yeah. Absolutely, I did. And you know what I did? I just moved out on my own. I moved out at 18 to kind of find my own path, if you will, and worked. What I noticed when I went to work is I, again, had a very good work ethic but I couldn't get promoted to other positions because I didn't have a college degree. So, I could see where that was really hindering me because I knew I could do the work but that was a checkbox that was really missing for me. And I knew if I wanted to have the ability to earn any more money because of course at that point you're living hand-to-mouth, you needed to do something different. And of course, not having the best experience at school, I thought, "Ugh, this is going to be not good but I'll enroll in some classes at the junior college just to dip my toe in again and see how I do.”
Arwen Becker: And so, how old were you at that time?
Barb Provost: I was like 22.
Arwen Becker: What kind of work were you doing?
Barb Provost: I was in banking.
Arwen Becker: Okay. So, yeah, that college degree would make sense in banking. Yeah. That's for sure. So, you enrolled in a junior college, and did you find that your experience was way different than it had been in the Irish Catholic school that you had been going to?
Barb Provost: Oh, yes. It certainly was because it was more adults returning to school. We were a little bit older. I had more skin in the game because I knew that this was important to my livelihood and, of course, you hear about everyone walks into the classroom and thinks they're the dumbest one in there and you don't really want to get called on and all that. So, what I did was I went and applied. I took my courses there and there was no college tuition reimbursement. I got some from my job at the bank but I also took on a waitressing job. So, I slugged pie at Bakers Square also to help pay for my tuition. So, I went to school at night and picked up a second job and then worked during the day and I got straight As.
Arwen Becker: Wow.
Barb Provost: So, I thought, "Hey, I think I can do this.”
Arwen Becker: And do you think the straight As were a result of the fact you were taking classes of things that were of interest to you, the fact that it was a totally different style of teaching, or was it because you had so much skin in the game, this was something that mattered to you that you were really putting forth your heart? Or was it kind of a mesh of all of those pieces?
Barb Provost: It was all of those things. And I knew that I had the potential to do better in the work world but I knew that this was a barrier that I needed to get across. So, I thought to myself, "Well, I'll just get my AA,” get my two years of schooling and I'll take it from there. But it's interesting how you get kind of tapped by certain people in your path along your journey. And after finishing my two years, a teacher said to me, "You can go to this other school, to this college, and they have a night program that you can get your undergrad.” And I thought, "Undergrad? I'm not smart enough for that. They'll never let me in there.” So, I thought, "Well, I'll check it out,” and I went to an orientation and I got in. So, it took me seven years to get my undergrad. So, that was the biggest accomplishment for me to do that.
Arwen Becker: I just have to imagine, though, the fact that you were told that you weren't as smart as all your other siblings, fourth grade, and then those words continue to impress on you throughout life and so many women have been told things. So, if you were talking to a woman who has that record playing from words that were spoken over them throughout their youth that they were not valuable, that they were not smart, that they were as capable as their siblings were or whatever that record may be playing, what would you say to her? How did you get yourself past that record that was playing?
Barb Provost: Well, I proved to myself that they were wrong. You know, I proved to myself and part of that is when you hear things like that, I know for me I proved them wrong and it made me a better learner and it made me a critical thinker about what people say and what's really true. I mean when you think about even Michael Jordan didn't make his high school basketball team. And I read all these stories of people who stepped out and tried to do what they really love to do and were told they weren't good enough and they went on to become amazing, successful people. So, I think that we can't fall into those traps and if you have something in your past that you really want to do, you just tell those people to screw it. You do. I mean, you do kind of have to pick and choose who you want to hang with and hang with those people that are going to believe in you.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And doing the work that needs to be done to get past it too because words may have at the time been relatively accurate but it doesn't mean that you can't change the narrative either. So, if there's something that somebody has put in front of you as that barrier, like you said, you just have to believe that you can fight your way past it, that you can find the people who have done it, who have gotten past it. They can encourage you. So, it is finding those people or podcasts or books or things that can encourage you to move you past that. So, that's important, too. So, you got your undergraduate. So, seven years at this point, we're in our late 20s.
Barb Provost: Correct. Right.
Arwen Becker: Okay. So, what was the next thing? So, we got our undergrad. That's more than most people do.
Barb Provost: I know. This same school had kind of a similar program for adults returning to school to get their master's in business. So, I thought it's interesting. It's kind of like I know how to learn now because I know the routine. Let me try this out. I re-enrolled to the same school to get my master's and did the same kind of cohort program because at that time is when they started developing a lot of the coursework for adults returning to school where there wasn't a lot of that out there at the time but this particular college near me had that which was I’m always grateful for. And these programs really were adaptable for professionals who were both working and if they had families or whatever other commitments, and then they would have them either in the evening or on Saturdays. So, I went and got my master's.
Arwen Becker: And were you still working in banking?
Barb Provost: I was. I was still in banking for a while. And part of that has allowed me to get some tuition reimbursement. So, no student loans or anything like that. I just paid every month. I would just pay part of my tuition and go towards that. So, yeah. And then when I finished that and I thought, “I could teach this course.” So, I applied to that university and started teaching college. So, I became a college teacher. Yeah, which I really loved. So, I taught at that program.
Arwen Becker: But was teaching what you thought you were going to be going into? I mean, was that the plan or was it, “I really need to get a college degree so I can make more money?”
Barb Provost: I know. That was the initial plan. So, I was still working during the day. I was just an adjunct instructor but I loved the way that adults learn. So, I love the whole idea of working adults coming together in the evening. And let's say we talked about communication or something like that. We'd have a fireman in there. We'd have a policewoman in there. We'd have corporate people in there. We'd have people from all over different types of industry. I'm very curious about people and I would talk to them about what do they do, how do they do it, what kind of communication struggles do they have, what works, what doesn't work. And we'd have these amazing dialogues and then talk about kind of communication theory and overlap that or overlay it to the different roles that they do. And when adult learners come together, they love bringing their areas of expertise together. So, I really, really love this whole idea of it's more facilitation is what we call it rather than teaching because you're really having this dialogue of critical thinking and then throwing in some other new information into the mix and kind of gobbling that up and really regurgitating that and talking about that. So, I love the energy that was happening in the classroom.
Arwen Becker: And you said that a lot of why you were drawn to the adult education piece was growing up as you were 11 of 13, right?
Barb Provost: Right.
Arwen Becker: So, you always had older siblings. So, you were almost always having to engage in conversation with people who were older than you, more mature.
Barb Provost: Right. Again, in reflection, I really realized that that was probably why I was most comfortable in those arenas rather than when I see people who are raising or teaching toddlers or daycare, which was not my experience at all, that's the part that would make me nervous. If I had to teach daycare, I wouldn't even know what to do but get me in a classroom full of working adults and I'm just at home.
Arwen Becker: And then that's where you got your doctorate in that as well, in adult education?
Barb Provost: So, what happened was my master's was in business. And then because I love the teaching so much, I thought I'm going to get my doctorate. So, I applied again. You know, I don't know what I'm doing. Why would they take me, this lowly person? And the university I applied to was prominently known for teaching adults in higher learning for their program. And you had to take two courses there first. You had to get letters from the teachers. Of course, you had to ace them and then you had to go for a panel interview and you had to take a writing test. So, it was interesting because they said half the people who apply, don't get in and half the people who get in, don't finish. So, I thought, well, at this time I was in my early 30s and I wasn't married or anything. I was still living on my own and working. I was working for a different organization at this time and I thought, “I'm just going to go through this like I’m just going to take a class.” Then I took the other class and I really, again, loved the energy and what was going on, applied, I got in and it was like, "Wow. I'm in a doctoral program. This is crazy.” And what happened was life happened. So, I was about well into the program when I had gotten married and had a baby. So, still working, going to school, had a baby, and then I was pregnant again soon thereafter because I was in my mid-30s by this time and I got shingles while I was pregnant.
So, I thought, "You know what, I'm working. I'm going to school. I have a baby. I'm pregnant. And I need to take care of the health of my children, my baby.” So, I thought, well, I talked to my academic advisor and he said, "Well, what you could do is you could take your boards, your tests, and finish a master’s in Adult & Higher Learning. And then later, if you want, just reapply for the doctoral program.” So, I waddled with my second pregnancy and to take these tests, which I passed. So, that's why I have a second master’s. It wasn't the plan. I do want to back up and say, I just mentioned this before, is when I had my son, there was an all-day class that I was supposed to attend, and those are big because there's a lot of hours involved and they were on Saturdays. But I had to call my instructor and say, “I'm having a baby today. I’m in labor so I'll see you next week.” And the next week I went into the class with my baby, my little son and we went to school together because I was feeding him. As you know, newborns sleep a lot. So, he was in his little carriage side by me. I was in class. And then when he'd wake up, I'd go feed him, change him, he'd go back to sleep. And I say that because if you are focused and you have a goal, you'll find a way to get through it.
Arwen Becker: Absolutely. I wanted to drop off of one thing that you had mentioned earlier too the fact that you were doing all of this and remaining debt-free. You weren't taking out loans to go to school, is that correct?
Barb Provost: Yes.
Arwen Becker: So, for a woman out there who is wanting to go back to school and hesitant about finding a way to make it happen, what kind of encouragement could you give to her? Because so many people do just think that the only way that they can get a meaningful education is they have to go take out loans in order to do it. But you have shown that you were able to do it without that. So, what kind of encouragement would you give to her?
Barb Provost: Well, I would say there is a way to do it. First of all, I did not go to private college, which is very, very expensive. I went to state schools, which were just excellent. I was still working full-time. So, my employer did have some college tuition reimbursement. So, I totally took care of everything that they would reimburse and I think it was at the time like $5,000 a year or whatever, for where I was going was met a good chunk of it. And for those who have gone to private college, I met a woman who got her law degree at Northwestern and she said to me, “Northwestern doesn't teach you any extra special law that another state college would teach you, and yet I have all this debt.” So, you really have to reevaluate what you can afford and where you can go. Like I said, I started at a junior college. My daughter did the same thing two years at a junior college and then she did go to a private school for two years but it made it that much more affordable. So, there are ways out there. Then I worked with the college campus where I just made a payment. Every time I got paid, I paid something towards my tuition and it was a priority for me. So, just like anything else, if it's a priority for you, you will find a way to make it happen. I knew also that if I was in a pinch, I knew I had amazing brothers and sisters that were always there to say, "What do you need?” So, I knew I had a fallback but I didn't need it because I just found a way.
Arwen Becker: Find a way. That's just really good. I believe that it's one of those things too that going to a private college versus a junior college or a state college can often be wrapped up a little bit more in our ego in wanting to put something up on the wall that says, "This is where I graduated from.” But when it comes down to it and I know you've seen it just as much as I have, the amount of people who are in their 40s, 50s, and sometimes after that that are still carrying college loans can be financially devastating or they do it for their kids. Maybe they cosign on a loan in their early 60s. They cosign for a grandkid to go to a school and ultimately, they're still responsible if that grandson or daughter defaults.
Barb Provost: Yeah.
Arwen Becker: So, I think that's really important. I mean, any other additional advice that you have maybe of what you've learned of not making that choice to come out with a ton of debt?
Barb Provost: Yeah. Talk to your schools because they want you to be in there as a student and they will work with you. But I agree with you. You know, so much of it is in ego and the bulk of student loans is held by women. So, that can be a whole nother podcast we could go into because I have a lot of passion around and thoughts around student loans and student lending. I think financially we all have to make smart decisions for ourselves and for our financial future and student debt is a big one. And so, you need to budget for what you can afford financially for your education as well as anything else you do in life. I don't believe parents should be solely responsible for funding a child's education because they need to always be financing their own retirement, as we both know. So, there's a lot of thoughts that I have. And, of course, it all depends on one's income. And so, of course, I wasn't buying clothes and shoes and purses and all of that jazz. I was funding my education. That's where my money went. That was important to me.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. One of the chapters in my book is titled Values-Based Planning and it's really about talking through and understanding what are your values surrounding money because you had fully identified, "This is why I'm doing this. This is the plan that I have. These are the things that I'm willing to sacrifice to be able to get this education because it has a purpose.” And so, you had placed a very high value on that education but also getting it in a responsible manner and not just taking out a bunch of loans to do so. And so, it's really important for any of you listening to identify truly what it is that money means to you. When you have money, what is the value that you attach to it? Because I know, Barb, just like me in talking to women in the area of money, the feeling of financial security and choices and not being a burden on family is so paramount for women across the board. I mean, that is predominantly what they just want to feel that they're going to be okay. They're not going to be a burden on their kids that they're financially secure. Yet, us as women, especially as moms, often we’ll make emotional decisions to help support children when it is financially detrimental to ourselves long-term. And so, when you do understand, okay, what does money mean to me? What is the value I have attached to it? It becomes a little bit easier to not divert into areas that are going to be financially just not positive or really devastating down the road. There's a range anywhere in there. I mean, what would be your thoughts on that?
Barb Provost: Well, I knew in my life that I was on my own. I mean, my life was whatever I chose it to be and I knew very quickly that if I didn't have an education that I was going to be at a very basic level of income. And it was hard. I didn't want to live hand-to-mouth anymore. I didn't have a car. I was taking public transportation and I just wanted to be able to get a car or to save some money. I wasn't looking to make a million dollars but I also loved working and I found that I really loved learning. So, even though I was investing in my education, I loved participating in that whole experience. It was important to me. I knew I was investing in myself and I knew that this was something no one could take away from me and I knew that it was a value in terms of the skills I was learning. You know, the content can be obsolete after a while but when you're learning how to have critical thinking, how to have really good open dialogue and conversation, how to evaluate content that's before you and really think about is this right or is this wrong, especially with all the crap we see on the Internet these days, about really doing your research to see what's important, about looking outside yourself and into the world and what's impacting the world around us and what's our role and how can I play a part in this, you develop kind of a world view that's very integral to how you live your life. I've gone vegan, I recycle, I compost. You know what, I teach my children all these things because we need to be good participants in the world and in our communities and be able to give and get back. And so, all of that is what you learn when you're engaging with other people from other perspectives, from other countries from the world, and I think that's what education can bring you.
Arwen Becker: Well-stated. And what I didn't hear was the mistake I made. I made a man of my financial plan, so I figured he would just handle it for me.
Barb Provost: You know, a lot of women do. And a lot of women do think that and that's another thing I'm trying to educate women in is that I love men. You know, I married two of them and I have six brothers and I have a son. I love them but it's not who you need to be. I wanted to be self-sufficient. It was important for me as a value to be self-sufficient.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. So, why don't you take that into Purse Strings? Because that's a big piece of what drives me to get up in the morning too because I have made those mistakes or I was divorced at 24. I made him my financial plan and then even getting remarried, and I've been married for now almost 17 years and Randy and I worked together for over 21, I still for many years kind of gave him that responsibility of taking care of me financially and just getting educated and knowing how I was investing my 401(k) and just a lot of these pieces that I just was relying on somebody else to do. And then I got the wake-up call. Great Recession, when that hit, that was really, really the big wake up call for me, that it wasn't his responsibility to be educated on my financial picture, even though we're two business owners, even though we're two individuals and we've been married for as long as we have. I bear the sole responsibility for understanding what I have, understanding how it's going to take care of me in the future, and not making somebody else responsible for me. So, why don't you talk a little bit about Purse Strings? Because I know you, just like me, are so passionate about making sure that women are feeling empowered in the area of money.
Barb Provost: Right. So, I'm not going to lie. It was a struggle for me when I was like I said, I was working, going to school. I took on a second job. Of course, I used credit card. I was in some debt but nothing that I couldn't get myself out of. I saw a problem. You kind of learn kind of your own behavior, your own traits. I saw a problem. I got myself out of it. I had too much debt because I didn't have enough income. So, I got a second job. You do what you need to do. And I was never dependent on somebody else to come and save me. I guess it was kind of what we were taught. You need to be self-sufficient. I taught that to my children. And so, when I went through a divorce, I heard other women where I was navigating this divorce process, other women were saying things like, "Oh, I'm not quite sure about my cash flow, my money. He pays the bills,” all of these things that they weren't participating in. And then also, like I always say this. I’d run through Target or Costco with my daughter and I turn to her and go, "Why is this lady who's probably retirement age, why is she bagging our groceries? Why do you think she's doing this? Or why is this lady at Costco passing out these treats?” And I think, "Come on, Barb. Are they doing this because I really like it? Maybe they like the socialness of it or maybe they have to because they need to pay some bills.”
So, again, the research hat went on and I did some research and found there was a great article in The Atlantic that said women of retirement age had to cobble jobs together to pay their bills. And I thought that's because the industry, as I could see in the work that I was doing, is overlooking them and that's because we're not teaching women how to be financially set for their future. I wasn’t banking at the time. That's where I learned a lot. My parents had their own business. I learned a lot about that. I was on my own for so long. So, I knew that I had a budget, pay my bills. So, I was in tune to a lot of that and the data told me that women, although a very powerful market, very influential in the decisions that are made financially, they are not prepared for their financial future. And through the work that we do, women will age alone. They will be so low. They will be aging at a time where they need healthcare and oversight, which are two very expensive things. And so, they need money during this time. I mean, how often at our age we're taking care of our parents. Mine has passed. But there was a time where we all need to care for an ailing parent or they're coming back home to live with us or you wonder what the next steps are because the planning hadn't really taken place. There's so much that women can learn and do now, today, just right now, to set them up for great financial future.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And your education background is a big part of that and this whole adult learning too because what I have also discovered in 21 years of owning a retirement planning practice but the last four have been predominantly 80% of our marketing events are now women only because there is such, just like you said, a huge segment of the population who they're opting out of getting the education because it's not delivered in a way in which they understand and learn. So, they don't even go and then they wake up and they're 55 or 60, they’re divorced or they're widowed and they're just going, “I have no idea where to start.” Now, there's fear. Now, there's shame. Now, there's all these negative components that start to come into play. And then it snowballs things or I’m just going to just bury my head in the sand and something's going to change. No. 80% of women die single and 80% of men die married. So, they don't see if the plan works. They've already passed away. So, she's now left, “How do I pay for our bills? Maybe he's drained it for care.” So, that's why you and I are both so passionate and making sure that women are learning in the way in which they understand, not the way in which the industry still talks to them.
Barb Provost: Amen.
Arwen Becker: Very masculine.
Barb Provost: Everything you said should be on a billboard because that's exactly it. You know, I can't tell you how many times and I'm sure you've said that over and over and over again. We preach this, preach this, preach this, and still women will check out because it's fair. And you're right, the adult learning in me is trying to alleviate that fear. It's not complicated. Listen, women have done a lot more complicated things than this. And when you have the right resources with you, the right people who say, "Come on, I'm going to show you how easy this can be and we're going to look at what you need, your needs, your income, your bills, your goals, your desires, and make a plan.”
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And it's providing safety and I know that that's what you do in Purse Strings, being able to provide a safe container for women to learn, women to ask questions. I always say like the woman who can say, "What's the difference between an IRA and an annuity?” It's always an an annuity. That's hard to say. Like Nemo going, “Amnemonemomne.” But a lot of women won't even have the courage to ask that in a room with men because they know that there's something in there that is completely disconnected from one another because one's a tax status and one is an investment tool. But in an environment where they have just women, we have the courage to raise our hand and say, “This doesn't make sense to me. Can you just kind of go back to the beginning and give me a 101 version of this piece of it?” And that's what you're providing for women. That's really, really valuable.
Barb Provost: Yeah. It's so important. And when that one person is brave enough to come forward and ask that question, the rest of them take a sigh of relief because they're wondering the same thing and the whole industry has been set up by men and not tailored to women so it's overly complicated. It really doesn't need to be that way. You don't really need to know all of the names. You need to know kind of what is it that you need and what are the products that help me do that. And let's keep it simple. You don't have to overcomplicate it but you just need to start today.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. My mom is a perfect example of the woman who started from less than zero in her mid-forties and is retiring very comfortably, even with my dad, as we just found a great adult family home for him just yesterday. So, he's going to be transitioning into there. And of course, the biggest piece has been, well, how does it get paid for? And so, being able to look through and remind her of the work in which she's done over the last 25 years. A perfect example because there are so many women, you might be the one that's listening to this out there that has debt that is starting from less than zero, that doesn't understand what they have, and yet all is not lost. There are so many women and this is what I love. That's why I say she handled it. That's my mom. The reason I have this term is because she is the woman that started as a lunch lady and handmade all of our clothes and worked a job she hated to make sure my sister and I had benefits. And she was home when we were home, which of course, I hated as a teenager. I was like, "Oh, come on, Mom. Can you give us one day?” But she did it because it was the right thing to do. But, man, when we were finally out of high school, she left that job. She went for a temp job at Costco in hopes that they would keep her on at the corporate office and that's where she's been for almost 25 years.
But women do that all the time, starting from almost nothing or less than nothing, getting divorced and being in debt, and not knowing that they're in debt. And so, that's my encouragement to any woman who's listening to this, that all is not lost. I have seen women start from 50 with nothing and retire in their late 60s. And so, it's doable. It just means you've got to put in the work. You've got to get educated. You need to know what you have and you've got to do like what Barb's talking about. Sometimes you have to be willing to do the stuff you don't want to do and that might mean taking a second job or renting out a room in your home or a number of different ways that women find ways to do stuff.
Barb Provost: Yeah. It's so true. And everything you've said is all about what Purse Strings is about. And it's why we were created because we were just tired of seeing women not being served the way that they need to be served, not just with the content and the education and the questions that they have, fundamental questions that we answer all the time but also the right financial professionals who are really going to help them and partner with them. And like what we say is be part of her financial journey and they're there when she needs help to make a financial decision. It's so needed and I can't say it enough. I don't want women to say he does it whatever, whatever, because I've seen too many women, like you say, widowed or divorced and all of a sudden deer in the headlights and they don't realize, "Oh, my gosh, I got to get back to work.” I've heard all the stories. He was in charge of the finances. We went bankrupt. We got divorced, blah, blah, blah. Terrible. And money is just a tool, right? You don't want to get all wrapped up in it but when you are in charge of your own money, it gives you a lot of financial freedom to do so many things that you can do because you made your plan to do it. So, it's not I can't do it because I'm budgeting. I am empowering myself to budget and know where my money is going and spend it the way I want to spend it and save for my cruise and go on vacation. I retire at 65. I know what my Social Security is, blah, blah, blah. You know, it's very empowering. So, when I see all these ads for these women who are buying, buying, buying, buying, buying, I want to say just stop the madness. You know, think about all that you really could do. You don't need this instant gratification every day of our lives.
Arwen Becker: No because you and I know full well what it's like to feel financially secure. When you know I can buy that, I'm just choosing not to. And that's what we've taught to our kids for since they were little. That's something that we could buy for you but we're choosing not to. And just saying that, just feel so much better than going, “I can't afford that.”
Barb Provost: Exactly.
Arwen Becker: Well, I'm just choosing not to spend my money on that because I have a plan and I have a vision and I have a focus and I'm going to get somewhere. Because when you get to that point where you're not worried about making rent payment, for us, that was making employee payments, you’re making payroll or just so many of the myriad of things that we've dealt with, especially going through the Great Recession, that feeling of power but not like power. I'm so powerful but it's that beautiful sense of a peaceful power that I've got this handled and I don't have to.
Barb Provost: You don’t have to dance.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. That's a big deal. So, when you look back at this experience that you've had throughout your life and having this feeling of being an impostor, this imposter syndrome, from the time that you were a kid and going into these years where you got your master's and your doctorate, what are some of say the three biggest things that you took away from that?
Barb Provost: Well, the number one thing is I can do anything I put my mind to, number one. Number two is there's no such thing as an overnight success. You know, I mean, you might say you want something and a lot of people want a lot of things but it takes a lot of tenacity and it takes a lot of falling down and getting back up again. Like they say, fail fast. You know, you're going to fail, fail, fail because at some point you're not going to fail anymore. You're going to get it. So, have your eye on the prize. So, I'd say no matter what the bumpy road is to get there, if it's important enough to you, continue the journey. And then third, I would say, is to have a good support network around you because there is going to be many, many times where you're not going to have a really good day and you're going to need other people to pick you up and dust you off and tell you, "You can do it,” and help you move ahead, and I've had that in a couple of my sisters who are always there for me, my husband, definitely, my children because it's a tough road when you're setting big goals and you need a really good, loving support system.
Arwen Becker: Agreed. Very much agreed. And so, the rapid-fire three questions. So, the best piece of financial wisdom that you've been given?
Barb Provost: Start today. Start. Wherever you are, you need to just start where you are today and wherever you are, whether it's just balancing your checkbook. People do that anymore? Looking at your credit card bill. We have a free course. You can take that. But just start today with a plan and start having those conversations with your partner and just know that you're going to make a plan.
Arwen Becker: And I would also add those conversations with your partner can often be a little fraught with anxiety or maybe even some hesitation or maybe you're going to hit some resistance with your spouse. You have to move past it. It has to be important enough because as you've mentioned, Barb, and as I've seen too, you women are going to be likely the last woman standing left to handle it. So, make sure that you know where your money is and what's going on with it. And then a book. A book and why did you choose it?
Barb Provost: I read so, so many books. The one that everyone goes back to is Think and Grow Rich. Yes. Which is kind of the foundation of anyone who's started a business or is really trying to move and grow. I'm pretty much a realist in many ways and I think, "Oh, come on,” with this book and then I think, "Well, oh, no, this works for a lot of people.” You know what I mean? So, I kind of have to go back and really read through it because I'm ready to trudge and work really hard. And that book is saying that you do have to work hard but it's a mental game.
Arwen Becker: And a favorite quote. What's the favorite quote that you like?
Barb Provost: So, one that I have and I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it is, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.”
Arwen Becker: Read that one again.
Barb Provost: “If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.”
Arwen Becker: Do you remember who said that?
Barb Provost: You know, I thought it was likened back to Ben Franklin and then maybe some other people have taken credit for it so I'm not quite sure. But it's, again, the mind thing. If you think you can do it, you can do it. You will find a way, whether it's getting a second job or making those monthly payments. Not saying, “I can't go to that party because I got to study for a course,” or whatever it is, you can do it. But if you think you can't, you're going to find every excuse why you can't do it.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. Agreed. So, how can we get a hold of you? So, tell us all about Purse Strings, how women can get in touch with you, and any other great stuff that you want to share.
Barb Provost: So, Purse Strings is at PurseStrings.co and I mention that because the dot com was $85,000 to buy. I don't know if you know that you have to buy your URL so it’s PurseStrings.co and Bootstrap has been lovingly funded by me, so that's why I had to watch my pennies. So, PurseStrings.co and you can find PurseStrings.co on Instagram, on Facebook. We have a Facebook group which is Purse Strings for Financially Fearless Women and we invite all women to join that. And in that group, they can find a free course called Financially Fearless Foundations for Women, which is an online self-directed course with worksheets that will give them all the foundations that they need to get in order to really understand where they are financially.
Arwen Becker: Perfect. And can you tell us again where they can get that?
Barb Provost: That free course is in a Facebook group called Purse Strings for Financially Fearless Women.
Arwen Becker: Perfect. That's great. And we'll have all of that in the show notes as well. But for any of you women out there, it's really important that you are in a place where it's safe, where you're learning these different pieces. You're often not going to hear it spoken this way, that Barb and her daughter are really going to be talking about money. You're not going to hear about it in the same way in the industry typically. So, they're really blazing the trail to make sure that you are getting the education that you need but in a way in which you really can hear it, learn it, and that it speaks to you as it should be. You know, I think really women need to be the primary focus of the financial industry because we do hold more wealth. We are the largest segment of the U.S. population. We're going to inherit two-thirds of the 20 trillion of baby boomers over the next 20 years. So, Barb, you're doing some pretty phenomenal work to get us all prepared. So, I appreciate it.
Barb Provost: Thank you so much.
Arwen Becker: That was a big sigh because really it’s a big job.
Barb Provost: It's a big job. Yeah. It's a big boulder I'm pushing uphill but I'm getting other people to help me push it uphill because we know once it reaches the top, it's all downhill after that. So, that's a good thing. Yeah, I love it. So, thank you. And thank you so much for having me on your program.
Arwen Becker: Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for all the wisdom. Thank you for your heart. I just know that a lot of women are going to really be encouraged by it. Thank you.
Barb Provost: Love it. Thanks.
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