5 Lessons from Lola: A Money Retreat for Strong Women
What do you get when you fill a room with 50-plus, money-focused females from all walks of life — from all parts of the country, all professions, ages, socioeconomic status, knowledge of personal finance — in a positive, intimate environment? Pure magic.
The third Lola Retreat, which was held at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles this past February, fused financial education and community in a most inspiring way. While some conferences and retreats veer toward the professional and impersonal, Lola had a casual, warm vibe. It offered a sanctuary of sorts for ladies to get vulnerable about their money matters.
Add a posh location and delicious eats into the mix, and you have an ideal space to empower women about their finances. As the event was in my stomping grounds and I was a short light rail ride away, I was fortunate to attend the retreat.
Here are some takeaways and lessons gleaned from my experience:
You Can’t Talk About Feminism Without Talking About Money
The panel discussions, presentations and talks during Lola ran the gamut from social impact investing, to how the diet industry is making us all poor, to how to live within your means and afford rent in a big city. While some of the topics were more general to personal finance, others were geared toward challenges females face.
It’s no secret that money plays a huge role in our well-being. But we need to pay greater attention to money issues that are specific to women.
For one, while it’s a known fact that investing can help us grow our money and build wealth, women invest 40 percent less than men. And what’s up with the Pink Tax? Why is it that some products — such as clothing, deodorant, razors and some even services like haircuts — cost more for women than men?
At the same time, the gender wage gap persists: on average, women earn 82 percent of what men do. As discussed in the panel on planning for major life events at the retreat, how can we possibly afford major life milestones, such as owning a house, getting married, and having a baby? Or afford to stay on top of our bills? And don’t get me started about the diet industry. It’s a $66 billion dollar market, and is all about weight loss and maintaining body image standards.
Money speaks. There’s power in the dollar, and what we do with it can be political. Bringing awareness to these issues will help propel further discussion. In turn, it can lend itself to sparking unity and positive, long-lasting change.
Diverse Voices Helps Us Solve Problems
The 50 attendees came from all walks of life: income levels, ethnicities, and reasons for attending. Some ladies had high-power, well-paying jobs, and were trying to figure out how to best allocate their funds. Others were fresh out of college and wanted to focus on paying off their student debt, while others were keen on helping their parents in their retirement.
Paola Heneine, Charlie’s own growth manager, presented an eye-opening talk on the financial challenges immigrants face. Can you imagine being denied a cell phone number because you’re new-to-country and don’t have a credit history? Or figuring out that it would cost less to fly out to your home country of Lebanon to see a doctor than seek medical treatment in the States? Looking at money problems from a variety of perspectives can showcase a wide spectrum of issues and challenges women face financially.
Personal finance tends to prescribe a very specific set of rules. But we need to look through it with a wider lens. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and by including a wide swath of voices, we can come up with solutions that cater to more people.
Community Is Essential
From the brunch to the opening reception and the event itself, I got warm, positive vibes from the attendees. The ladies were friendly and open to sharing what they were working on to improve their financial health.
“The connection and community happened quickly,” says Melanie Lockert, co-founder the retreat. “For women who come alone, I say you will have friends by lunchtime on Saturday. One of the value propositions I state when buying a ticket is meeting your new BFF. Creating community and relationship building are very important to me, almost as much as the educational component.”
Don’t get me wrong. All that great info and pointers on how to do money right floating on the internet helpful. (As a money writer, I contribute to that space.) But knowledge can only do so much. We need camaraderie. We need accountability partners, to be one another cheerleaders, rooting for each other on the sidelines.
Women Need a Safe Space
It’s only by cultivating relationships and building a community that we can help one another. During the Lola Brunch a few weeks prior, I gathered with an intimate group of ladies to share our personal financial goals and get pointers making them happen. Facilitated by Melanie and Stacey Shieh Lee of Solve Your Finances, we shared not only our top money goals but also got real about our financial concerns and woes.
As it was my first Lola event, I was surprised at how easily it was to mesh with fellow attendees. Sometimes it can be hard to break the ice with someone, especially if it involves the sensitive topic of money.
“The one thing that brings me so much joy is how many people have stated [in the post-retreat surveys] is that they have never been in an environment where people have bonded so quickly,” says Melanie.
In the real world, it’s hard to talk about money. But within the safe space, we were comfortable to bare-it-all.
There Is Still a Lot of Work to Be Done
What Melanie has created for women has been amazing. But the conversation needs to continue. Melanie plans on doing more Lola dinners and brunches nationwide. “Creating more spaces and having smaller events will help build Lola and also create community across the country,” says Melanie.
What’s next? The fourth retreat, which is happening in August in Seattle. “Lola Retreat is all about creating a community of women going after what they want,” says Melanie. “The mission of Lola Retreat is to empower women to get their money right so they can go after their dreams. We believe once you get your money in order, you can go after whatever you want. I like to think of Lola as my badass alter-ego, who is financially savvy, in charge, and can afford to pursue everything she wants.
“I hope attendees of Lola Retreat experience a feeling of belonging and renewed inspiration to manage their money,” continues Melanie. “My goal is to educate and inspire women — and also meet others who are in the same boat. I want to offer pathways to solutions, accountability, and community.”
By understanding the financial issues that women face, and doing our part to spark discussion and build our tribe, we can make greater progress and help one another thrive.