Parkite’s documentary gives advice to women about how to be financial ‘$avvy’
Panel discussion will follow March 17 screening
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser’s most recent film “$avvy,” which examines how financial culture sidelines women, originated from a personal experience.
“Six years ago I got divorced, so for the first time in 24 years, I was solely responsible for my financial well-being,” Hauser said. “I began to think about how secure my future was, and began asking questions like, ‘How do I grow my money?’ ‘How do I invest?’ All those questions.”
These questions came to Hauser as surprise, because she had considered herself financially savvy. She had earned a master’s in business administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, and her first career choice was being a stockbroker.
“My father was also an investment counselor, and supply-side economics was a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner table when I was growing up,” she said. “So, I thought if I’m in this situation, there must be other women in the same situation or worse.”
With this in mind, Hauser subconsciously began research, which would serve as the groundwork for the flim, which will be screened March 17, as part of Park City Film’s REEL Community Series at the Jim Santy Auditorium.
She approached her female friends about their financial security, and came face to face with the cultural taboo of talking about money.
“I found it to be interesting that many of my friends, whom I have known for a very long time, weren’t comfortable speaking with me specifically about money,” she said.
So, Hauser decided to dig deeper into the financial culture in the United States, and began to see a much higher percentage of women living in poverty after retirement when compared to men.
Women were 80% more likely to find themselves living below the poverty level by age 65 compared to men, according to the National Institute of Retirement Security, non-profit organization established to study the issue of retirement security and its affect on the economy.
One reason for this gap is employment income, according to Hauser.
“Women live longer than men, and they earn less in the workplace, therefore we have less Social Security,” she said. “Women also spend more time out of the workplace to care for children and elderly parents.”
Other reasons include divorce, death of a spouse and the United States’ cultural views surrounding debt, Hauser said.
“People always try to buy a house on a certain block or buy a car that looks like their neighbor’s car,” she said. “We also try to make sure we have the right backpack, purse or pair of shoes. There are so many shining objects out there that taunt us all the time.”
The culture is exacerbated by the power of advertising, Hauser said.
“When you think about billboards, television, newspapers, magazines or films, it’s everywhere,” she said.
This is addressed in the film by Dr. Bradley T. Klontz, founder of the Financial Psychology Institute and an associate professor of practice in financial psychology at Creighton University Heider College of Business.
“One of the things he speaks about that I found fascinating, is that we, as human beings, are not wired to delay gratification,” Hauser said. “If we see something, we want it.”
Credit cards make it easy for humans to satisfy that gratification itch, according to Hauser.
“It’s easy to buy things with a credit card you don’t have the money for when you think that we’ll have that money next month or that we’ll get that job or that bonus,” she said. “This is how we end up in debt, because we don’t want to delay gratification.”
While it may feel good for people to buy things they want, there are consequences that come with over charging. One of the big ones is compound interest, Hauser said.
Yanley Espinal, the director of educational outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance and member of CNBC’s Financial Wellness Advisory Council, tells her story about credit-card debt in the film.
“She was given a credit card, institutions are very quick to hand out those cards to people, but nobody ever explained to her how they work,” Hauser said. “They said ‘Pay this amount.’ ‘This is your minimum amount due.’ And she had no idea of the negative repercussions of compounding interest, and before she knew it she had more than $20,000 in debt.”
Hauser knew she wanted to address these issues in the film, and met with her team to come up with other topics that included student-loan debt, financial abuse, financial fragility and credit scores.
“We knew we were never going to make a film that covers everything, so we decided to look at the issues that affect women and money most often,” she said. “We also wanted to choose the issues our audience, even though they think they have everything covered, will relate to.”
Student-loan debt was near the top of the list, Hauser said.
At the end of 2021, Forbes magazine reported that 45 million borrowers collectively owe $1.7 trillion in student-loan debt in the United States.
“We knew that student-loan debt was something that was important for us to cover, because student-loan debt in the United States is just absurd,” she said.
Financial abuse is another widespread issue, Hauser said.
“Financial abuse can be very subtle, and it’s something both men and women fall into,” she said. “It can mean not having access to the money in your own paycheck, or having to ask permission from your partner to spend anything. It also means not having enough funds to escape or stay healthy. A lot of women find themselves trapped in relationships, because they are not financially independent.”
Financial fragility basically means living paycheck to paycheck, Hauser said.
“It means not being ready for an emergency, whether it’s a medical emergency or a car breaking down or needing to get away from a dangerous situation,” she said. “It’s shocking how few Americans have money in savings.”
Hauser also felt it was important to address credit scores.
“Nobody really teaches you what a credit score is and why it’s so important, yet it affects pretty much everything — even job interviews these days,” she said.
With the list as a guide, Hauser and her team, including associate producer Tierney Henderson, came up with an index of characters who could tell these stories.
Those appearing in the film include financial blogger Farnoosh Torabi and Caitlin Boston, a New York-based user experience researcher and product strategist who spent 10 years paying off a $222,817 student loan debt.
Hauser also wanted to infuse some humor into the film.
“There needed to be some levity, because when I told people I was making a film about women and money, they were like, ‘That sounds really boring,’” she said with a laugh.
Although “$avvy” is about women and finances, Hauser said the film is for everyone.
“The last three films I’ve made surround themes of female empowerment, but I don’t want to marginalize my male and non-binary audience,” she said. “I think it’s very important to bring men and non-binary individuals into the conversation and have them feel comfortable.”
So far, the response from audience members who are not female have been positive, Hauser said.
“They have thanked me and told me they want to bring their wives and daughters to see the film,” she said. “They told me they want to get their wives to start being more engaged in their families’ personal finances.”
The film even impacted Hauser’s 26-year-old son.
“At the world premiere I turned to see if he was paying attention, and saw him looking at his phone,” she said. “I gave him a hard time and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re not watching the film at my premiere,’ and he said, ‘Mom, I’m checking my credit score.’”
Hauser is grateful for the opportunity to screen the film with Park City Film.
“I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Park City Film and Executive Director Katharine Wang, who has screened my other two films,” she said. “This film at this time has even more meaning, because I’m now a Parkite. I feel so grateful to the Park City community for letting in one more Californian. I’m so grateful to be able to live in this fabulous town and have the opportunity to give back.”
When: 7 p.m., Thursday, March 17
Where: Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave.
Cost: $8 for the general public, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for Park City Film members
Web: finishlinefeaturefilms.com/savvy/ and parkcityfilm.org
• The night will also include a post-film panel discussion, moderated by KPCW General Manager Renai Bodley Miller, with Hauser; Jacki Zehner, founder of ShePlace, investor and a former partner with Goldman Sachs; Millicent Tracey, FinTech advisor/ and board member; and Rachelle Morris, executive director of Crestone Capital.
Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church invites the public to enjoy a Christmas Concert in the Mountains.
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