Women in our society are simply set up to pay more. This is wrong on a number of levels that are beyond the scope of this post; instead, this post will give you some ideas to mitigate the costs of being a woman. I see two categories here: medical costs and society costs.
Women menstruate, have (or avoid having) children, are at higher risk for breast cancer, and are at a higher risk for a number of chronic illnesses, many of them autoimmune in nature. It’s not fair, but that’s just the way the chromosomes tumble. Here are some ways I have (or wish I had) kept my costs for being female down:
The Keeper: The Keeper is a menstrual cup used in lieu of pads or tampons. There are other brands available (the Diva Cup is its closest competitor). The Keeper is made of natural gum rubber and lasts about ten years, though you do have to get a different size if you give birth vaginally. It saves money on pads and tampons and is great for the environment. It takes a little practice to insert and remove, but after a day or two, it’s second nature. I really can’t recommend it enough. For those who prefer pads, there are also many reusable pads available, Luna Pads and Glad Rags among the most popular. (If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can also find free patterns to make your own). I’ve been using the Keeper since 1995 and have saved thousands of dollars in disposable menstrual products because of that.
Pain: Menstruation isn’t exactly fun, but you can avoid bloating and pain (and, by extension, wasted money on Midol) by exercising regularly, reducing sodium intake in the week before your period, staying hydrated, and continuing to exercise through the cramps. The exercise you do during your period doesn’t have to be intense — even a walk can cut down on the pain — but sitting around on the swallowing Midol and chocolate ice cream (or, when you’re older, downing a bottle of wine) doesn’t really do any good in the long run.
Birth control: Okay, what I did here is extreme because I knew I didn’t ever want to have children. I had a bilateral tubal ligation (basically, they cauterized my Fallopian tubes making it impossible for an egg to make its way to my uterus). Voila! No need for pills or other contraceptives! Thanks to provisions from the affordable care act, birth control pills are now free, but with the change of party control in the federal government, I don’t know how long that will last.
Children: I don’t have any, but I know from being around when my friends and family have had children, that the actual cost of giving birth is a bit astronomical. Copays for appointments during pregnancy, the hospital stay, lactation nurses, etc. all add up. My tip is this: if you want to have children, great! That will keep me employed! But once you decide that’s what you want to do (or once you’re happily surprised that you’re pregnant), call your insurance company and have them walk you through your exact coverage. Then call the human resources department of your job and find out exactly what benefits they have (how much of your leave will be paid? How much can you take without pay and still have a job?). Then start saving enough so you can enjoy your time with your little one without having to worry about how you’re going to eat. I would suggest saving enough for all the costs you estimated plus one extra month of pay just in case there are complications in your pregnancy and you’re put on bed rest. It certainly can’t hurt to have a little extra. I’ll write another post about the cost of children themselves (diapers, clothing, furniture, etc.).
Cancer checks: As you get older, you’ll spend more and more time paying to have the privilege of having your breasts painfully compressed during a mammogram so they can check for cancer. They’ll pretty much always find a lump, so then you get to pay again to have them do an ultrasound to see if that lump is anything to worry about. It’s definitely worth getting checked out, but start saving for those copays now when you’re young and (hopefully) healthy. Make a “medical” section in your budget and start adding to it. Only withdraw from it for copays and medications.
Chronic illnesses: Lupus, MS, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Pancreatitis, Hashimoto’s, and a whole host of fun diseases are more common in women than in men. Aren’t we lucky? Here’s one thing they have in common: though there is a genetic predisposition for all of them, the key factor in activating the gene is stress. Do yourself a favor and learn to manage your stress now (and learn to say no!) so that you don’t end up like me with a chronic pain and fatigue disorder that has forced me to learn to manage stress after the fact with no hope of curing my disease, just not making it worse. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, spend time with people you care about, get a good night’s sleep, and don’t try to do everything at once. That may mean being okay with a B when if you really stressed yourself out you could have gotten an A. It may mean that you can’t be on ASB AND be an ambassador AND be in all the music groups AND play on two sports AND take six AP classes. What it looks like for you will differ, but if you’re already suffering from depression and/or panic attacks (and I know some of you are), then that’s your body telling you you need help. We have psychological services here on campus to help you, and all state-funded schools (so community colleges and state colleges) have free psychological services. Take advantage of them. This is true for the men as well, of course, but since we women are more likely to be hit with these stress-induced illnesses, I believe this belongs on this post. Good books to read on this topic are The Body Keeps the Score and Cure. (As always, check these out from the library.)
Make-up: When I was about twelve and a friend of mine I walked to school with was fourteen, my friend complained, “I wish I were young like you and didn’t have to put on make-up every day.” I thought she was nuts. Who was making her put on make-up every day at fourteen? And who decided that women had to wear make-up as adults? I decided then and there that I would only wear make-up on stage and for special occasions that would be photographed like a friend’s wedding (I don’t want my pale face to ruin their photos! That said, I did not wear make-up at my own wedding). Since then, I have also considered the environmental costs of so much plastic being used to hold and package make-up as well as the injustice of women being expected to make themselves look different than how they look naturally while men get to just shower and go. I put sunscreen on my face because skin cancer runs in my family, but beyond that, my face is bare, and I’ve saved thousands upon thousands of dollars because of that. I also save time (more time to read! no need to keep up with what this year’s colors are!) and stress. For the record, I don’t judge people who use make-up so long as they do so by choice. For some people, it’s an artistic outlet, and that’s great. I worry about women who feel obligated to wear make-up, however.
Fashion: Lately this has invaded male life once again, but the onus is still more heavy on women to keep up with trends. For me, it helped that I grew up only wearing hand-me-downs, most of them from my older brother. At one point, during the grunge era of the 90s, my jeans, t-shirts, and flannel shirts were even in fashion! After that passed, though, I kept wearing them. I actually do have some nice clothes that I wear to the theater, to friends’ weddings or showers, or even just to the park on a nice spring day, but for my regular uniform, it’s jeans and t-shirts all the way. They last, and I don’t have to think in the morning.
You may end up with a job that requires more formal wear. Even if you do, I strongly recommend a classic uniform that you simply spice up with, say, a scarf or other accessory to note the seasons and add some personality. If you’re a lawyer, a pair of black or grey slacks, a skirt, a suit jacket, and a week’s worth of professional blouses plus a few accessories can get you through. Don’t skimp on the quality; you want these timeless pieces to last a while. Avoid trendy cuts and lengths. Look up “capsule wardrobes” for more ideas to keep your clothing costs down while still looking professional or appropriate at a variety of events.
Weight loss/gain: People make a ton of money of women’s insecurity about their weight. Here’s my advice:
- Watch less TV. You won’t feel compelled to look like people with personal trainers and dietitians if you don’t stare at them all the time.
- Read fewer popular magazines. The pictures in there aren’t even real people half the time, so trying to look like them is even more damaging.
- Eat healthy and exercise. Don’t do this because of a goal weight; do this because it’s a way to show you care about yourself.
- Notice how beautiful other (non-photoshopped) people (in person) are. If you see the beauty in others of all body types, it will become easier to see the beauty in yourself.
- Remember that “comparison is the thief of joy.” You will never be anyone but you, so don’t make someone else’s body your goal. You can strive for change of your inner and outer self, but only do so if it’s for your own good. I, for example, want to make my upper body stronger (it has atrophied a bit because a lot of exercises are painful to me). Some of that working out will lead to a better-looking body overall, but my goal is actually to be able to use a wheelchair instead of a scooter when I can’t walk far because wheelchairs are way more easy to navigate and way more fun to use.
- If your weight is a health issue (you are significantly under or overweight), then by all means, address it with your doctor’s help. I was underweight for years, and nothing I did could help me gain weight until I found out I had Celiac disease and that by eating gluten-free I could suddenly actually absorb nutrients. Now I’m a few pounds heavier than I’d like (I hate shopping for clothes, so I like to stay the same weight), but I am SO happy that my body has been able to gain weight like a normal person! I’m also 40, so a bit of weight gain during middle age is normal and nothing to be concerned about.
- If you need help losing or gaining weight because the diet changes and exercise changes you’ve tried aren’t working, use a free app like MyFitnessPal to track your food and exercise rather than paying for Weight Watchers or for ridiculously priced (and generally inaccurate) fitness trackers.
Are there other costs that only women pay in our society that you can think of? Post them in the comments and I’ll see what I can come up with to save money on them.