Yet the confessional tone of some of the sharing evokes a 12-step program. In a class this reporter attended, women told of how they broke out on shopping sprees after weeks of diligently foregoing their daily cappuccinos.
The "money buddy" system that is a part of the class is also very much from the pages of AA and spin-off programs, such as Debtors Anonymous, where participants try to stay on track by enlisting the help of a partner. Between each weekly class, Gichon has participants contact another member, to encourage them to start talking about money — a conversation that, it's hoped will continue after the 12-week series ends.
Money Honeys Cooper and Gannon say they see parallels between their group and both AA and Weight Watchers. Both women have attended Weight Watchers meetings. (Gannon, now a marathon runner, says that's "all part of the one transformation.")
Cooper says their group is like AA in that it's not hierarchical. "You really become accountable to the group, and in that way it's like Weight Watchers." But she contrasts the large and impersonal format of its meetings with the trust that has grown among the core of a dozen or so who attend monthly dinner discussions in each others' homes.
Gichon says that's what really missing from financial services providers is that "Women don't feel that they have the space to share without being sold to." She says she's not surprised that a recent study by First Boston Consulting Group found 70 percent of women dissatisfied with the service they are getting from financial providers — nine years after she started her advisory business.
Cooper and her classmates started The Money Honeys after realizing that the main reason they had taken Gichon's Simply Money series a second time was for the camaraderie.
Money therapist Amanda Clayman says that women like to confirm within a group that they are normal in their financial behavior. "Women are also more sensitive to the more psychological aspects of money," so they like a forum that helps them process their feelings.
Clayman, who for three years has run financial support groups for The Actors Foundation, sees such groups becoming a more popular response to money management in the crisis. One of the Money Honeys is planning to move south and is thinking of starting a new Money Honey's group there.
"Money and food have a lot in common. If there's a disorder, you can't abstain from using money, just as you can't abstain from eating food. A program like Weight Watchers is helping people to establish a healthy relationship with food. If you can do the same with money, that's a great thing," she says.
Surveys repeatedly show that becoming a bag lady is a top fear for women. However, Clayman notes, "Women also fear that if they are too financially secure they will scare away potential partners."
Cooper's transformation included firing the family's money manager, which had their pensions invested in dud funds, and producing 35 percent returns on stock market investing herself. "My husband used to handle our investments. I thought he knew what he was doing, but he didn't," she says.
She also left a job— ironically, marketing a wealth management company — and started two companies of her own. One advises widows on money management. "Money is fun," Cooper says.