Tax reform is top of the agenda for the Trump administration, and the bill that has already been passed by the House of Representatives would have a huge impact on the tax implications of divorce settlements.
The most significant is the elimination of the tax deduction for alimony. Even though the revenue this change generates for the government is relatively small, it has an enormous impact on the individuals affected.
Currently, the person that pays alimony is able to deduct their payments from their taxable incomes, providing a tax break. The person receiving the alimony payments is then required to pay income taxes on the amount they receive in alimony. Since the alimony payor is usually in a higher tax bracket then the payee, this reduces the overall tax burden of the couple/family. The new bill would shift the responsibility of paying taxes to the person paying the alimony, and the recipient would get the payment tax-free. This will generally incentivize the payor to keep the alimony payments smaller.
Other possible changes include the number of years you must own your home prior to selling it in order to exclude the gain from the sale, elimination of the mortgage interest tax deduction, and changes to the ability to deduct state and local income taxes.
Read more here:
New Tax Treatment of Maintenance and Implications for Divorcing Couples
Divorce Alert: Tax Bill Targets Alimony Deduction
This article was originally published in The Lyre, the magazine of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority:
Graduation felt bittersweet as I looked around the TV room of the Gamma chapter at Northwestern University for one last time. I couldn't wait to begin my new life as a college graduate, but saying farewell to my friends and our carefree college lifestyle felt miserable. I took consolation from a well-defined vision of what the next decade would hold for me, but now, looking back through a lens of 20 years, I could not have been more wrong.
One lesson I have learned since college graduation is that life constantly evolves. It was rare for me to end up where I imagined I would be, either professionally or personally, five years later. Some transitions from one life phase to the next can be planned, but many others can sneak up on you. Unexpected changes are the most emotionally taxing, and when they are complicated by a change in financial situation, they can feel overwhelming. The key to navigating these changes successfully is to identify and plan for potential financial hurdles as you move from one phase of life to the next.
From Formals to Life on Your Own
Transitioning from student life to the real world is likely the first big financial test you will face. This change can be stark, especially if you bore a share of your college financial burden. I had a work-study job in the Economics department for four years as well as a babysitting gig for about 20 hours a week, so I had a decent income as a student. I also racked up over $40,000 in student loan debt along the way. I was determined to rid myself of this debt burden so I did not allocate any of my income to investing while I paid off my student loans, which in hindsight was a mistake. I was debt free by the time my peers began buying apartments and houses, but I was starting at ground zero in savings. You may need to forego some happy hours to be able to pay down debt and save simultaneously, but the extra years of growth in your savings and investment accounts will pay off richly in the long run.
Even if you manage to graduate without student loan debt, learning to budget and avoid credit card debt can be challenging for those making their own financial decisions for the first time. Maintaining strict financial boundaries isn’t much fun, but it’s incredibly important at this stage. Some financial planners advocate small changes like making coffee at home instead of a $5 daily latte. I disagree. I believe that it is much easier to make larger, infrequent money-saving decisions than many small ones over and over. Choosing an apartment that is $150 per month cheaper than what you can afford is easier and more permanent than saying no to the coffee shop every day. That money can be automatically allocated to a savings account or an emergency fund every month with no continued effort.
Love, Marriage and Cohabitation
First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes an entirely new list of financial questions. It’s natural to be optimistic when imagining the life ahead with your partner, but wearing rose-colored glasses keeps many couples from planning for their comingled financial lives. Just as some couples go through pre-marital religious counseling, I highly recommend the same exercise with money.
Understanding each other’s financial habits and aligning expectations can help eliminate a lot of stress during your marriage. Will you have joint bank and credit card accounts or maintain them separately? How will you split expenses? What are your goals for home ownership, children, and retirement? How do you agree on discretionary spending when one person is frugal and the other is not? These are all issues that are better resolved ahead of time rather than in the heat of the moment.
It doesn’t necessarily require a legal commitment for these financial issues to arise as more and more couples live together without getting married.
In my late twenties, I lived with my boyfriend for almost five years. In the beginning, we earned approximately the same amount of money so we split everything down the middle. A few years later, he was out-earning me by several multiples, but we continued to divide our regular expenses in half. I felt uncomfortable asking him to pay more, but I had a hard time keeping up with the upgraded lifestyle he wanted to live. The relationship, and my finances, would have been healthier had I insisted on discussing a different way to divvy up expenses. Speak up and be honest about your financial needs in a relationship.
Family money and inheritances are another potential source of tension for many couples. It can be awkward to ask about what your partner is expecting from his or her family, especially when there is a significant amount of wealth involved. I have worked with women who knew their partners had a trust fund, but had no idea how large it was nor its intended use. These details are particularly important when the couple hopes to have a family since often estate planning is designed around providing for future generations.
Prenuptial agreements are a common way to address these issues before they become a problem during the marriage. Many women push back against this idea because they believe it’s planning for the marriage to fail. Try to think about it as similar to auto insurance. No one hopes or plans to get into an accident, but if it happens then the coverage is invaluable. Even if you stay together forever, it’s useful for both spouses to spell out what they are bringing into the marriage and whether they intend to combine assets with each other. Keep in mind that inherited assets belong solely to the spouse receiving them as long as they are not commingled with marital assets. In other words, if you inherit money and put it in an account under your name only then your spouse has no claim on it. If the inheritance goes into a joint account or is used to buy property where both spouses live, then it may be considered community property.
Welcoming a child into the world is one of the biggest changes that a woman will experience as her priorities and schedule get a massive make over. New mothers in the workforce have the additional adjustment of a change in identity to either a working mom or a stay at home mom. Add in the financial stresses of a new baby and this can be a challenging transition.
The first step is to sit down and calculate how much extra it will cost in your area to care for your baby. Websites like babycenter.com have tools that can help you add up the tally of daycare, babysitters, diapers, food, clothing, toys, medical expenses, and saving for college. This number is critical in the decision of whether both parents, or which one, need to work. You should also consider longer-range upgrades such as private school tuition or the possibility of moving to a larger house or apartment as your family grows.
The most pressing concern for many new parents is preparing for the skyrocketing cost of college. Between 1995 and 2015, the cost of tuition and fees at private universities jumped 179 percent, out-of- state tuition and fees at public state schools rose 226 percent, and costs at in-state public universities shot up 296 percent (Source: US News). Meanwhile, general inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index increased 55.1 percent and nominal household incomes rose 66 percent (Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve). The sooner you start building your child's tuition fund the better.
Before the baby is born speak with a financial advisor about your options for 529 Plans. Run by a state agency or educational institution, a 529 Plan helps families accumulate funds to meet future college costs. These plans offer tremendous tax advantages, they are flexible, and have no income limits, age limits or annual contribution limits. Financial aid applications can be affected by who owns the plan, however, so be sure to plan accordingly if you expect to apply for aid. Contributing to your child’s college fund can be a great alternative to birthday toys and brand new outfits.
When Love and Marriage Don’t Go As Planned
Divorce rates are on the decline, but the American Psychological Association says that 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the U.S. still split up. Emotions run high during the dissolution of a marriage, so getting your facts straight is key. The first thing you should do is talk to a lawyer and find out if you live in a state that follows the equitable distribution of marital property or community property. This will determine how marital assets will be divided. Next, seek out the financial education you need, especially if you were not previously the one making money decisions. This will give you the confidence required to make the tough decisions ahead.
I was married in my twenties and separated three years later. Despite my economics background, I didn’t have a clue about the financial implications of a divorce. These are some concrete steps you can take to protect your finances as you enter the divorce process.
Open New Accounts in Your Name Only
Your spouse could clear out your checking and savings accounts without your consent or freeze your credit cards if all your liquid assets are in joint accounts. Fund your accounts with enough money for at least 6 months to weather any short-term storms.
Track Online Account Passwords and Keep Hard Copies of Records
Make a list of all your accounts and the online access information. Hard-copies of insurance policies, wills, trusts, tax returns or other legal documents will come in handy when the court asks you to complete a financial declaration with proof of taxes, debts, assets and monthly financial obligations.
There’s a good chance that one of you will move out of the marital residence as you go through divorce proceedings. If you’re the one to leave, you may no longer have access to the property and no way to prove that the things important to you existed. Take pictures of everything, even if it is something you may not want to fight for in the split, and document it as something to negotiate against.
Protect Yourself from Debt
Debt is divided post-separation by who incurred the debt. Translation: if the debt is in one person’s name it’s theirs, if it’s under a joint loan or credit card then the responsibility is shared. There’s not much you can do about joint debt, but if you have a shared credit card you can freeze additional spending. Monitor your card activity and your credit score on a regular basis.
Follow Professional Advice
Take a breath before you sign any legal documents and take advice from your legal and financial team. Don’t give up because you’re tired and frustrated. Our brains are programmed to prioritize current rewards (lack of conflict) over future rewards (a fair settlement). Try to focus on what will be best for you and your family 5 or 10 years from now.
The Death of a Spouse
Women live an average of five years longer than men, leaving more women to face the loss of a spouse (Source: US Centers for Disease Control). Grief can lead to prioritizing emotions over smart financial moves when facing this traumatic life transition, so it’s important to avoid immediate decisions. Watch out if you find yourself using excessive spending as a way to cope with your loss. Travel and home improvements may be therapeutic, but make sure they are not drawing down too much short-term liquidity. Take some time before deciding to either pay off a mortgage or sell your home. You may feel differently about the place you lived with your spouse six or twelve months down the line. This is also a time to be cautious about whom you trust with your finances. Be sure to vet thoroughly any financial or insurance professional before giving them any money. One way to do this is with FINRA's BrokerCheck, a free tool that can help you research the professional backgrounds of brokers and brokerage firms, as well as investment adviser firms and advisers.
A dear friend of mine has been watching her boyfriend go through the typical stages of a midlife crisis. Despite having a successful career, plenty of money, and a woman he loves, he is exhausted and questioning what comes next. Cue the purchase of a Ferrari, and we’ve all seen this movie before. The middle-aged man tries to regain his lost youth.
His journey has inspired her to research what happens to us when we reach that point in our lives, and she suggested to me that quitting my job was inspired by my own version of a midlife crisis. I started reading the articles she sent to me, and I had to agree. The midlife reassessment appears to occur differently for men and women – particularly professional women. According to Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., a mid-life crisis isn't about recovering lost youth for smart, goal-driven women. It's more about discovering the application of their greatness. The challenge is defining what greatness means, so often the journey is winding and, at least at first, has no specific destination.
Career-oriented women tend to have shifts in aspirations with each decade. We pay our dues and anxiously await the rewards. Sometimes these awards don’t appear, and as we enter our 30s, many women start to seek something more meaningful. We’ve experienced inequality in the workplace, we’ve realized that the world is not a meritocracy, and we start to examine the gap between our personal values and our careers. By our 40s, many of us have lost the desire to prove ourselves. This can manifest is several different ways. Some decide to work on their own, some switch careers to fulfill their personal dreams and create a better life balance, and some fall off the grid to regroup completely. Instead of a midlife “crisis” it’s more of a midlife quest for identity.
Two years ago, at 42, I chose the latter path and dropped off the grid. I thought I was choosing to work independently, but once I was out of the daily grind I lost that identity and had yet to form a new one. I enjoyed my freedom for a while, but at some point, I realized I was adrift. I couldn’t answer the “so, what do you do” question without feeling like a fraud. I would mumble some answer about consulting projects and starting a business, but inside my brain was screaming “YOU ARE SO FULL OF SHIT!” I went through a period of crisis. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I withdrew from friends, I stopped exercising. I felt like I was wading through quicksand. Thankfully I never went so far down the rabbit hole that I didn’t realize what was happening. I knew, rationally, that I needed to pull myself out of it, but I couldn’t do it until I was ready. Finally, I reached that day when I had had enough. I allowed myself a few more hours at the pity party for one, and decided that in the morning I would wake up and do something about it. And I did. I started to work out again, re-engage with people, and slowly everything shifted.
It’s important to avoid the coulda-shoulda-woulda spiral, but it can be informative to listen to that voice to some degree. What do you feel you could or should have done at this point in your life? Is it a legitimate passion or just guilt about what you have not achieved? What do you want more (and less) of in your life going forward? I’m working on giving up the “shoulda” of staying with a big financial firm, working my way up the ladder, ignoring the politics and bureaucracy and cashing my paycheck. I know that’s not who I am, and it’s ok.
I am positive that I will apply my “greatness” in a way that will make a major impact, but I’m still figuring out exactly what that means. It’s difficult to give up the anchor of the identity we have built for 40-plus years, especially when we have been the good girls, the achievers, the A students. Starting fresh takes courage, and the path is not linear. I look back on the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met over the past two years and I regret none of it. I’ve been able to try on many different identities to see if they fit. I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of geopolitical risk, multi-cultural marketing, an online talk show, sales, and coaching. I’ve written about my challenges, and not been afraid to look vulnerable. Most importantly, I’ve been able to rest and live healthier. I now know better what works for me and what doesn’t. I want to help people, but money still matters. Boundaries are important – it’s healthy to say no. I must have creative, physical, and mental avenues of expression to be fulfilled. It’s time to make the second half count
Divorce takes an emotional and financial toll on women, and the financial impact can be even worse when feelings run the show. Frustration and anger can lead to poor long-term decisions in the heat of the moment, so it’s best to have a plan in the beginning and stick to it. Sometimes one spouse want to “play fair” while the other is protecting their own interests. You can’t be naive and you can’t be passive. There are some common-sense steps any woman can take to be prepared to navigate the financial hurdles of a split. If you need a little courage, take some advice from Liz, a woman who knew her way around a divorce:
"Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together."
- Elizabeth Taylor
1. Open New Bank and Credit Card Accounts in Your Name Only
This is the most important thing you can do before you initiate a divorce or as soon as your spouse asks for a split. You risk being closed off from money in the short term if all your liquid assets are in joint accounts. Your spouse could clear out your checking and savings accounts without your consent or freeze your credit cards. If you have your own funded accounts with enough money for at least 6 months, then you can weather any short-term storms without worrying how to cover expenses. You should also check your credit score and make sure everything looks accurate.
2. Know the Online Passwords of All Accounts and Make Copies of Financial Records
You can’t keep an eye on your joint accounts and make changes if you can’t access them. Make sure you know how to get to them online. Make copies of any hard-copy records you have of insurance policies, wills, trusts, tax returns or other legal documents. At some point in your divorce you will need to complete a financial declaration that asks for proof of taxes, debts, assets and monthly financial obligations. Don’t risk your spouse hiding or disposing of these documents before you can make a copy.
3. Take Pictures of Everything in the House
There’s a good chance that one of you will move out of the marital residence as you go through divorce proceedings. If you’re the one to leave, you may no longer have access to the property and no way to prove that the things important to you existed. As early in the process as possible take pictures of anything valuable. Even if it is something you may not want to fight for in the split, document it as something to negotiate against.
4. Protect Yourself from Your Spouse’s Debt
Debt is divided post-separation by who incurred the debt. Translation: if the debt is in one person’s name it’s theirs, if it’s under a joint loan or credit card then the responsibility is shared. There’s not much you can do about joint debt, but if you have a shared credit card you can freeze additional spending. You don’t want your partner running up charges in anticipation of a split. If you do see this happening then it could be a red flag that something is about to go down. Keep monitoring your card activity and your credit score.
5. Build a Cash Reserve
This may sound basic, but build a 6-month cash reserve. I’ve had many clients who have built up a reserve slowly by taking out an extra $20 at every grocery store purchase. This cash will help you establish a new residence, pay legal fees and living expenses and cover kids’ expenses until spousal support is established legally. Start by understanding in detail what your monthly spending entails for both you and your children to determine how much you will need.
6. Don't Make Any Financial or Legal Decisions Based on Guilt, Pride or Shame.
Take a breath before you sign any legal documents. Get a second and third opinion. Don’t just give in because you’re tired and frustrated. It feels like the right thing to do now, but a few years down the road you’ll regret it. Trust me. The human brain is programmed to prioritize current rewards (lack of conflict) over future rewards (a fair settlement). Try to override this instinct and focus on what will be best for you and your family 5 or 10 years from now.
In my heart of hearts, I believe that a lot of people don’t truly understand why we elected Donald Trump a few weeks ago. If Facebook is a guide, then many who oppose him think it was because half the country is made up of white supremacists who want to repeal the 19th amendment. I don’t think Donald Trump got elected because he created a slew of new racists, homophobes, and misogynists. I think that the people we’ve seen giving Nazi salutes and punching fellow diners in the face because of differing political views probably held those beliefs well before CEO Trump became Candidate Trump.
Has he emboldened these people? Yes. Has he given these views more legitimacy? Yes, and that’s horrible. But these were never Hillary Clinton voters, and they were not the deciding factor. Those of us who want to avoid seeing another candidate who appeals to humanity’s most primitive views need to identify the real root of the problem and solve it.
The people that made the difference in this election are the ones who don’t feel like they have the luxury of worrying about social injustice
I think the people that made the difference in this election are the ones who don’t feel like they have the luxury of worrying about social injustice. These Americans prioritized housing and feeding their families, finding and keeping a job, and making sure their kids are healthy. I would bet that most – most, not all – of them don’t agree with the way that Trump inflamed the so-called “alt-right” movement, but their basic needs took priority. They’ve been feeling financially marginalized for a long time now, and they decided that trying something different than the status quo could potentially produce different results. This doesn’t make these voters crazy, it makes them human.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed his famous “hierarchy of needs”. This is a theory in psychology describing the patterns of human motivation. He identified the basic types of motivations and the order in which they should be met. I think that this theory clearly explains the results of this election.
The most basic needs are physiological. A human cannot survive without air, food, water, shelter, clothing and sleep. Just after the physiological needs come safety and security, which includes financial security, personal security and health. The next level of motivation involves love and belonging, followed by confidence, achievement and respect for others. Finally, the last level is about self-actualization, which includes morality.
Financial security comes just after things like eating and breathing
Think about that for a second. Financial security comes just after things like eating and breathing, while respect for others and morality come waaaaay after all the things that help us stay alive. An auto worker in Detroit who has been unemployed for 8 years and a New Yorker drinking $15 cocktails may have the same outrage over the hateful behavior they’ve seen from some Trump supporters, but the unemployed person prioritized the hope that shaking up our political and economic system could change their situation. They’re not sure what might happen, but they’re willing to roll the dice because what they’ve been experiencing financially hasn’t been working. It’s the same logic that propelled the popularity of Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
On some level, I can sympathize with that decision. I’m lucky that I can satisfy enough of the basics to put a high priority on respect for others. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are wealthy people full of hate, and poor people fighting for the rights of others, but my guess is that the voters who swung Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio are mostly worried about what the future holds economically for themselves and their families.
The vile rhetoric and actions we’ve seen should absolutely be denounced, but, by nature, I’m a practical person. I want to fix the roots of the problem.
Happiness is a relative concept
It’s difficult to argue that the growing divide in terms of income and wealth in this country isn’t a major contributor to the growing divide in ideology. This is just common sense. Happiness is a relative concept. You can find endless studies that show people who make $30,000 feel great when their neighbor makes $20,000 and people who make $200,000 feel lousy when their neighbor makes $250,000. When 99% of the country is looking at their ruling class making significantly more than they are, and not being terribly productive in the process, the angst is understandable. Maybe if we can close the gap a bit we can help our fellow citizens move up that pyramid of motivations toward respect for others.
This topic is a little off the beaten path of personal finances, but there is a connection. If you don’t have your financial house in order, it’s difficult to focus on improving things like confidence, experiences and achievement. Conquering this basic area of your life will allow you to devote energy to other problems, especially when you’re going through a life transition like divorce.
From: A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality
By Chad Stone, Danilo Trisi, Arloc Sherman, and Emily Horton
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute
November 7, 2016
“The share of before-tax income that the richest 1 percent of households receive has been rising since the late 1970s, and in the past decade has climbed to levels not seen since the 1920s. The vast-majority of the increase is accounted for by the rising share of before-tax income going to the top 0.5 percent of households.”
“Wealth is much more highly concentrated than income, and concentration at the top has risen since the 1980s.”
This week I attended a panel discussion hosted by Ellevate Network, the women’s professional organization (@EllevateNtwk). The topic was “America’s New President: Fast-Tracking Issues Affecting Women.”
When I signed up for the event last week I assumed it was planned in response to Donald Trump’s victory, but I learned that the event was scheduled prior to Election Day. Panel moderator Mark Lipton, a professor at The New School, opened the night by saying how different he thought the discussion would be just a week ago.
Considering the subject matter and the almost completely-female audience, there wasn’t much hand wringing over the election results. The discussion was overwhelmingly positive. It focused on moving forward and our responsibility as women to take action. The message was that talk is cheap, get out there and do something.
Our panelists were diverse and brought a range of experiences. Sallie Krawcheck, the Chair of Ellevate, spent decades as a leader on Wall Street, working within while fighting the old boys club. Lauren Leader-Chivee, Founder & CEO, All In Together (AIT), a non-partisan organization dedicated to teaching women how to have voice in politics. And Jamia Wilson, Executive Director, Women, Action and the Media, who is a leading voice on feminist and women’s rights issues.
It was an inspiring discussion. All of these women have created their own paths in fields largely dominated by men. There was no secret to their success – it was purely determination and hard work. It inspired me, as an entrepreneur, to keep pushing forward even on the days that feel like I’m swimming through quick sand. These are a few of the other insights I gained from the night.
The World Is Not a Meritocracy
Where was this advice when I was 22? I had a wonderful father who always told me I could do and be anything I wanted, but he definitely led me astray by instilling the idea that being smart and working hard would lead me to success. Early in my career I tried to be the best employee I could be and sat back waiting to be recognized for my work. Waiting and waiting and waiting. Never asking for a raise, never asking for a promotion. Surely my contributions were obvious and I would be rewarded for them.
The reality is that we do need to be smart and work hard, but we also need to actively promote our own contributions. My aha moment came in my early 30s when I discovered that a guy I worked with made the same amount of money as me. He was lazy and the rest of us constantly had to finish his work and correct his mistakes. On top of that he wasn’t a very nice person. When I confronted my boss about this, his answer was that this guy repeatedly pushed for more money. He said, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Lesson learned. The next time I received a job offer, I renegotiated my starting salary and my vacation days.
Women Don’t Have to Act Like Men to Be Successful
This comment surprised me a bit since it came from Sallie who rose to the top ranks of traditional, male dominated Wall Street institutions. I had always assumed that she must have played the game “their” way. It hit home because I’ve always struggled with taking the rules as a given or doing things my own way. I’ve done a little bit of both.
I believe that “acting like a man” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot from my male colleagues. The younger me used to hesitate to speak up in meetings, analyzing whether my question or comment was dumb, only to have a guy say almost the same thing and be praised for it. I’ve learned to negotiate better and I’ve learned to stick to my professional boundaries.
The funniest thing I’ve learned from my male colleagues, and I’ve heard this from several, is that they often do a bad job at things they don’t want to do so that they’re not asked again. I think this is difficult for most women to comprehend. In general, I believe women have a hard time showing that they’re “bad” at anything. The implementation might not be totally honest, but the motivation behind is a good lesson. If there are things we are asked to do that are taking time away from what we should or need to be doing, then push back is necessary. There certainly are times when we all need to take one for the team, but if we do that too often we risk it becoming an unproductive pattern and could stifle our advancement.
Not All Women Support Other Women
This one is tough to swallow, even though it should be obvious. Not all men support other men either. Why would all women like and support each other? We must be discriminating in who we trust at work and in life. I’ve certainly experienced a high level of scrutiny and discrimination from some of the women I’ve worked with throughout my career.
One of comments from the panel was that this is a generational issue. “Older” women – which is clearly a subjective delineation – had to fight for the few female seats at the table. If one woman got the promotion, chances were that another would not. It was a zero-sum game. Today, it doesn’t feel like one woman’s success must mean another’s failure. Women are still grossly underrepresented in senior management and board seats, but we are making progress. I believe this is a grass roots effort and every small way we can support other women’s success is beneficial. Let’s make this a case of a rising tide lifts all boats.
Yowza, this has not been a great week. A sweet young guy who worked in my building, only 24 years old, died in his sleep from a burst appendix. My dream of electing the first female president vanished in front of my eyes. I had an extremely uncomfortable situation with a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. And finally, I found out that a friend from high school, one of my fellow cheerleaders and my morning ride to school, tragically passed away and left 3 young sons. I’ve done my fair share of crying and I'm ready to start over on Monday.
Rob Base nailed it, life is both joy and pain, sunshine and rain. I’ve taken away two important reminders from these sad experiences. First, life is short. This certainly isn’t breaking news, but when we get wrapped up in our petty day to day problems it’s easy to forget how fragile and fleeting our time here can be. We need to wring as much happiness from each day as possible. Second, it’s not always easy being a woman. We face some unique challenges and need to be prepared for them, both emotionally and in practice.
On the surface, these two conclusions seem a bit contradictory from a financial perspective. Life is short – live every day like it’s your last! But…we need to be prepared, responsible and tough. I believe that we can marry these two ideas to build a responsible yet fulfilling future. These are my suggestions on how to strike a balance in your financial life between planning and enjoying:
The last thing the Internet needs is one more article complaining about Donald Trump, so I'm not going to write that post. As a woman with a mission to empower other women financially, I want to talk about how The Donald has impacted the national discourse in a way that I hope will be positive in the long run. I believe his comments have opened a conversation that crosses gender lines about what is acceptable to say and do to people in general. This is not about being overly politically correct – it’s about being human.
Let me get this out of the way…the comments Trump made on the Access Hollywood bus were without question demeaning, disrespectful and unacceptable. I think FLOTUS summarized it perfectly last week when she said,
“…I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.” - Michelle Obama
I concur. Hearing his words shocked me, and I’m not easily offended. They pissed me off. It made me want to cry. I felt the sting of those words personally. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s viral video, it made me want to punch him in the face.
Most people would never say or do the things Trump described, but harassment doesn’t need to be overtly physical to intimidate or demean. Until now, I don’t think that our society has been open about discussing where that line is drawn, even among women. Since the release of that tape I’ve had many conversations with friends, both male and female, about their experiences with harassment. I’ve learned things about friends I’ve known for decades that they had never mentioned. Either they had buried it deep in their memories or were too embarrassed to bring it up before, but now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, these stories are being discussed. I think this is progress. I’ve also remembered encounters that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I recall a time in my early 30s when I ended up in a walk-in coat closet with a client as he retrieved his bag and I picked up my umbrella. When I turned around he was blocking my access to the door. He proceeded to invite me to Miami for a weekend on his yacht, apparently unfazed by our 40-year age difference. He mentioned that he would love the opportunity to see me in a bikini. I felt utterly disrespected. I had just delivered a sophisticated presentation about his portfolio’s asset allocation and the impact on his future wealth. Our discussion hadn’t come close to bikinis and yachts. As a good corporate soldier, I laughed and thanked him for the offer. I begged off with the excuse that I had plans for the weekend. I really wanted to punch him in the face as well, but that wasn’t an option.
I remember a time when a colleague picked up a pen off of his desk and threw it on the ground in front of me as I walked by, then asked me if I’d pick it up for him. It was very Mad Men-esque before Mad Men even existed. He laughed and said, “I’m totally kidding.” Yeah, maybe not so much.
I remember being told by a colleague, intended as a compliment, that despite being blond and attractive I gained credibility as soon as I started speaking. Why would it be assumed that I was not intelligent in the first place?
I’ve had friends tell me of times when a high school teacher asked her out on a date (when she was still in high school). I had a male friend tell me about being subjected to constant conversations about the sexual prowess of his female colleagues’ partners while at work. I’ve heard of false rumors being spread about affairs between colleagues of both sexes because it “seemed” they were receiving preferential treatment by management. I’ve heard of a friend being encouraged by her boss to apologize to a male client who had been openly discussing her boobs the night before at dinner to make him feel less uncomfortable about the situation. For what exactly was she apologizing? Having breasts?
I could go on and on about other incidents experienced in social settings, but I’ll stick to the professional situations because they have a direct impact on personal finances.
The implicit message in these circumstances is that “I have power over you, your career, and your income.” The high school teacher could have impacted my friend’s grades, and thus her college and career choices. My client could have threatened to pull his money from the firm if I didn’t play along, which potentially put my job at risk. The women discussing their partners’ sexual performance could have decided to alienate and marginalize the lone man in their group. The common thread is that we all face a decision of whether to play along, or to say what’s on our minds and face the potential consequences. My guess is that most of us try to smooth out the rough edges. I’m sure Billy Bush would agree with this. (I was sympathetic to Billy Bush having to play along until he made the request for a hug, ugh).
Let’s pivot back to the upside of this situation. I’m glad that these discussions are taking place. I’m thrilled that we’re sharing stories and talking about what dis-empowers us. Knowledge is power. We don’t know what we don’t know.
My hope is that the media attention garnered by these words will continue to move this conversation forward. Only by sympathizing with one another’s experiences will we be able to humanize and respect each other in a way that will empower us all. Let’s not mistake being a kind and caring human being for being “too P.C.” I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Please leave any experiences you'd like to share in the comments.
The story of a mother of two, managing divorce while protecting her children...
Several weeks ago I posted the story of my divorce and how it impacted me financially and emotionally. The positive feedback was overwhelming and I thank everyone who reached out to express their appreciation for sharing my story. This inspired me to learn more about what other women have gone through in the hopes of spreading more knowledge, and today I’m beginning a series of posts about women’s experiences navigating the financial and emotional ups and downs of divorce.
I posted in several of my Facebook groups asking for women who would be willing to share their stories and I was astounded at the number of friends and relatives of friends who are willing to tell me about their journeys. What I’ve learned is that financial miscalculations during a breakup have implications that extend indefinitely. The common threads I’ve heard are feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, scared and intimidated. This is not about bashing men – the responsibility lies on both sides of the gender divide. Men tend to fight for what they believe is best for them, but women tend to give in financially to get out of the relationship with as little conflict as possible. This is not a judgement of either sex, solely an empirical observation. The lesson I’ve learned, however, is that if women want to protect their financial futures they need to be willing to stand up for themselves. “I just wanted it to be over” is the sentiment in the heat of the moment, but “wow, I regret walking away from what I should have gotten” is the message that resonates for years later.
This story is from a mother of two who has been married three times. I’m changing names to protect the innocent, so I’ll call her Patricia. Patricia got married when she was 19 after a long-distance romance and quickly had two babies. Once they were married he started drinking more and staying out until the early morning. He was rough with her when he was drunk, criticizing mundane details like how she made his sandwiches. Patricia never thought of it as physical abuse at the time, but looking back that’s exactly what it was. She left once but went back to him – this was a long time ago and divorce still wasn’t that common in her small town so the decision wasn’t clear cut.
The final straw came when concern for her 18 month and 3 ½ year old children took center stage. She didn’t want the abuse to extend to them, so she left with $45 in her pocket and had to rely on her parents as a stay at home mom. A friend helped her move the baby’s crib, but she walked away from everything else. The divorce was contentious. They fought about every detail down to who would keep the laundry basket.
She hired attorneys but didn’t feel like they fought for her, constantly questioning what she needed. Obtaining a steady income from her ex was complicated by the fact that he didn’t work consistently. Patricia agreed to terms that were not beneficial given her custodial burden. She agreed that she would claim the kids on her income tax returns only every other year even though her ex only paid support for 3 months out of the year. She ended up bearing the bulk of the financial burden for the children.
Patricia’s most recent marriage lasted 14 years. She knew he was cheating, but had failed at marriage before and didn’t want to chalk this one up in the loss column as well. She was determined to make it work and turned a blind eye to what she didn’t want to see. He grew more controlling of Patricia over time despite his own affairs. She couldn’t receive phone calls after 9:30pm or else he became suspicious, projecting his own deceitful behavior onto her. He steered her into self-serving investment decisions regarding her job’s retirement plan. He assured her, trust me, we’ll live off of my retirement income.
The Timing Will Never Be "Right"
She had reached a point of no return and knew she had to leave, but the timing was never right. It was always close to a holiday or a birthday. She second guessed whether she wanted to be alone as she got older. She started seeing an attorney before she definitively decided to leave, and this time she did think about putting money away. On every trip to the grocery store she cashed a few extra dollars to accumulate some money, but despite her small nest egg, she still didn’t know where she’d go the night she left.
Finally, she pulled the plug and filed for divorce. This one began no more smoothly than the last. She rang up $7,000 in fees to her attorney without him gaining any temporary support for her. Once she got to court to fight for support, however, she could no longer afford her attorney. Patricia even lost some of her assets in the final settlement. Despite her ex’s assurance that they’d live off of his retirement income, he ended up with half of her retirement fund when they split. She now receives some monthly income from his retirement as well, and to protect herself in case of his death, she is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. She has to trust that he will continue paying the premiums every year, and annually has to chase him down to make sure he’s doing so.
Patricia always wanted to be fair, but in hindsight she doesn’t believe this approach served her well. Guilt and uncertainty led her to concede terms that have had long-lasting consequences. She believes that many women never recover financially from a divorce so it’s important to plan ahead. These are her main points of advice for women going through similar situations:
You Have to Do the Work
Free online advice is available in abundance these days, but the self-improvement industry still brings in about $10 billion per year. We are addicted to life hacks and shortcuts to weight loss, perfect relationships and untold riches. The irony is that most of the industry’s biggest customers are repeat offenders. The most likely purchaser of a self-help book is the same person who has purchased one in the past 18 months. Full disclosure – I am guilty as charged. I regularly read Tim Ferris and James Altucher and Brené Brown to name just a few. The problem became that reading these blogs and books made me feel like I was accomplishing something, but in fact I was idling.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to life’s challenges. The stumbling block most of us face is not a lack of information, but a lack of commitment to action. As Erica Jong said, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”
Lasting Change Requires Action and Determination
Any lasting change requires good old-fashioned determination. We can journal and make to-do lists until the cows come home, but until we back up our plans with action nothing material is going to change. I worked on the plan for this business for over a year without taking enough action to make it a reality. I read a lot, and made notes, and wrote about ideas to write about, but I never published anything. Finally, I ordered business cards and that was enough to change everything. That small action, a mere $100 investment, was enough commitment to get my momentum moving forward.
The tendency to plan and not act is especially problematic when it comes to overhauling your financial life. Tracking your spending and setting boundaries on luxuries is a great first step toward meeting your financial goals, but the hard part is making those tough decisions in the moment. Saying no to the last minute weekend trip or gorgeous boots staring at you from one of the gazillion shopping emails in your inbox can be difficult to do. If you’re debating the decision in each individual situation, eventually you are going to run out of willpower. The key to successfully taking action is tweaking your thought process around progress. I’ll save you hundreds of hours of reading – these are three mental shifts I found helpful in moving from analysis-paralysis into the action stage.
Three Mental Shifts to Move into Action
1. The 1% Plan: Set small goals attainable in the short-term, then take the first step and then the next. Don’t obsess about the end result. Focusing on the larger goal can be overwhelming and demotivating. If you need to save $100,000 for the down payment on your dream apartment, then focus on the first $1,000. It’s enough of a challenge to motivate you, but not so much that you’ll feel like throwing in the towel. Also, set the time frame for accomplishing each 1% increment. Write it down somewhere visible and track your progress.
The small step of ordering my business cards was a 1% commitment to action. My next 1% was polishing my website enough to launch it, not perfect it. Then I wrote my first new blog post. Every day my new 1% goal is to improve my site, write, or develop connections to grow my business. And when I get overwhelmed by a situation I always remember the immortal words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
2. Find Your Hook: Figure out what value or goal motivates you and hooks your interest. Money on its own doesn’t motivate me. Some people obsess about the accumulation of wealth as a goal on its own, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve been in financial services for 20 years and I never took the hard-charging jobs that would fill my coffers. I always tried to do things that were interesting but still allowed me the lifestyle I enjoyed because I most value freedom: freedom to set my own schedule, freedom to travel, freedom to do something that I believe is helping people. In order to have this freedom I need money. I like to joke that my parents forgot to leave me my trust fund, so I need to be responsible for funding my freedom. This hook is what keeps me from surfing the internet, listening to music and walking my dog all day long.
What is your primary motivator? Is it freedom as well? Philanthropy? Security? Power? Keep your motivation in the front of your mind when you feel like giving in to the path of least resistance.
3. Be Kind to Yourself: Stop beating yourself up. In “The Willpower Instinct,” author Kelly McGonigal says that we may think that guilt motivates us to correct our mistakes, but evidence shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. Guilt makes us feel like, well, we already messed up once, might as well do it again. In contrast, being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and (self-declared) failure, is associated with more motivation and better self-control.
Forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability. Taking a self-compassionate point of view on a shortcoming makes us more likely to take personal responsibility and correct course. We are also more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience. Letting go of your past “mistake” can wipe the slate clean. If you haven’t been saving for your goals on a regular basis, today is the best day to begin.
In case you want to help take the self-help industry from $10 billion to $11 billion, here are some of my favorites on motivation and breaking through resistance.
Some of My Favorite Books and Podcasts to Get Motivated
"The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" by Kelly McGonigal
"Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown
"Rising Strong" by Brené Brown
"Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" by Simon Sinek
"Do the Work" by Steven Pressfield
"The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield
"Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" by Austin Kleon
"The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph" by Ryan Holiday
"The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work" by Shawn Achor
"What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question" by Po Bronson
The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast (General Link)
The Tim Ferriss Show - The Importance of Being Dirty: Lessons from Mike Rowe
James Altucher Podcast Ep. 159 – Derek Sivers: The Zen Master of Entrepreneurship