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.
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
I wrote a guest blog post for my friend Jodi Flynn's site "Women Taking the Lead". Check out Jodi's community focused on female leadership at https://womentakingthelead.com.
I’m incredibly excited to blog about my experience as part of the Women Taking the Lead community. This dynamic group has enriched my views on career and leadership and inspired me with amazing stories of women pushing forward to make their dreams a reality.
I first met Jodi when I was preparing to quit my unfulfilling finance job to launch a business focused on educating women about money and enabling them to take control of their financial futures. I followed through on my plan to quit, but never followed through on starting my business.
My biggest stumbling block was aiming for perfection
I wanted to launch a company functioning as if it was mature instead of taking the first step. I suffered from analysis-paralysis and it left me with a dwindling savings account, no business, and a feeling of failure.
Recently I regrouped and started a new job. It’s a role that affords me the ability to learn new sales skills and support myself yet still have the time and opportunity to work on my original goal of educating woman about money.
Women Taking the Lead has inspired me to finally move forward on my goal of founding Zenith Partners for Financial Education instead of becoming complacent with a steady paycheck.
There are three important lessons I’ve learned from the podcast and the community that have helped me refocus on my dream.
First, just begin.
Everything in life happens step by step, not all at once. Waiting for every “T” to be crossed and “I” dotted leads to a whole lot of procrastination and not a lot of progress.
It’s necessary to plan, but at some point you need to get in the game and off of the bench. Every day and every experience leads to new ideas so by not engaging with your target community you are leaving opportunities on the table.
Every single person I have talked to about my business idea has been supportive and some have even volunteered to back my venture monetarily but I still didn’t move forward. I’ve learned that we must take decisive action in order for results to materialize.
Second, be vulnerable.
The stories I most enjoy reading and hearing are those of women who have overcome challenges and made mistakes, yet revealing my own stumbles has proven difficult.
We are our own worst critics, and no one is judging our shortcomings as harshly as we are ourselves.
Get out there and share because you never know who will be inspired by common challenges. Perfection is not very appealing.
Finally, the interpretation of our circumstances is our choice.
One person’s excuse for “why not” is another’s call to action. Click to Tweet!
It’s easy to let the challenging circumstances we’ve experienced provide an excuse for why not to act, but those who act despite these challenges are the true leaders. I have let the “if only” game hold me back on many occasions, but the truth is that our own worst case scenario is likely someone else’s “if only.”
3 Valuable Leadership Lessons
As I move toward my goals, I’m also reflecting on the leadership lessons I’ve gleaned from people who have inspired me throughout my career. These are three of the leadership tips I think are most valuable.
One, if you’re the smartest person on your team, build a better team.
The weakest leaders I’ve worked with are those who surround themselves with people who are less knowledgeable than themselves in an effort to boost their own egos.
In contract, the best leaders are those people who know their weaknesses and fill the gaps by hiring teammates with complementary skills. This type of team empowers all of its members by encouraging meaningful contributions.
My belief is that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Two, the best leaders provide vision and guidance toward a goal but not the exact road map to get there.
The best way to empower people is to trust their decision making and insights. Taking away personal power by micromanaging the details ultimately backfires. It creates resentment and misaligned priorities as people adopt a self-preservation mindset.
If you surround yourself with the right team, then let them stretch their wings and lift everyone higher.
Finally, there are no dumb questions – don’t censor yourself.
Countless times in my early career I had a question I wanted to ask but stopped myself for fear of looking dumb, only to have someone else ask and been told it was a great question.
If you don’t understand, keep asking. Click to Tweet!
Chances are many other people are thinking the same thing but not raising their hands and you’ll be leading the charge.
Sharing experiences is an invaluable way to grow exponentially both in life and work.
Thank you Women Taking the Lead for providing a resource-rich platform for all of us to expand our horizons.
Katherine Krantz is the founder of Zenith Partners, a financial coaching practice designed to help women acquire the knowledge and skills they need to control their financial futures. She was inspired to start Zenith by her 20 years of experience in the finance and investment industry, where she repeatedly saw that the approach of traditional firms didn’t always align with women’s needs. Katherine is the co-author of “The Era of Uncertainty: Global Investment Strategies for Inflation, Deflation, and the Middle Ground” published by Wiley & Sons in August 2011. In her free time she enjoys boxing, running, dancing, reading, writing and long walks with her dog, Jack, in Central Park.
Katherine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ourzenith.com
You can also connect with Katherine in the Women Taking the Lead Private Facebook group.