"Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” - Ayn Rand
It is estimated that 90% of women will be in charge of their finances at some point in their lifetimes. Becoming a widow or being divorced are two common ways this happens. Women may become their own Chief Financial Officer suddenly and without notice. These circumstances require women to manage their financial affairs on their own, possibly at a time when they are experiencing a decrease in income and going through a period of mental and emotional turmoil.
Women face unique challenges in establishing financial security. They tend to live longer than men, so they are exposed to a variety of extra financial demands. Women often make a choice early in their careers to spend time at home taking care of young children, a choice which affects their total income over their career. Additionally, the average wage for women is still below that of men overall.
Despite the obvious importance of financial planning for females, many refrain from discussing finances even with those they are close to. For single women who are developing a new relationship with a potential life partner, shyness about money matters can combine with concerns about rocking the boat to stifle important discussions about each other’s financial condition and future cooperation.
Limiting beliefs and fears
Imagine something different
First of all, it helps to be clear about what you want to change – if anything. Remember, if it isn’t broken, it may not need to be fixed. On the other hand, if your thoughts or actions are working against you, consider what would work better. Ask yourself how your ideal self might handle things differently. Would she be relaxed and confident when paying bills or reviewing account statements? Would she have a plan for achieving financial security? Would she talk assertively with her partner or potential partner about financial teamwork?
When you create a richly detailed image of what you prefer, you have taken a step forward toward making it happen. Create a daydream movie of you doing something differently, feeling differently, looking at things from a different perspective and reacting differently. The more detailed, the better. If it helps, write it down like a script. Rehearse it and then experiment with it in real life. Tip: Successful goals are realistically achievable ones. If you are currently avoiding adding up your assets, liabilities, and income and think you should, let doing that be your goal. Save analyzing your investment portfolio for next week.
Small successes are encouraging and invite further effort so try out one aspect of your financial role that you think you are pretty likely to do the way you want. If you have been anxious about becoming a “bag lady” and your goal is to feel more confident in your future, would examining the fear in a shorter timeframe help? If you aren’t likely to become homeless and friendless in the next week or month, then perhaps you can intentionally focus on feeling confident and relaxed while thinking only a short time ahead. Try experimenting how far out in the future you can imagine and remain confident. You might discover that as you do this, your thoughts change along with your feelings. For instance, you might find yourself wondering what it would take for you to feel confident five years out. More cash on hand? Having your car paid off? A more secure job? How could you make any of those things happen? You might find that you forget to be anxious because you have gotten so busy making plans. Each of us is unique, and you will create your own path forward.
Small changes can make a big difference
We sometimes get stuck because the gap between what we are doing and what we want to achieve is too great. Often a small change can have a surprisingly big impact, especially as time goes on. For instance, perhaps you have avoided talking with your partner about money, and you think it would be better if you were more of a team. Rather than trying to understand why you have held back or what your feelings are about it, what if you just did something different? Perhaps you could find out how much is in your checking account and simply comment on it with no intention of having a big discussion. Just say you thought you should be better informed. Could that lead to more conversation about your current finances and plans? Maybe, maybe not, but something will have changed.
The funny thing is that it doesn’t matter much what you do differently; change is stimulated by you doing something out of the ordinary routine. Equip yourself with an image of how you would like things to be, then get the ball rolling with one little action and see what happens.
When life changes, money changes
Divorce profoundly changes your finances. For most women, this means a decrease in the amount of money you have and the income available. This crisis can be an opportunity to grow if you are willing to experiment and adapt. When our lives have been turned upside down by tsunami events like divorce we are usually over-stressed and the natural tendency is to shut down. Our autopilot tends to rely on emotional and action habits that may reach back to our childhood because they are familiar even if they don’t work so well. Don’t add to your stress by forcing yourself to make changes while you are in the midst of turbulence. Look for indications that you are recovering your balance and when you are ready, try something different.
Life is constantly changing as are we. When you define the direction you prefer to take, you increase the odds of getting there. I wonder how you want to change and wish you well on your journey.
Tom Chancellor is a Certified Financial Planner Professional helping clients enhance their financial peace of mind. Tom spent 20 years as a marriage and family therapist and now incorporates resources from psychology, communications, and relationship studies in financial planning for people who experience life-changing events. Tom helps his clients and other financial professionals respond to life transitions such as divorce, death of a spouse, retirement, receipt of an inheritance and legal settlements. Contact Tom with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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