Prior to my marriage, I was not the best at managing my own finances. I never understood or cared how to set up a budget, or stick to one. In my twenties, I was miserable at my job at a large conservative chemical company and thought quite wrongly that the karmic compensation for being emotionally miserable was that I should be able to spend my money liberally and ‘treat myself’ since I worked so hard. I bought clothes like crazy, I bought a Jeep that was a miserable wreck and a terrible investment (it paralleled my life at that time), I picked up bar tabs for all of my college friends who went to grad school instead of the work force after college, and I got into debt. So, in typical binge-and-purge behavior, I buckled down for about three years, didn’t go out, didn’t buy anything, and paid it off. It was arduous and I swore at the age of 29 that I would never do that again.
Then I got married, and my now ex-husband managed the finances quite efficiently. I never really had a very clear idea of what I was bringing in or what we were doing with it but I knew everything was going well, we were frugal and never argued about money, and never once disagreed about where or how to invest or distribute our assets.
Now that I am divorced, I have to face the ogre of finances. I was falling asleep the other night watching Suze Orman on cable TV and her advice to the folks who were calling in was sobering. She asked basic questions – what is your monthly income? what are your expenses? what is in your liquid savings? what is in your retirement? I realized that while I could answer some of those questions, I was avoiding others. While being divorced forced me (among other things) to figure out my own bank accounts, my mortgage, my budget, I hadn’t quite taken full ownership of my future, my retirement, and set goals.
Today I took a huge step on my road and went to see a financial planner. I thought about cancelling the appointment several times, but I didn’t – I printed out all of my documents, girded my loins, and went in.
It wasn’t easy to see where I have fallen short, and commit to action plans to address the inevitability of the future that is coming, but I have to say that the words I heard on that cable TV show that night really resonated with me – “money is such an amazing teacher: what you choose to do with your money shows whether you are truly powerful, or powerless.”
Taking control of these aspects of my life feels very important, somehow, and very tied into decisions that I will make about how I want to live the rest of my life. I have always felt that for women, working is so important. It’s so important – vital – to know that you can support yourself financially and whatever children you choose to bring into the world. I’m not talking about whether women eventually make the life choice to stay home with their children, because I think that is a noble pursuit, and a separate topic. But in your early life, your formative years, you have to know that you can always support yourself and make it on your own if you want to or if you have to. Not relying on anyone to pay your way is a crucial element in the life choices that a woman can or will make, but it’s a tough thing to take control of. It took me into my ’40’s to fully invest in that concept and feel the impact of that philosophy, and only just now have I stepped reluctantly into the driver’s seat. As much as I may want to find someone, and perhaps be married again, no one is going to drive that bus if I don’t, so it’s time to learn.
After my appointment, I walked over to Miss L’s school and picked her up and we walked home together in the spring afternoon. It was a good day.