Financial lessons divorce taught me

This article is submitted to us by Helen Baker, an Australian financial adviser and founder of On Your Own Two Feet, part of the Career Money Life Supplier Community. 

‘A man is not a financial plan.’ I learned the truth of that maxim 25 years ago, when my (rather short-lived) marriage ended. It had lasted four years.

I felt like the black sheep of the family when it happened because, back in the early 1990s, it still wasn’t really ‘acceptable’, whereas some 50,000 marriages call it a day now every year in Australia. We were both ridiculously young (I was 22 when we married) and so not on the same page in so many ways.

I recognise I was insecure—emotionally and financially. Growing up, what we kids lacked in material ‘stuff’ was made up for in love and support. I’d learned to be very canny with money, but I didn’t want to live thriftily forever, worrying about the next bill. I wanted to ‘get ahead’ and although I was working and intended to keep pursuing my career and bring in my own income, I had this deep-seated belief that a husband would help take care of me financially: that only together, we would get this great life with our own house.

I’ve come to believe women are hardwired for financial security. We thrive when we have clarity and a sense of control, and when we have that, certainty and confidence follow. It took some serious life lessons to gain that perspective and undoubtedly influenced my change in career, becoming a financial adviser a decade ago.

I didn’t believe in myself back then. I didn’t believe I could stand on my own two feet without a man, this man, by my side. When push came to shove, though, I could.

Four actions proved invaluable:

1.    Emergency fund

The first was having an ‘emergency fund’. Back then, I managed the money and could put a little away every week ‘just in case’ we had an unexpected big bill. It was a hangover from growing up in a household where money was always tight. I had no idea that it would enable me to take the next step – to not put up with bad behaviour anymore and to have the cash to pay a bond and a couple of weeks’ rent.

2.    Have your own income

I was working and had an income. That gave me immediate control of my earnings. I feel for women who don’t and who need to ‘get out’. Let’s face it, we need money to sustain ourselves.

3.    Credit score

When I moved out of the marital home, we had a mortgage. I paid rent for my little flat as well as half of the mortgage, without fail, until our house sold, because I wanted to maintain an unblemished credit rating.

4.    Letting go

The fourth action that served me well stemmed from a piece of advice offered by the general manager of the firm I worked at. The divorce settlement was dragging out, even though we only had a house and two cars —nowadays, superannuation, shares, managed funds, investment properties, insurance and Trusts (and kids!) complicate financial positioning, warranting professional advice—and my boss, having noticed the stress it was having on me, said: “Helen, how much of your lifetime will it take you to recoup the money you’re fighting over and move on?” It was about the equivalent of $25,000 in today’s money. It was a lot but it wasn’t going to take forever to earn—and I’d be free to get on with living. So, I cut my losses. As I’ve told many clients since, sometimes it is better to know in your heart you were right, settle and move on.

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