Do You Like Money? Assume Responsibility for Your Financial Well-Being

By: Rosemary Frank, MBA, CDFA, ADFA, CFE, MAFF
Last Update: October 31, 2016

Since divorce will force you to make the largest financial decisions of your entire life, so far anyway, it is probably a good time to examine your relationship with money. Do you like it? Really? Then why don’t you have more of it? These are meaningful questions because, like marriage and divorce, money is something that is highly emotional.

Your Relationship with Money 

Our relationships with money date back to early childhood and initial experiences with money, whether they be positive or negative. Think about how money was regarded in your family of origin and how that has impacted you to this day. Maybe money was a taboo topic; maybe it was something there never seemed to be enough of; maybe it seemed to cause all the other problems in your family; maybe there was plenty of it but still caused all the problems in your household.

Let’s go back to my original question: “Do you like money?” The likely answer something like, “Of course, everyone likes money!” Then why, when you get some, do you immediately think of what you can buy with it and, thereby, get rid of it? Without promoting miserliness, you will most likely need to learn to embrace money, preserve money, consider money for its future value and usefulness to you, become more responsible with money, and truly manage money. Too often, money manages people, rather than vice versa. Give some thought to your own personal “money story.” How might your attitudes towards money have developed or evolved over the years?

As part of a couple, ideally, you may have shared financial responsibilities with your spouse. Maybe that worked, maybe it didn’t. In any event, things are changing. In the future, you will be totally responsible for all financial management. Even if you have professional assistance with financial planning and investments, you are still ultimately responsible, and your financial advisor cannot make your decisions for you. A financial advisor cannot invest the money you are spending.

Money is often cited as the number one cause of divorce. Personally, I don’t believe it. I think money is used as a weapon of choice for acting out other problems in the marriage. Money is used to control, punish, spite, deny, overpower, deceive, and even falsely reward or insincerely apologize for all other misdeeds. Think about your own situation. If this describes your experience with money, understand it, own it, and figure out how to change it. This will likely involve some work with your therapist. However, it is necessary that you address these issues if you will be able to change your relationship with money and become financially stable post-divorce. 

Making Your Divorce Settlement Work for You 

Your future financial well-being is equally dependent upon your relationship with money as it is upon the settlement terms of your divorce. Your attorney and divorce financial professional are trying to doing their best for you, but it will be up to you to make the settlement work into the future. It is not unusual for recent divorcees to spend irrationally and be impoverished in a few years. This is similar to what we hear is the experience of so many lottery winners. A mature relationship with money is something that must be learned. If you are a person who has been told their entire life that discussions and/or concerns about money should not concern you, then you need to start developing that maturity now and do it consciously.

Money Maturity vs. Immaturity 

Several recent examples of money immaturity come to mind. One is a client whose divorce attorney had previously referred to her as “very frugal.” I came to understand her money maturity. She was highly responsible with money and had managed to build a sizable marital estate in spite of her husband’s lavish spending on himself as well as several paramours throughout the years. She drove a 16-year-old car, while husband drove a one-year-old luxury vehicle; she bought her shoes online, while husband had custom-made suits, cut to measure, annually. Following her divorce, she did purchase a two-year-old dependable vehicle in spite of friends and family urging her to purchase a new luxury sedan. The wife had money maturity. The husband and friends and family did not.

Sometimes having money does not translate to having money maturity. It is not unusual, and happens often, that persons having, or being beneficiaries of, trust funds really understand very little about what actually belongs to them or may be taken away with a bit of restructuring, if someone else decided to do so. A fellow I recently met with had lived off of a trust fund his entire life, had no idea how much was in it, whether he was living off of earnings or eating his way through principle, and no idea how much longer it might last. His older brother controlled everything. In that family, money was a secret.

It's Time to Assume Financial Responsibility 

Women, in particular, are often excluded from really sharing in the financial management of the family. Our society seems to indicate that such is acceptable. I beg to differ. Some women think they are “sharing” financial responsibility if they are responsible for bill paying, but know nothing about savings, retirement accounts, investments, etc. That means they know all about the money they no longer have (which was used to pay bills), but nothing about the money they do have. They might just as well be in total ignorance and not have been a bill-paying clerk.

At the far lower end of the spectrum are women who are “not allowed” to write a check, appear at the bank, open a utility bill, or even know how much their husband earns. Thankfully, I come to know them because they are in the process of divorcing. I praise their courage and wakefulness, as well as their desire to assume adult responsibilities for their financial well-being.

Wherever you are in the divorce process, know that your financial situation is changing, you will be totally responsible for all things financial in your life, you need financial skills to be financially successful, and future financial stability is available to you at any economic level. This is not about being wealthy. This is about being responsible with what you have.

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