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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Some Financial Advice For While You’re Still Married

I am the last person to give financial advice. This is only what I wish I had done before it came to divorce.

I was a stay-at-home mom, working only part-time jobs. I had no college education to be able to gain a better salary. When I graduated high school, women didn’t need college educations unless they were going to be nurses or teachers. Times have changed.

I realize now I should have taken more interest in our financial affairs during my marriage. Money talk went right over my head. My eyes glazed over. If I saw a dollar sign, my brain shut off.

And besides, he didn't want me to know how much money he really made . . . *face palm*

Funny, now that I’m divorced, this is what I have to conquer on a monthly basis when bills are due. It's not so scary now. I learned how to budget. See what money is coming in and plan for bill payment. Write a check or go online and pay the bill.

What’s not easy is worrying about having the money to do it. So far so good for me. I don't know what the future may hold.

But I digress.

Protect yourself now. If you’re thinking divorce is in your future, take control. Work with your spouse on your financial profile. I had never helped my husband prepare our taxes. Never. Ever. And he liked it that way. It was another way of keeping control.

Imagine my surprise when I helped him prepare our taxes for the last time—so I could see how it’s done. It was then I learned how much money my husband really made. He made it seem we were always in a financial crisis. He led me to believe we were living just above poverty level. He demanded I work—full-time—not part-time as I had been doing so I could be home with our kids. I found out he made six figures--without my puny part-time wage.

My part-time job finally went full-time the year before our divorce process started. But my ex was never satisfied. We never had enough money because of his indiscriminate and secretive spending.
By not knowing our financial position, I didn’t spot his skimming of our accounts. I didn’t realize what he was spending on himself—all the while telling me not to buy groceries, sometimes for three weeks in a row. I would question his purchases, but he always told me, “Don’t worry about it.” So I didn’t. I was in total denial. I, erroneously, trusted him.

Words of advice:
·       Women, check your bank accounts on a weekly basis. You can do this online now. Your husband most likely already set up a password. Get it from him.
·       Know where all the documents are for your finances. Mine were in a desk in his “man cave.” He resented me going through “his” files. I had to remind him they were “our” files. Once the divorce was on, I found out later he hid some money in a secret savings account. I couldn’t prove it. Well, I could have, if I wasn’t emotionally drained during the divorce process. If I would have found out about it sooner, I wouldn’t have been hoodwinked.
·       Work together on paying your bills every month. If he doesn’t like it, compromise and each pay half of the bills with joint money. Tell him it will give you experience in case something happens to him.
·       Get a credit card in your own name while you’re still marriedif you have good credit. If your spouse pays the bills in a timely manner, you probably have a good credit score. Once you get your own credit card, pay the whole amount off every month. Don’t spend what you don’t have and this will be easy.
·       Work together on preparing your taxes.
·       Know about his 401K and your IRA, if you have one.

I know this might sound scary to some of you, but it’s essential in protecting yourself from a calamity that will affect your whole life after your divorce, if you get one.

Does anybody have any other advice?


Shel Harrington said...

I think it's great advice for the reason you suggest and more. The next obvious reason is if one party dies or becomes incapacitated. Both spouses should have a very good understanding of the finances, incomes, all accounts, insurance policies, retirement policies, wills and the like. It's typical to divide duties with one or the other party writing checks, paying bills, doing the shopping, dealing with kid issues, etc. But both need an understanding of what the other does and what assets and debts exist. In addition to your list I would suggest checking credit card statements regularly - not just because of trust issues, but mistakes happen, too. Also, everybody can get 3 free credit reports a year (one from 3 different companies), so it makes sense to stagger them to get one ever four months. Again, not only does it keep one in the loop as to what is owed and if anything new crops up in their name, but mistakes happen. (I found debts from a person with a similar name on mine - fortunately that person had been making timely payments on their debt so it didn't cause up problems - but I still wanted them removed!)

Susan said...

Shel, thanks for validating me here.
You'd be surprised, or maybe not, because you're a lawyer, how many women I've talked to who have no idea about their finances.
I didn't.
Thanks for your advice about credit reports. I didn't know about that.
I hope you keep a presence here because I learn from you with each of your comments.

Geanie Roake said...

Susan, your blog is invaluable, I'm slowly working my way through your posts, and had to stop and comment on this. I have a friend who had no clue that her husband was spending their retirement money until everything was gone. It's so important to get involved in the finances. If your husband refuses to clue you in, start a personal account of your own that he has no acess to. Save a smuch money as you can so you have something to fall back on should the worst happen. no one can afford to be in the dark when it comes to finances.

Susan said...

Geanie, Thanks for your comment. That is good advice. I'm glad you told us that because I didn't think anyone else was as naiive as I was. Unfortunatley, we are out there. But I'm not in this category anymore. I found out things too late.
Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Let me add that if you have any trusts, be aware that trusts that list Him or Her give him access without your signature. If trusts are listed Him and Her, he cannot withdraw money without your co-signature.

Susan said...

Great advice. Make sure everything is in both names. Thanks for your comment.