As part of the Money Blog Network group writing project, today’s post is a special ten year retrospective meant to show how far I personally have come financially over the past decade. Since most of the other bloggers are doing this, I will take a deep breath and do it too, scary though it may be for all of us.
Maybe, as they say, we will all “learn a valuable lesson.”
Ten years ago, in the spring of 1998, my (now ex) husband had just announced he was going into business for himself. Part of his motivation, I’m sure, was the fact that he had just been fired (again) from the huge nursery and garden center where he had been working successfully for five years as a landscape designer, and where I continued to work happily and successfully as a manager in the perennial plant section.
I did not receive his announcement well. It wasn’t just that, with his termination, the pressure was now on me to quit a job I really liked as a show of my support. (The pressure was from him, not my employers, who liked me and liked my work a lot.) It also wasn’t that with me quitting on top of him being fired, it would leave us with basically no steady income at all. No, my anger and distress was mostly based on the fact that 1) I felt like it was a miracle he hadn’t been fired much sooner, 2) I was upset with him over that, and 3) I knew for a fact he had absolutely no clue about how to handle money let alone run a business.
We were doomed.
Like a lot of men who go into business for themselves (I should say ‘people’ here, not ‘men’, but what I actually mean is ‘men’) his master plan was that I would handle the financial end of it since I was ‘good at that’ and he would do all the genius boy-wonder designer stuff, since he was good at that. I envisioned bankruptcy for both of us within two years, tops, but because I was anxious not to be divorced again (it was a remarriage for me and up until that point it was going tolerably OK), I said, fine, whatever.
The first year the business made a whopping $5000 with me managing the bookwork, estimates, and appointments, payroll, accounts payable and receivable, and with him being flamboyantly himself in every gated community within 80 miles of where we lived. By 2001 the business had grown to six figures and he was spending twice the gross receipts and yelling at me a lot for not giving him even more money to spend. (How? From where?) He also decided to quit paying his income taxes, since in his opinion, the government had no right to encroach on his creativity in that crass, materialistic way.
At that point, the design business owed around $25,000 in taxes just for the first quarter of that year. I was sick of him, mad at myself for not leaving three years earlier, and terrified right down to my toenails. Without even telling him I quietly hired a small accounting firm to manage his books and his tax obligations. After turning everything over to them including the huge tax bill, I hired a divorce attorney, packed my stuff, and moved out.
Harsh? I guess it was harsh. But SOOOO many women sink this way. I was determined not to be one of them, however stupid I might have been in my past choices. A year later the divorce was final. My settlement paid off the divorce attorney with $1500 left over to start my new life. Ouch. I was 48 and I had $1500 to my name. I also had my clothes, a 10 year old MacIntosh computer, my car, and $30,000 in unsecured marital debt, much of it business debt I had foolishly put on my own charge cards in various attempts to put out supplier fires.
Hey, I warned you this would be ugly. But stick with me here; The happy ending part is coming…
I was hired (at last) by a multinational insurance company to work in their US phone center. The job paid pretty well and came with full benefits including a pension (I was hired in the last year they offered pensions), plus I was able to get a lot of training and an insurance license at no cost.
I moved into a small apartment, and started whittling down the debt. I had to buy everything new to start over, even spoons and towels and so forth. (My ex was a tad frosty after I left so I didn’t get my stuff back, ever.) Even so, I considered myself lucky to have escaped at all. My attorney got me out of the federal tax obligation by pointing out that if I was obligated to pay half the business taxes, then by law I was also entitled to half the current value of the business. The day after she floated that particular idea, my ex quickly signed divorce papers taking the full tax obligation on himself, which actually was the right thing to do all along, plus it was the cheaper option for him by far.
Knowing that my credit was trashed was one of the hardest parts of the divorce, but within two years I’d paid off two cards and gotten the rest of the debt down to the point where I was able to get an auto loan to replace my dying car. A year after that, I found a house and obtained a decent mortgage on my own and bought it. I became interested in stocks and finance and started to read up on both, not just because it helped me in my insurance job, but also because I didn’t want to go through anything that negative ever again.
Not long after buying the house I met a nice man. (No, seriously, he really is a nice man! Really!) We bought a house on an acre in Michigan and I rented out the small house I bought after the divorce at a small profit. I got a job at the corporate center of a huge bank, where I try to talk people into investing their money in fairly decent CDs and really awful home equity lines of credit. I am in the process of leaving that job right now, partly because I can make more money writing, and partly because I want to do something that is a bit healthier and more enjoyable.
So, here I am, ten years later. I own two homes, two cars (both cars are fully paid), and I have my own 401k, pension, and investment plans, as well as my own bank accounts, both savings and checking. I run a successful small business writing web copy and freelance articles in addition to blogging for PFA. I live with a nice man who has his own money and does not tell me what to do.
So, ten years ago: Needed spoons. Now: doing pretty well, thanks.
While you won’t read about this much in financial blogs, most financial experts and attorneys are well-aware that one of the biggest financial mistakes anyone can make is marry someone who is financially self-destructive and then stick by them no matter what. We don’t hear this because it’s not very romantic. There’s no greeting card for it. (Although that may well be an untapped market just waiting for the right web-preneur: “Still married to that greedy dope? Dump that clown and get some hope! Go girl!”)
One writer I know describes it as “financial abuse syndrome.” Are you an FAS victim? Ask yourself a few key questions:
1 – Does your spouse demand to use your credit card because he/she can’t get one on his/her own?
2 – Does your spouse make part of the money but demand to make all the financial decisions?
3 – Would your spouse consider a separate bank account (yours) a betrayal?
4 – Does your spouse feel entitled to know how much you spend on everything you buy?
5 – Does your spouse insist on pooling your two incomes leaving you with little or no cash of your own?
6 – Does your spouse refuse to open or pay bills and explode when you bring that up?
7 – Does your spouse hide material pertaining to his or her financial past?
8 – Does your spouse expect your to pay off his or her debts?
9 – Does your spouse have a pattern of being fired from jobs for being ‘unappreciated’?
10 – Does your spouse steal from work and consider it normal?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, take a hard look at your joint financial life and ask yourself if you are being controlled in subtle or not-so-subtle ways by a person with money issues. If you are, address those problems immediately before they escalate into something overwhelming. Get help if you need it, both financially and emotionally. If you can’t fix the problem, get out. Fast.
In my opinion, every woman (and man) should have a ‘mad money’ account with at least two months rent in it, and preferably at bit more. That way, if you get mad, you have some money. I will leave the symbolic meaning of money in a relationship to Dr. Phil and Oprah. The main point I want to make with my retrospective here is that you earned the money you make, it’s your money, and anyone who shames or abuses you verbally for taking care of yourself financially doesn’t love you. It’s really that simple.
The good new is, you can turn that boat around. And things get better a lot faster than you might expect!
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