A Man is Not a Financial Plan
Life has a way of throwing curveballs. You’re happy, in love and feeling secure, whistling Dixie and sitting pretty, then suddenly, BAM, you’re smacked in the face by a real doozy. Everything changes. Whether it’s the loss of a husband, an earth-shattering breakup, or ending things by your own free will because you realize he’s a self-esteem-sucker keeping you down. Things can change quickly. Emotions run high, confidence runs low and you’re caught in a cyclone of heartache, headache and economic despair. Some will agree that this pain could have been avoided if you were not financially dependent on your husband.
I have nothing against men. I love men. They come in handy and can be real life enhancers, but at some point in our lives, we are forced by situation or circumstance to become responsible for ourselves. Through a divorce of one husband, the death of another and a few events in between, I found myself plummeting into financial disaster. Feeling trapped in a whirlwind of debts and monthly bills, I was struck by the very harsh reality that a man is not a financial plan.
Want to hear something tragic? Not once, but twice during my second marriage, my world was shaken by news from the oncologist that my husband only had ten days to two weeks left to live. Talk about heartache! By nature, I’m a problem solver, so we tackled the first diagnosis head-on. I threw myself into cancer research and dove into the wide world of alternative and western medicine to find a solution. Together we fought, together we won. We had 15 more years together before our luck changed and the battle was lost. I was alone and reeling; mentally, emotionally and financially. But a seed was planted. A seed based on a need to survive.
After an appropriate amount of time following my husband’s death, I met someone special. We had plans to travel to jazz festivals, have romantic love fests in Santorini and Mykonos, and even had our sights set on a climb of Kilimanjaro. Everything was exciting. Then, guess what? Tragedy struck again. Things took a sharp turn when he suffered a terrible accident that culminated in having his leg amputated. I rushed to his side, staying in his hospital room day and night, coordinating with his medical team and planning for his continued care. Of course, there was no question I would put my life on hold to help this man I had grown to love. After eight long days, the hospital staff said he would be sleeping for at least three hours from a strong dose of painkillers and suggested I take some time to step away to get some fresh air and maybe run errands; a necessary break from the duties of Standing. By. My. Man. Upon returning to his bedside, I was greeted by the eye-popping and devastating vision of a woman cuddled up with him in his hospital bed. As it turns out, she was an ex-girlfriend and the accident had rekindled their love. Sigh. The seed is now a sprout. A man is not a financial plan.
Past Gender Norms and Patriarchy Are Not the Standard
Although the details may be different, my tales are not uncommon. The gender norms and patriarchy of yesteryear are no longer the standard. Marriage patterns have changed significantly over the past two decades. Women and men are marrying later in life, a reflection of increased higher-education level and the magic of birth control. Single-parent homes are on the rise. Mothers alone are often left bearing the burden of supporting their family, struggling to swim upstream in a mighty financial river, exposing the vulnerability of female-headed households. Someone throw me some water wings!
Want to hear some lonely statistics? Get out your box of Kleenex for this one. Over 50% of women in the United States are now living without a spouse. That’s up from 33% in 1950 (US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, November 2015). Yes, our childhood dreams of happiness in marriage, baby carriages and white picket fences are fleeting. Whether you are straight or gay, married or single, divorced or engaged, have ten children or none, chances are good that at some point you have looked at your financial and emotional life and thought to yourself, “OMGoddess! How did I get here?” I certainly have. It isn’t pretty.
Differences Between Men and Women in Financial Planning
It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but we as women, need to stand tall and proud, grounded in self-love, inner strength and confidence to hold our own. A good and important foundation starts with financial stability and not being financially dependent on our better halves. When it comes to financial planning, women have it very different from men, and yet the advice we receive, if any, is not usually packaged or geared towards our reality and needs. It is crucial that we understand the differences between men and women when it comes to finance, then plan for them. Being a woman and knowing the struggle all too well, I am here to help. Empowering you empowers me! A man is not a financial plan and we don’t need it to be.
It should come as no surprise, but women have competing financial priorities. We run households, cook and clean, take time “off” to have babies and more often than not, when we return, we “work” only part-time and for lower wages than men. Not to whine, but the reality is, we work more, and more of it is unpaid. This is income inequality at its best. We are frequently not valued if we are not bringing in a buck. Yet, we’re also responsible for raising healthy, well-rounded, functional members of society.
Mothers experience more interruptions in our careers than fathers. We are sandwiched between caring for our children and for our aging parents. We spend more time as unpaid caregivers than our male counterparts. According to Money magazine, all of this adds up to women being in the traditional workforce for an average of twelve years less than men. We are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, we have less opportunity for monetary income and this gets in the way of building our wealth and power, both as individuals and as a larger coalition of women. Do you want to find a deserted island in the South Pacific yet?
One of the most challenging times of my life was taking time “off” to care for my children. My mother said it would be the most rewarding thing I did in life. She was right. But, frequently, the reward came in the form of snot, lack of sleep, crayon makings on the wall, never-ending food crumbles on the floor and plenty of worry. My kids are now grown, and I’m proud of the job I’ve done, but let’s be honest, it was no walk in the park. And I haven’t even mentioned caring for my aging parents. The challenges never end.
On top of all of this, as if we haven’t gone through enough already, women in the U.S. live an average of five years longer than men, but typically earn about 18% less (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics). That suggests we have less saved in retirement assets and yet longer to live on them. With life expectancies increasing, women are more affected by issues like dementia, which increases long-term care costs – a man is not a financial plan!
Feeling financially vulnerable is a big problem for many women, not just for those who are widowed or divorced. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies’ 2016 Compendium of Findings about American Workers should come with a hankie. The survey found that men most frequently cite saving for retirement as their greatest financial priority. For women, their top financial priority is just getting by—covering basic living expenses. Getting by? I want more than just getting by! Don’t you?
Use Your Money as a Tool to Enhance Your Life
The most important step to financial empowerment is to be accountable for yourself and understand how to use money as a tool to enhance your life. As you begin to take responsibility to manage your money and create your own wealth, I hope you find it a change catalyst to perceiving yourself and the world around you in a fresh paradigm to break free from socio-economic stereotypes and shape your own destiny. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure does help to relieve some significant stress and open the door to further develop your mental, emotional and physical health. Each and every one of us has the ability to take charge and be the creators of our own dreams. Nothing is worse than being financially dependent on someone else; let’s depend only on ourselves and take this journey together!