Life After Divorce: What to do with your divorce settlement

I don't coach on the financial side of divorce, but I do want to share my experiences on how to invest a lump-sum settlement or your financial share of a marital property settlement.

I lost 10 years of potential earnings through investing with high-fee "advisors," so this post is about how to avoid that trap.

At the time of my divorce, I had no idea what to do with my share of our financial assets.  My father recommended his brokers at Wells Fargo, and with no financial knowledge of my own, I went with his recommendation.

Divorcees, beware of financial advisors!

As the years passed, I kept waiting to see my investments appreciate in value.  There was very little growth.  After eight years of this, I realized that I was going to have to become more knowledgeable.  

My first step was to find out how much I was paying in fees.  It turned out that one account was costing me 2% a year, and the other, 3% a year.  No wonder these accounts were stagnant -- Wells Fargo's fees were eating up almost all the earnings during a few bad years.  And, in addition, my "advisor" made some bad recommendations that lost half their value before he got me out.

If you're counting on your advisor to watch over your portfolios, and you're (to him) a small investor of less than a million dollars in assets, you're on your own.  You would need to have the expertise to monitor your accounts, and be in regular touch with this person with your concerns.

Silly me.  I thought that was what I was paying the advisor for.

Who needs this kind of "expert" advice?  My personal experience with post-divorce investing is by no means an isolated incident.  For example, during my marriage, my then-husband's stock broker brother talked him into an investment that quickly lost all of its value.  I've heard countless stories like this from my coaching clients.  Playing games with your money is not a smart choice for the average, middle-income divorcee.

How to invest your post-divorce assets

After realizing I was a fool to invest via a financial advisor, I thought a good solution would be to seek the advice of a non-fee-based financial planner.  Naively, I thought that I could get some basic advice for a few hundred dollars.  Imagine my shock when no one would talk to me for less than $2000 to start.

It was time to read one of those Investing for Dummies books, so I did.  One of the things I learned was that people without financial knowledge, and who didn't want to spend time managing their portfolios, shouldn't bother trying to beat the market.

Turns out that the rationale for paying a percentage of the value of your portfolio to a broker is that experts, in theory, are supposed to get the investor a better rate of return than the stock market average.  But, even if your financial analyst succeeds in this, a good portion of the return on investment is eaten up by his account management fees (which can be accrued in a number of ways, so it can be hard to get a handle on exactly how much you're paying, but that's another story).

Luckily, there is an easy alternative for know-nothing investors like me:  Index funds.

Instead of trying to beat the market, an index fund attempts to replicate the performance of a given index of stocks or some other investment type, for example, to match the performance of the S&P 500.  Conservatively speaking, over a 20-year period, one could estimate a return on investment of about 6% a year, which would double your investment every 12 years or so. 

My personal solution was to invest with a reputable robo-advisor, with my portfolio based on index funds, and incurring very low fees.

A robo-advisor is an online wealth management service that provides automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advice without the use of human financial planners (yay!).

Once you've established an account, you truly can sit back and let time and the market grow your portfolio.  And, of course, speed the process by making regular deposits into your account.  Over time, you will start to see amazing things happen that will make you feel much more secure about your future.

I chose to invest with Betterment, which is currently the industry's biggest robo-advisor and consistently rated as one of the best.  

What I love about it is that the online interface is very easy to understand and to use.  Its annual fee is . . . wait for it . . . just .25% (no matter how little you initially invest).  And, if you refer others to Betterment, you can receive fee-free months when your accounts just earn money without costing you a dime.

Whatever you choose to do, please consider staying away from high-fee managed accounts.  You will lose years and years of precious time waiting to see substantial gains.  And, please know that many advisors of all stripes will push their own financial products, so do beware.

My last 12 months with Betterment

Betterment is not the only robo-advisor out there, but it is the leader, very responsive to questions, and I do love the online interface.  You can sync up all of your non-Betterment accounts to your Betterment dashboard, so you can keep track of all your assets on one page.  It's very easy to make one-time or automated deposits into your account, transfer money among several Betterment accounts, and track your financial progress overall.

When you first visit the site, a great place to start is with the Betterment retirement calculator, where you can set a post-retirement income goal, the number of years you have to get there, and receive an easy-to-understand investment plan, as well as suggested portfolio.

In the 12 months since I kissed Wells Fargo goodbye, my earnings are 11%, and I couldn't be happier.  I still know next to nothing about investing, but I'm no longer playing Russian roulette with my money -- and expecting a so-called "expert" to be worth his fees and create miracles with my money.

It's so much fun when you see that you can provide for your own future, even if you start out, post-divorce, in a much less than enviable place.

Dynamic Divorcees:  Don't let loved ones talk you into spending your retirement fund on them

Sisters are doing it for themselves, and, among other things, this gives you the freedom never again to be at the mercy of a bad relationship, or tied to a bad job at age 75!  Every year (or, at least, most years), you get to see your wealth go up and up.  

The only challenge will be to keep that money invested, and not let some seeming soul mate or sob-story relation talk you into funding his crazy dream or bailing him out.  Or allowing your kids guilt you into funding their higher education when you haven't fully funded your own retirement yet.

You can circumvent this by never talking about your investments with the victim personalities in your life.

Women are so often taken advantage of financially, and people who want your money will promise you literally anything.  You'll want to believe their promises, but, truly, you've lived long enough to know that you must protect yourself.  Where are all of those people, now, who made promises to you in the past?  Case closed. 

If you know that it won't be possible for you to pay for your children's higher education, teach them now to save for their futures in the same way you are doing.  If your children are young, you can start them off now, investing little by little and gaining this valuable habit early.  Be up front, now, and let them know that they'll need excellent grades, stellar extracurricular activities, and a background of community service in order to earn college scholarships instead of going into debt for their own college loans.

Share the wealth of helping everyone you love to become self-sufficient and empowered.  There is no better gift you can give to the important persons in your life.

 

What's your favorite flavor of s**t sandwich?

Make mine with chocolate and pistachio . . . or maybe lavender . . . or butterscotch . . .

Make mine with chocolate and pistachio . . . or maybe lavender . . . or butterscotch . . .

One of the concepts in Liz Gilbert's book Big Magic that changed my grumpasaurus attitudes forever was the s**t sandwich.  

During my entire adult, and, before that, my weird childhood and adolescence, I kept wondering, "When does this get easier?  When do all these roadblocks and potholes go away?"

It took me this long to read a book that told me the truth:  They don't go away.  

But, you do get to choose what flavor of annoying, exhausting problems you like best -- or, perhaps better said, you get to choose what all the exhaustion, setbacks, and monkey wrenches will be in the service of.

How to choose the flavor of awful that you like best

Here's an excerpt from Big Magic:

“What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich? . . . Every single pursuit—no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem—comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects. As [self-help author Mark] Manson writes with profound wisdom: 'Everything sucks, some of the time.' You just have to decide what sort of suckage you’re willing to deal with. So the question is not so much 'What are you passionate about?' The question is 'What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?' Manson explains it this way: 'If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands, of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can’t stand the eighty-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you.' Because if you love and want something enough—whatever it is—then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.”

Wow.  So I can stop waiting for the gold at the end of the rainbow.  There won't be a magical reward at the end of all these decades of dreaming, and endless endless hard work.

All I have to do is look at some of my heroes in order to know this is true.  Think of any woman you truly admire.  Look at her life story.  There was no "happily ever after."  In fact, there's probably no "happily ever after" in any truly interesting life.  The melodramatic plot is what keeps the heroine moving, creating, and having a fascinating life.

But what about all those lucky chicks with the awesome husbands?

It's the "lucky" minority of women that keeps us jealous.  But, how many of these pampered cases are there, really, and are these charmed women really happy?

For example, there are a few special women who were lucky enough to marry the right man.  Who were lucky that his ability to provide was never tested by devastating failure.  And, because of this, these fairy tale princesses never had to worry about their financial well-being after they sealed the deal.

But, we'll never know the rest of the story.  Maybe, they'll never know if they could have made it on their own.  Perhaps, behind closed doors, they aren't treated with the love and respect they may have wished for.  Or, other aspects of their lives are not as they portray it on facebook.  Who knows what other dreams may have been given up in order to live on easy street.

Maybe some of you used to have that charmed life, and could tell the rest of us a thing or two about the trade-offs.

Let the s**t sandwich concept help you navigate your post-divorce life

If we now realize that practically no decision will be s**t-free, we can start making every choice by looking at what flavor of s**t sandwich it will bring.

How does this differ from the good, old-fashioned pro/con list that lots of coaches/therapists may suggest that you make?

What I like about the s**t sandwich concept is that it goes much deeper.  Everyone gets it:  Everyone has had multiple experiences of choking down these less-than-tasty meals.  They're not just "cons" on a list; you can deeply feel them.  You know what you're in for.  You've been there.

You can ask yourself, "Given this likely s**t sandwich, is this (divorce fight, career change, destructive personal habit, method of therapy, relationship, or whatever) still the best choice for me?"  Or, "Am I willing and even happy to eat this because I care so much about what I'll gain if I persist?"

Because we now know that there will almost always be sacrifice, with almost every important choice in life -- and the sacrifices that may be worth it for someone else, may not be right for you.  The s**t sandwich that someone else may find completely unedible, may be pretty easy for you to choke down (along with a little cheese and hot sauce) because you love your dream and believe in yourself so much.

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Sex in the City for Divorcees

I'm currently watching the Bravo series, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, which is now streaming on Netflix.  

For ages, I avoided giving it a look because, from the promo (well, all I really needed to see was the promotional thumbnail), it looked like a bunch of obscenely privileged LA chicks enjoying the kind of post-divorce tragedies that we could only dream of.  Yes, give me their problems.  I'll have what they're having!

However, I queried some divorced facebook friends, and they said, yeah, they're watching.  So, I watched an episode and got hooked.

Basically, it's Sex in the City with 40-ish divorcees instead of promiscuous, on the prowl, 30-somethings.  Except I like the Guide to Divorce chicks much better.  Maybe it's that they're a little older, so they're more interesting as people.

I'm now mid-way through Season 2, and at this point in the story, the requisite four girlfriends are: a Latina upscale vegan bakery owner;an ex-model with a wrong-side-of-the-tracks backstory; a celebrity author who's rebranding herself as an online columnist (and toying with getting back together with an almost ex-husband -- they just haven't filed the paperwork); and a not-yet-married, elegantly beautiful partner at a top law firm (being pressured into marriage by her older, controlling, billionaire boyfriend).

So that's all a mouthful.  And, yeah, there's casual sex, but not on the ewwwww level of Sex in the City.  And, without the level of desperation that seethed under the surface of just about every SITC episode.

Here's the thing.  Though most of us won't relate to the lifestyle (or am I the only one who doesn't shop all my troubles away), I'm pretty sure that you'll identify with lots of what goes on in this show.  Especially if you're a working woman.  

If you've explored romantic relationships after divorce, you'll identify.  If you've had seemingly irrational fights with friends and said things you're afraid you can never take back, you'll identify.  If you've thought about getting back together with your ex . . . well, you get the picture.

As I write this, two full 13-episode seasons are streaming on Netflix, and there are three short, 7-episode seasons to come.  By the time you read this, the third season will probably be up for streaming.  And, of course, if you have Bravo, Season 3 has already streamed.

So, binge away!

The Introverted Divorcee

Way back the last time you were dating, there wasn't much talk about introverts versus extraverts.

If you're like me, you weren't thinking about the introversion/extraversion spectrum when putting together a list of the qualities you wanted in a partner.  In fact, there's a good chance that you didn't even have a list.

You met someone, ended up getting serious, and married him.  You may have married him even though there were one or more red flags that were bothering you.  But, you probably weren't thinking about whether you and he matched up when it came to your preferred ways of being social.

If you're reading this post at all, you're probably somewhere on the introversion spectrum.  But, just in case you think that introvert is just a synonym for shy, click here for a quick summary of these two basic personality types.

Now that so much is being written about introverts, you might be wondering how you can honor your own ways of recharging your energy -- during and after your divorce . . . as well as going forward in exploring new romantic relationships.

Well, let's take a look.

Is divorce more painful for introverts?

Yes, it might be a little more painful, since introverts don't tend to use social escapism to get through life's challenging experiences.  (Broad generalization, I know, but dividing all of humanity into two camps -- introvert and extravert -- is pretty broad, too.)  

Extraverts may tend to cope by getting as busy socially as possible, and move on much more quickly than the average introvert.  It may be years before they stop long enough to consider their deeper emotions, and start to process what happened.  Or, maybe they never will.

Introverts are more likely to blame themselves for far more of their share of the problems that led to divorce.  They can tend to drive themselves crazy with "what if" scenarios.  But, this deep-thinking quality can also help them avoid jumping into inappropriate and harmful new relationships.  And, it can also help them handle divorce negotiations and post-divorce communications with the ex in a careful and even-handed manner that benefits everyone.

We may even emerge from divorce in better shape than our extravert counterparts, since we, most likely, won't be spending too much time drinking ourselves to death or engaging in potentially dangerous sexual exploits just to avoid being alone.  It's less likely that we'll be screaming at our ex at every opportunity, or raving like a drama queen to everyone who will listen.

If we use our natural strengths of being measured and thoughtful, we'll likely come out of the divorce process with a deal that is not only fair to the ex, but fair to us (and protects our children) as well.

As an introvert myself, I think we're more likely to spend time sorting out what happened and learning from the experience so that our future relationship choices work better for us.  I also believe that the shock of divorce temporarily shortwires our social discomfort mechanisms, so during the divorce year (or two), we're more likely to step outside our comfort zone because exploring life without a spouse becomes interesting and worth the risk and potential energy drain.  This can be a reset that opens us to more experiences in the long term.

But, isn't it easier for extraverts to move on and find a new partner?

Move on, yes, but find a relationship-worthy partner, not necessarily.

You may be surprised to learn that introverts have many advantages over extraverts when it comes to dating.  And, many of them have to do with aspects I've already touched on earlier in this post.

Dating is a one-on-one activity, and this is the type of social interaction in which introverts are at their best -- as long as we're with someone who has something to say (and we're interested in whatever he's saying).  Introverts tend to know how to listen, and to love to have meaningful conversations.  This is an advantage in dating, and in relationships in general.

For more dating advantages of the introvert, check out this summary from the book Introverts in Love.  I especially liked the insight that introverts can be seen by the outside world as mysterious and intriguing.

Don't take the advice of your extravert friends -- you have nothing to prove

You're not in a race.  There is no finish line.  Don't let anyone try to convince you that you should be going out more, that you should force yourself to jump back into dating, or that you should force yourself to have casual sex "just to get it over with" for the first time after marriage.

Now that you can live more in tune with how you want to do things, don't replace your husband's expectations with the expectations of your friends or family.  This is the time to think about what you need, and what makes you happy.

This can be difficult for introverts because we're used to trying to fit into what is overwhelmingly an extravert's world.  But, if you are true to yourself now, the rest of your life will reflect this.  If you allow yourself to be pulled off your center, it's likely that you'll be living someone else's preferences (whether it's friends, family, your children, or a future partner).

This is your chance.  Take it, and be you!

Life After Divorce: Are you a difficult woman?

Being labeled a "difficult" woman contributes to the downward spiral of self-doubt that tends to happen to women during divorce.

We get that label not only from our exes, but sometimes from family or even from our best friends.  

We hear that it's the reason husbands cheated or decided to initiate the divorce.  Or the reason why we chose to leave, and wanted and needed something more than what the marriage had turned our life into.

Women hear things like, "You're too outspoken -- if you had just kept your mouth shut more, this never would have happened."  Or, "If you had just never, ever said no to sex . . ." Or, "You expected too much from him.  Men's self-esteem is too fragile.  You can't speak freely."  Or, "You need to be sweet.  You need to know how to butter men up."  And, my personal favorite, "You're too independent."

I want to suggest that by infantalizing men (the woman must always give in, the woman can't hold a man to his word and expect that he will act like an adult, the woman needs to read dozens of self-help books about how to cater to her man . . .) we keep all of these dangerous myths in play.

Why is this dangerous?  Because it casts women in the subservient role, as if this is the way it's supposed to be.  We need to be consistently fluttering around, making sure that everything is okay -- not only for the man in our lives, but for everyone.

When, for example, was the last time you saw a man poring over a self-help book to teach himself how to understand his wife better and cater to her needs?  Such books are hardly ever written because, as any publisher will tell you, men don't read them.  Most men are not worrying about how to please us, how to make us feel confident, how to build us up, and how to be sure not to slip up on catering to our needs -- and I'm not suggesting that they should be.  But, neither should we!

Are you a difficult woman?  I don't believe that the answer lies in relation to a man's opinion, or in relation to male/female relationships at all.  Rather, are you able to sustain good relationships with friends and in the workplace -- in a way that you feel your opinions are valued and needs are met, and the needs of others are respected, too?  That's not "difficult," that's healthy.

Cultural expectations for women's behavior in male/female relationships can't be held as the standard for whether or not you're "difficult."  So much is expected of women that is never expected of men.  Often, merely expressing an opinion is seen as "high-maintenance."

The same thing goes for how you're seen within your family.  Often families are structured to enable the needs of just one family member, sacrificing the rest of the family in order to keep up the charade.  If you're part of such a family, it would be devastating to trust their various biased opinions of you.

So, unless absolutely everyone in your life is telling you that you have serious issues, you're probably just a woman who dares to have a brain and an opinion, and who wants to be fully alive while she's living.

And that's a good thing.