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.


Divorce Recovery Skincare: My 21-Day Experiment Results

As promised, here's the results post about my 21-day, super cheap skincare experiment to transform the double whammy of parched winter skin that's also showing signs of being under extreme emotional stress.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am not a beauty blogger, I'm a divorce recovery coach, so there are no before/after photos below, just a log of how my DIY coconut oil/baking soda/essential oils regime worked for me.

To see the original post, detailing how I came up with the experiment (with the help of 60 women from my Facebook communities), and exactly what I used, click here.

Don't need the blow-by-blow?  Just scroll down to Final Thoughts.

21-day post-divorce skincare diary

Day 2: Alligator skin looking more moisturized.  A small difference, but it's there.  The big revelation was how much smoother my skin looked with makeup -- concealer wasn't settling into wrinkles, BB cream absorbed into my skin quickly without sitting on top of my skin in a greasy, slippery mess.  Vertical lines on upper lip are MUCH less visible.

Day 4: Bright sunlight today as well, so I'm still getting merciless views of my skin in my 10x magnification mirror.  Skin looking plumper overall, and, starting yesterday, I'm rubbing a little extra essential oil cocktail on my 11 lines between the eyebrows.  I'm definitely happy that I no longer look scary to myself, and it's only the morning of Day 4!

Day 5:  Bright sunlight persists, so I'm still getting non-flattering views of my face in the magnifying mirror.  Today:  The biggest news is that my crepey neck is much smoother.  Also, I have a persistent wrinkle along the side of my left cheek, and it's starting to diminish.  Eleven lines between my eyebrows are slightly better.  Who expected results like this in only a few days?  Overall, skin feels and appears thicker and much more hydrated.  Pores are smaller and clearer.  If these were the results after the full 21 days, I'd be pleased, but I'm not even through the first 7 days.

Day 7:  Wow, it's been a full week of bright winter sunlight -- 65 degrees today -- so I'm still getting scary views of my face.  Today:  Smaller and cleaner pores -- this keeps improving -- and plumper skin (it bounces back when I press my cheeks, instead of leaving finger indents where I pressed).  And, my hands and nails -- unexpected big change.  No wrinkles, and shiny, healthier-looking nails with no ridges.  When I wash my face with the coconut oil/shea butter/baking soda concoction, I also rub some on my hands before removing with the wet washcloth.  Didn't expect to see a dramatic change in my hands, but, there it is.

Day 9: I'm taking a look at my skin in the magnifying mirror only every couple of days from here on out, and seeing a little bit more improvement every time I look.  The skin is just appearing younger and healthier.  I'm now seeing a slight lightening of sunspots -- very slight, but it's there -- perhaps due to the daily exfoliation from the baking soda?

Honey mask:  I was advised to purchase organic, filtered honey.  Have you shopped for honey lately?  Even non chi-chi grocery brand honey is expensive.  I am not someone who prioritizes organic groceries, and I'm not on a mission to spend as much as I possibly can, so I just used a jar of Goya honey that I already had in my pantry.

I left it on for 30 minutes, and rinsed it off in the shower.  Results:  Even cleaner, smaller pores.  That's about it, but I'll take it : ) .

Days 8 through 16:  I stopped scrutinizing my face . . . and fell down on the job a little bit (a lot).  I didn't use any products not on the menu, but, as I had earmarked several days to do nothing but generate content to share with my divorcees, no one was going to see me during those days, so I stopped bothering about using the products in the morning, and only did the regime at night.

So, Day 17:   My message is:  Don't love the results so much that figure you can slack off now.  The results are dramatic only if you keep at it, day and night.  So, if you're someone like me, who works in solitude in your creative cave and has the luxury of video conferencing (in less than high-definition) when with clients, don't skip doing the coconut oil/shea butter/baking soda cleaning and moisturizing in the morning as well as evening.  My face went almost all the way back to square one.

Day 18:  Back on track, with coconut oil and all of the other ingredients twice a day -- morning and night.  The twice-a-day regime is essential to keep getting the results that I was getting early on in the first ten days, so do stay with it.  Otherwise, your skin will go back to Day 1.

Day 21:  By the final day of the experiment, there was just one thing on the regimen left to try:  The DIY coconut water mask.  (Soak a paper towel in coconut water; apply to face for 5 minutes, and approximate the results of a high-priced Korean or Japanese sheet mask.)

I'm not a big fan of sheet masks, since, at $6 or more each, I feel there should be significant bang for buck, and that's never been the case, no matter how expensive the masks I've tried.  I usually leave them on for a minimum of 20 minutes.  But, I wanted to follow my correspondent's instructions to the letter, and she said, just five minutes.  If I could notice an improvement in just five minutes, I'd be more likely to do this little ritual on a weekly basis, since I'm not much of a fan of lying still with my eyes closed when it's not sleepytime!

So.  I tried it.  Didn't notice much of a difference after five minutes -- maybe a slight tightening effect, but no discernable difference in the way my skin looked pre- and post-mask. (I went to the magnifying mirror after the mask dried, before applying any other products.)  For me, it had kind of the effect of a toner (which I don't tend to use), so I may start using my left-over coconut water (there's lots left over!) as a toner.

Or . . . I have enough left to do at least 30 additional masks, so I'll probably try again and leave it on for 20 minutes.  The sequence I used was dermaroller, coconut oil/shea butter/baking soda cleanser, then the mask (and don't wash it off).  Then I continued with the essential oils, my Roc retinol product, and finally, the Cetaphil lotion.

Why bother?  Maybe you're thinking:  "I can hardly make myself get out of bed in the morning."

#1  The coconut oil/shea butter is soothing and feels good.  The essential oils smell great and have aromatherapy benefits as well as helping your skin.  The honey mask feels gooey and nourishing.  It all costs next to nothing.

#2  You'll be looking much better by Day 2 -- and when you see your true self in the mirror, rather than someone who looks like your grandmother, it's a big, emotional lift.

#3  You'll start getting compliments -- and who doesn't feel better when people ask you what you've been doing because you look well-rested, chill, and, well, like your old self . . . only better. 

#4  Because of #2 and #3, you'll feel an uplift in your mood, and be able to look around you and have the first glimmers of what's next, what would be good, what might you be up for?

Divorcees:  Here are my DIY skincare results, and it's really worth a try!

Plumper, more hydrated skin.  Less-prominent 11 lines, upper lip lines, and nose-to-mouth lines.  Much much much smaller and cleaner pores.  Smoother-looking neck.  Even less-crepey eyelids.  Lightening of sun spots.

I haven't used any soap-based product on my face for 21 days, but my skin looks much cleaner than before.

Makeup goes on smoother -- so the results look even more incredible with makeup.  If you've given up on wearing matte lipstick because it makes you look like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, try again.  If you're like me, it will glide right on, and no feathering.

Plus, it's cheap, ladies!  A box of baking soda; tub of coconut oil; a tub of shea butter; and 1 oz. sizes of frankincense, lavender, and lemon oils (combine a little of all three in a small bottle for easy application) will last you for-ev-ah.

This is not a miracle, but it's pretty darn incredible, considering that no expensive products were used.  The only actual "products" were my usual Roc retinol day and night.  I stopped using Strivectin during this 21-day test, and I can't say that I notice any difference.

Thanks to all my Facebook crew who chimed in with their favorite products to help stressed out, post divorce skin!

In the Amazon product links below, you’ll also find two gadgets that help with skin tone and sagging, and which I’ve been using for years. They’re both pretty indispensible when you’re trying to recover from the ravages of divorce and don’t like what you’re seeing in the mirror. The Dermawand uses electric pulses to tone and lift facial muscles, and the neckline slimmer gizmo is the best beauty gadget for under $10 that I’ve ever used. Check ‘em out if sagging is something that bothers you.

If you try my 21-day skincare experiment, will you comment below with your results, or share your own nature-based DIY skincare regimes?  Thank you!

Divorcees: Feeling Shamed? Perfect. Dare to Be Shameless!

This blog post was featured on the divorce page of the huffington post

It was years after my divorce when I got the message that I was supposed to feel ashamed about it.

Feeling ashamed had never crossed my mind before.  I thought that any self-respecting woman would have done what I did:  Divorce my cheating husband, once I learned he had been lying to me and cheating on me for years.

I was at a black-tie dinner, talking about my divorce recovery coaching practice, and why I was doing this work, when the woman I was conversing with said, "It must be so sad for you to know you failed at something as important as your marriage."

Hearing this, so much began to make sense.  Why my parents had advised me to stay with my husband, no matter that I'd never be able to trust him again.  Why friends thought it was "so brave" of me to want to help other divorcing women.  Why, when on dates, I had learned not to mention the reason for my divorce because I could see it in men's eyes:  "She must have done something to make him cheat."

Who's at fault in divorce?  It always seems to be the woman (no matter what the man did).

Aha!  Late-breaking news.  I was supposed to be feeling ashamed of myself.  No one thought my ex should feel ashamed.  I was the one who was supposed to feel I had failed.

But, I never felt (and still don't feel) that I failed.  I feel I should never have married him.  I feel that I could have seen, years before I married him, that he was an unstable, troubled person.  

I was uninformed in other ways.  I didn't realize, back then, the extent to which lying is a way of life for many men.  It's a tool that's recognized among men as simply practical and smart.  It's the easiest way to get what you want (and are going to do anyway) without encountering friction from women along the way.  It's the path of least resistance for many men (and for some women, too, but the things we hide are typically far less destructive to a marriage).

Boys will be boys.  For as long as boys are raised to act up with no consequences other than a parent's indulgent smile (isn't he cute?), they learn how easy it is to get away with whatever they want to do.  In fact, they learn that there's nothing wrong with it.  

As long as girlfriends and wives of men with problems wail, "But I love him!" the men in our lives will apologize with temporary tears, and then turn away from us with a smirk.  "Whew!  Dodged the bullet!" and keep on lying, cheating, gorging on porn, visiting "gentleman's clubs" . . . whatever.

But, we're the ones who are supposed to be ashamed.

(Footnote:  If you're a happily married woman who's reading this and fuming, "Not my husband!  He's awesome!" remember that this blog is not written for you.  There are many honorable, best-friend, trustworthy husbands out there, and it's wonderful that you're married to one of them.)

Now that I knew I was supposed to be ashamed of myself and take the entire blame for my divorce, it opened up a new sense of freedom.

Since so many people are blaming me (and feeling sorry for me that I didn't have what it took to keep my husband faithful), it really can't get worse, I thought.  And, besides, if this is the opinion of the people whom I thought loved me most, there's no reason ever again to care what they think of me.

I have nothing to prove, and even if I did, it would be impossible to prove my worth to these people.

So, I might as well go ahead and do a whole bunch of other "shameless" things!  No one will think any worse of me than they already do.  What else had I been wanting to do for years, but subsconsciously figured it just wouldn't look right?  Which hurtful personal relationships had I wished I could abandon, but felt I just couldn't dare?

Because this shame issue triggered lots of things in me.  For example, my super-strict Catholic upbringing, in which love was always conditional on performance, in which life was supposed to be about sacrifice (well, female sacrifice, at least), and in which men could get away with whatever they wanted and women always covered it up.

"I respectfully do not care." -- Martha Beck

When I decided I should just go ahead and spend the rest of my life being shameless, there weren't too many things of an unhinged, crazy nature that I wanted to try.  I had already accomplished most of the things I had wanted to do.  

What had always been missing, though, was a cheering section, but [shoulder shrug] most women don't have that.  We have to find our own cheering section, and many times, it doesn't include family or the usual cast of characters that have populated our lives so far.  Sometimes, after an upheaval like divorce, we have to reconsider who we can number among our dearest friends.

That evening at the banquet, when I was informed that I should feel ashamed, it didn't trigger a desire in me to go wild in the streets.  It was more like a change in inner feeling.  It was a shedding of the last vestiges of caring what anyone else thought about me.  It was a reminder of where I had come from.  That there were broad swaths of human kind who would never understand, like, or respect me and my choices.

And, it was this bolt from the blue:  I'd spent my whole life waiting for that cheering section.  Trying hard to get important people in my life to be proud of me and to show it.  So here's the scandal I started:  I have nothing to prove.  I have nothing to earn.  I am excitedly cheering myself on, and hanging out with the people who "get" me, instead of trying to turn around those who have always thought I should be ashamed of myself.

To everyone else, I say (along with author Martha Beck), "I respectfully do not care!"

Ask yourself: Exactly why should I be ashamed?

Are you one of those girls, like me, who was raised with a very strict set of standards and expectations?  Were you raised in a culture of scarcity and fear, where nothing was freely given and women bore most of the burden?  Did you (do you) feel judged?

Here's an experiment:  Take a look at a few of the things you feel ashamed of or guilty about.  Is it really you who feel that way, or did someone else teach you that this is how you should feel?

If you decide that, "Whoa, these feelings are not really mine," maybe it's time to test your boundaries, and see what other things you've been ashamed of wanting or feeling.  Things you haven't even considered acting on. 

What have you always wanted to do that might be considered a little scandalous in the opinion of people you care about?  The fact that it's been in the back of your mind for years, and it's an innocent desire that wouldn't hurt anyone (except that certain people might not approve) is ample reason to consider doing it.

In case you feel you need permission:  I hereby give you a golden ticket to consider it.  Draw up a list.  Have fun looking at the list.  And, maybe . . . do something on the list just to test whether you survive the lightning bolt that you're afraid might strike.

Do this a few times and folks will get used to it.  They might even stop paying attention.  But that's fine because, by then, you'll start recognizing that small, happy cheering section that's starting to form around you.  And you'll feel like you're winning.  Because you've changed the rules of the game.