I was at the dentist’s office last Friday morning waiting for my appointment when I noticed an attractive, well-heeled female patient in her mid-fifties approach the checkout line. She was very put-together – flattering outfit, beautiful bag and matching sandals, hair and makeup all in place. As I sat there in my yoga pants and pony tail admiring this woman, I remember thinking to myself that she probably didn’t work and had money like most patients of this dental practice. “Must be nice”, I thought to myself. Then I overheard her question to the assistant, “How much do you charge patients without insurance?” My ears perked up. “I am getting divorced and losing both my health and dental insurance. Do you offer any discounts in these situations?” The question made her visibly uncomfortable and I could feel her face turning red as she heard the polite but predictable “No, we don’t, I am sorry.”
My heart sank as I imagined her story that may have led to this painful moment in her life. Was she a stay-at-home Mom who gave up her job to take care of her kids while her husband’s career prospered? Did she think that he would take care of her and she didn’t need to worry about money? Did she trust him so completely that she never learned anything about family’s money? I have no way of knowing but if someone is losing their insurance and not knowing what’s coming next chances are they have a lot to learn. And it is going to be very, very hard.
Only 24% of women in America are responsible for financial decisions in their marriage. That is 76% of women who have little or no say in their financial lives. With the divorce rate so high, many women end up fighting for their lives from a position of weakness, with their spouse, the attorneys, and the courts against them. The result is always a big drop in women’s standard of living, by some calculations up to 40%. But worse of all is the hit to a woman’s pride and sense of dignity. When the life you are used to is gone, what happens to your sense of self? Who do you become? You have to build yourself back up from the ground up. You can only hope that it makes you stronger and doesn’t crush you instead.
Any woman who abdicates her financial responsibilities is in for a nasty surprise at some point in her life. Even if your marriage endures, chances are you will be a widow for some number of years. If you are loathe to learn about money at age 35, try picking it up at age 75 when your spouse is gone, your kids are many miles away and the state is knocking on your door to collect the estate taxes. You can only pray that your spouse did everything right and left you enough money to live on for many years.
Being knowledgeable about money is not a choice, it is as essential as grocery shopping and taking the kids to the doctors’. Family finances are not rocket science and can be learned even if you don’t like math. If money wasn’t your thing, it has to be now. Start with these three things:
Bad things do happen to good people. You may have done nothing wrong but end up fighting for your life. Having the right knowledge and the tools at your disposal will make all the difference at the dentist’s office at the right time.