Published on November 3, 2022
Jamila’s story is one that, unfortunately, is not atypical of the people we see at a very difficult time in their lives. In Jamila’s case a major shift to her life came not through the death or illness of her partner, but as a result of a divorce in her mid-50s. However, the lessons Jamila learnt were relevant to any of these situations.
On top of all the personal and lifestyle challenges Jamila faced, she had a number of financial hurdles to get past, including:
- Dealing with financial and related matters when she had never done that in the past. (Like most couples, one of the pair tended to look after this stuff, and in Jamila’s case it was her husband.)
- Trying to manage the assets she had received in the divorce settlement, which included some cash (as a lump sum) and various investments. Like Jamila, many people are terrified that they’ll mismanage the money and see it disappear too quickly as they never get over the fear of taking that first step to actively manage it.
- Wanting to maintain the lifestyle of herself and her teenage children, including ensuring that the kids could finish their schooling with as little disruption as possible.
- Wanting to support her children after school as much as possible.
Typical of people like herself, while Jamila had received an equitable settlement from the divorce, she did not see this as a windfall. Rather, it caused her stress because she did not feel prepared to deal with it. Various advice from well-meaning friends and relatives only made the situation worse by adding to Jamila’s existing confusion.
Finally, Jamila sought professional help by coming to us. Here are some of the things we worked through with her:
Establishing the basics
At our first meeting we really didn’t spend a lot of time talking about money at all. We needed to know about Jamila and her family and their current situation, at a broad level. We encouraged her to think about her objectives in the short and medium term – her broad life goals rather than just her financial objectives. Did she want to return to work, for instance? This conversation not only helped us establish the ‘lay of the land’, but it was also useful for Jamila to stand back and consider her situation holistically – not just from a legal or financial point of view.
Another component of the first meeting in these situations is to provide support at a very stressful time. Most financial situations can be navigated with appropriate planning, and there are usually options.
In addition, people like Jamila need to understand that just because they find all this financial stuff overwhelming, that doesn’t make them stupid or ignorant in any way. Clearly a smart person, Jamila felt she should have been more on top of her financial situation. This was an unrealistic expectation to put on herself – there is enough to stay on top of in work and life without being up-to-date on the stuff that someone else (Jamila’s former husband, in her case) is managing perfectly well. So, with that in mind, we encouraged Jamila to ask as many questions as she needed to, and to understand that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
Laying the ground rules for advice
One of the things we often have to manage for people in Jamila’s situation is what I call the ‘I know a guy’ scenario. We’ve all seen it, if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. It’s the situation where a friend or family member – even someone you’ve just met – claims to have the inside running on a wonderful investment option. The opportunity is so good, they tell you, that they’ve put all their money into it (or at least they think you should).
When people come to us to discuss these ‘opportunities’ (and hopefully they do seek professional advice before taking them up), our answer is always very simple: don’t do it.
A golden rule: Never, ever, put all your eggs in one basket.
Diversity is always important, as no single investment will ever be perfect, and no one should ever put their life savings in just one place. Unfortunately, people in Jamila’s situation can be overwhelmed with unsolicited advice, which only adds to the anxiety they are feeling already.
The only advice you really need in a situation like this is to seek professional advice. Ignore the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities but do ask friends and family if they have a financial adviser/coach themselves and who they’re happy with.
Making a plan
After the initial conversations with Jamila, aimed primarily at getting to know each other, providing reassurance and thinking about immediate next steps, we set up further meetings to start making a plan that would help her achieve her short-term and longer-term goals. Many of these had a financial focus, of course, given that is my specialty. However, I strongly believe that a good adviser will also maintain a view on their clients’ hopes and dreams beyond the purely financial. As well as simply taking a holistic point of view, it has a practical purpose. Understanding someone’s motivations is an important component of knowing what will and won’t work for them in terms of their investment strategy.
If we’ve done our job properly in the initial stages, this planning stage can provide a concrete path forward, which in turn provides comfort and reassurance.
Once Jamila has a plan, including a strategy to help her reach her goals, and we have ensured that she now understands what to do, the next step is to put in place an ongoing commitment to help her get there. Just as with most new year’s resolutions, people left to their own devices tend to let their new intentions drift or disappear after a few months. That’s why they need encouragement and coaching to help keep track of progress and ‘maintain the line’. A plan is a great start, but we all need to be held accountable.
If you know anyone going through a divorce, male or female, please feel free to pass this on.
All the best in your own money journey,
Marc Bineham, The Money Coach