“I survived financial annihilation — twice!”
In a world with sky-high unemployment thanks to a global pandemic, one woman conquered her worst financial fears.
I am writing this not because I made it (not even close). But, according to my friends, I have survived the worst-case scenario for any working woman. Twice.
Let’s start at the beginning, in college. Back then, I wanted to be an English major, but, strongly “encouraged” by my parents who were footing the bill, I became an accounting major.
After graduation, I went into finance (naturally). After a few years of toiling away and, honestly, not really feeling it, something clicked: I realized finance was not about numbers, but, rather, people. From that point on, I loved my career. Quite simply, I loved getting to know the people behind the numbers.
By my early 30s, I had survived my first divorce and my career became my focus and saving grace. Newly single, my career zoomed along at light speed. Despite a divorce that forced me to give my ex the car, the country club membership and, incredibly, half our savings, I was still able to rebuild my life. I bought a jewel-box of an apartment — and in a few years, I stashed away plenty of money, invested in the stock market, crushed my 401k and had a gorgeous little convertible. The sky seemed to be the limit.
By my late 30s, I dove headlong into my second marriage. This time, I promised myself, I would be smart: I would make him sign a prenup. This didn’t stop me from buying him a 53-foot fishing boat (I married a fisherman). Eventually, he was shoveling money into the boat faster than you can chug a pumpkin-spice latte and things really started to go south in our relationship. Hello, divorce number two. Thankfully, my rock, my career, was still going strong. Until it wasn’t. And everything just stopped.
In a matter of a year, I went from being a finance executive to being unemployed. My newly minted executive post was revoked — and I became entangled in a horrible litigation with my former employer over my contract. Until that was resolved, I was prohibited from working in the only industry I’d ever known for at least a year (while not getting paid to sit the year out). I had a giant boat that was costing me thousands a month, a three-year-old girl in private school, a full-time nanny, a mortgage on a two-bedroom co-op on the upper east side of Manhattan — and an ex who wasn’t earning a dime. This period of unemployment/extreme financial stress went on for two-and-a-half years.
Everyone suggested I move in with my parents, or move to suburbia, or someplace like Topeka, KS, where the cost of living might be more manageable. I refused! After all, NYC was not going to chew me up and spit me out after all this time. So, I stayed. And, far more important, I survived. Here are some foundational steps that I had in place that really helped me. You deserve to use them to gain security, abundance and freedom for your financial future too.
Create a budget
Don’t worry, I hate personal budgets, too. While everyone knows they’re the key to a solid financial plan, I find them painful. I knew I liked to spend money, but I also craved the security it brought in case things went bump in the night (and boy did they ever). So, I used reverse psychology on myself. I decided to estimate, actually, exaggerate my numbers. I thought maybe if I had two numbers to remember, I could do it. So, I figured out what I was going to live on every month and what was going out the door for expenses every month. What’s new here is that I added in a little extra padding. I found the amount of money I took in every month and exaggerated it down by 20%. That was the number I knew I could not go above in spending every month. Then I estimated my expenses every month and I exaggerated them up by 30%. For example:
If I took in $10,000 a month, I would live on $8,000.
I did the same for expenses: If I needed $6,000 for my bills, I now assumed it would be $7,800.
Pretty soon, I found that I had extra money every month that I could move to my savings account. I created a separate account called my emergency fund that had several months of living expenses—just in case the worst happened. Over time, I’d save enough that I could live for a year without any income, and then I would start putting some of that money to work in the stock market, but always keeping three-to-six months safe.
If my emergency fund ran low, I would pull back on my 401k contribution. What’s the point of funding my retirement if I can’t survive today?
Contribute to your 401k, if you can
I always contributed to mine, and made sure I received the maximum company match. However, I never funded my 401k until I had enough in my emergency fund. If my emergency fund ran low, I would pull back on my 401k contribution. What’s the point of funding my retirement if I can’t survive today?
Get a financial planner
When things really started to grow, I hired a flat-fee-based financial planner to help me plot out the next 12 months, and 12 years, and invest that extra money I had saved.
Get a personal banker
Lastly, wherever I kept my money, I always made sure to have a personal banker. I even did this early in my career when I had very little in the bank. I aligned with a banker who was close to my age, and who was happy to have my business. We grew together, and when I needed something to happen and happen fast, I could get a real person on the phone and get things done. This made a big difference when getting divorced, buying a home—and getting divorced a second time. Your banker can be your best friend in dark times.
These simple steps helped me navigate two worst-case scenarios. I was able to keep my daughter in school, keep my nanny and save my life. I did not keep the husband or the boat — that was a game changer too, another example of understanding the people behind the money.
I believe financial plans are highly individual, and you have to think about how you relate to money and create your comfort zone based on that relationship.
Final note: Always listen to your parents — even if they tell you to study accounting.
Find Lori on Instagram @love.hope.money
This story was edited by Julia Stedman.