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How do you talk with your spouse about money? Have you ever stopped to think about how money can have a negative, or positive, effect on your marriage? Join Karl Susman and guests this week a they discuss money and marriage. Transcript follows.
JADE: With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, we’ve all seen how difficult a breakup can be – especially when it comes to finance. We invited Tiana Ronstadt, owner of Power Women Investing, to talk about how you can stay on your feet financially whether you’re in a marriage or ending one.
JIM: Welcome, Tiana.
TIANA: Thanks, Jim. It’s great to be here today.
JIM: Just for the audience, I think we met maybe 20, 25 years ago. Does that sound about right?
TIANA: It does, it’s awful I think that I’m not that old.
JIM: Well, I know I’m not, but anyway, we were on a committee together, an advisory committee and Tiana, you’ve always impressed me. You’ve been very successful in your practice, and I know being a female advisor you’ve really focused to a lot of female issues, and I think me being a male I can’t always relate, so I thought it would be great to have you come on and share, and I know you’ve been featured in a lot of things nationally for some of the work that you’ve done, the speaking that you’ve done. You’re a real inspiration I think to a lot of women, and some of us guys too.
TIANA: Thank you, Jim.
JIM: At any rate, for today’s topic we are going to talk about some of the issues, especially with divorce and some of the pitfalls that come with divorce, so I know you’ve dealt with a lot of issues, especially with divorce and single women, and some of the things that face them, so what are some of the pitfalls of divorce that people should be thinking about if they’re going through that?
TIANA: One of the things that I find is obviously we know 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and we also, you know, we can all know the statistics but what I think is interesting is that all the information or pitfalls, Jim, that you have in divorce or contemplating of divorce, are the pitfalls in financial planning, and so I tell folks really the information is great for everyone, but when you are teeing up or looking at I might want to be separated, or this really isn’t working out, or I don’t really understand what’s going on financially, some of the key pitfalls are important to really look at.
One I would say, really one of the biggest is not enough cash, and don’t we find that even in our own clients, when the difference between a net worth statement and actually what we call cash flow or how you’re actually able to pay for things, and so to have a real good grasp on how are things paid for now in your house, and if you were to separate and now there are two households, is there really enough cash flow to support two households.
JIM: That’s a great point, and one thing I think is just exasperated, usually we see one spouse or the other is usually the one that takes care of paying the bills.
JIM: Yes, so for the one that isn’t doing, especially if they’re instigating the divorce and maybe they’re doing it out of total emotion and haven’t prepared themselves, and I think that’s another thing that people need to really prepare themselves for, my hope is after people listen to this and maybe work on a little bit more, maybe they can save that marriage, but I know finance is usually right up there as one of the top reasons, if not the top reason that people are get divorced, and we’ve had another guest on that’s been on several times and she talks about spouses have the money talk, and I find in my practice, I almost make it obligatory to have both spouses involved in the planning meetings.
One can take care of all the stuff after we get it all done, but it really is important that both spouses have their input in the planning and feel part of that, and at least have a general understanding of where things are at because whether it’s divorce or death or disability, if you get thrown into this without having the time to prepare when the emotions aren’t running high, it’s just that much harder to get on top of things when you’re not thinking clearly.
TIANA: I couldn’t agree more, and I talk a lot about that there isn’t a national financial planning day or a national day that you have to actually sit down and talk about this, because it is the conversation that most couples do not want to have, and so I help folks, one, I think that they at least should have a money conversation on their anniversary, see where you’ve been, where you want to go, and then have it on each of your birthdays, so now I’m up to three times, Jim, that they’re going to talk about it, and lastly try and only talk about one topic.
I will say, and again gender bias, that as females I feel like, you know, sometimes we have a big agenda and then we might go on and on, and our male counterpart husbands traditionally will kind of check out, and there’s not negative, it’s just fact, and so I try and encourage women to say, okay, if you’re not familiar with what the life insurance coverage is, make that a topic and say, you know, what we’re just going to talk about this one thing. I’m not going to try and understand everything else, because it is an overwhelming task and I do agree with you that one person traditionally does the budgeting and pays the bills, and the other one traditionally does the long term planning, but everyone needs to know the basics.
That whole philosophy of ignorance is bliss really is not true anymore. You at least need to have an idea of what the plan is and have input in the plan so that you’re empowered to help save, first of all, and to understand where that money is going for your long term goals, so that is definitely true.
The other thing I just want to piggyback too that you mentioned was emotion. One of the big jokes I have is that it’s a lot cheaper to cry in my office than it is at the attorney’s, and so one thing that I really try and do is talk about can you afford to get divorced. Is that really what it’s about, and if you can’t afford it and it’s just, you just really don’t like each other right now, maybe let’s try and work that out. It’s been very successful in allowing folks just to be in my office and for the first time they’re really just talking about money, trying to work that out, because it is a tough topic. We come with all our history, you know, and how we were raised, and all those values and all of the sudden we marry someone that potentially has completely different values and different way that they were raised around money, and that causes a lot of anxiety.
JIM: I see that all the time, and it’s not been since my last client meeting where I’ve seen some of that anxiety, because you’ve got one spouse that has taken care of this check or that income source or made this decision on an investment. I’ve got some spouses, they keep their own social security checks and that’s their money, and you’ve got all this kind of hiding from each other, and one spouse might buy a bunch of stuff and not really discuss it, and it could be big ticket items, and you just see the stress that creates on the relationship because they’ve gotten so used to doing things their way when it comes to money and not being as a team, and that can really stress out a marriage.
TIANA: Absolutely. I use the word interdependent, that it’s fine that you want to have some independence in some of this, and definitely we don’t want someone in the relationship that’s dependent, so we’re striving for an interdependent relationship in finances, because you’re two independent people and my goal is that you’re going to both contribute to the pot and we want to have that be interdependent.
When we talk about pitfalls too, specifically in divorce, one of the things I also find is traditionally one of the partners will also take the lead on the tax planning, and actually filing the taxes, and the other person just signs, and so I always say that if you’re kind of like, where is everything, the tax return, Jim, is one of your greatest assets that you can find that and you can uncover assets in that tax return.
It also tells a great story, doesn’t it, you know, what’s going on in the house, if you will, so I find that a lot of folks, they don’t understand tax returns, they’ve never dealt with it, they’ve only signed it, and yet it’s really kind of the go-to thing, and when you’re really again starting to contemplate, I want to see if I want to leave this relationship.
JIM: So what are some of the other pitfalls that you see, Tiana? Because we’ve been talking about a lot of the issues while someone is married and kind of transitioning to a divorce, so let’s say divorce is inevitable. What are some of the other considerations that someone is going to want to think about to make sure that they come out of it as best they can?
TIANA: I would say, and it kind of goes, it’s going to have some three steps, if you will, but not getting professional advice, and when we say professional advice that’s in the legal community, the financial community, as well as the tax planning community, and really a couple of key things are, I find a lot of folks might fight for, they’ll be arguing over alimony, Jim, and the thing to remember is that if you’re the one paying the alimony, that’s a deduction for you on your side, and the person receiving the alimony, it’s taxable to you, so we want to make sure we are fighting for the right things at the right time.
The same with retirement plans. If I’m looking at all the assets and you say, well I want half your retirement plan, and then your spouse ends up with the equity in the home, that might not be equitable because again from a tax standpoint, so it’s just really important, I find a lot of folks gets exhausted in the process and yet don’t end up with what’s rightfully theirs because of taxes, so that’s a huge thing to just, I think to remember that, wait a minute, I want to make sure I’m always asking about taxes, and how it’s going to affect me today as well as how potentially it could affect me down the road.
JIM: I think that’s a great point. I’ve got a friend of mine in the business and what he does when he shows people their IRAs, he takes out an estimated tax amount to show them what it’s really worth, so for example if someone’s got $450,000 in their retirement accounts, if they’re Traditional retirement accounts that will be taxed later, and let’s say that couple has been in, between state and federal they’re in a 30% tax bracket, well that’s basically a third is going to be to Uncle Sam, so if you’ve got $450 it’s really only worth $300 when you take taxes out, but people like you said will look at that $450 and say that’s what it’s worth.
The other thing is too that I see, when you look at the cost of liquidating an asset, you’re looking at a home, if you’ve got to liquidate a home there’s a whole bunch of issues with that, might be paying realtors, attorneys, all these other costs that might be involved in selling a home, and is that included versus the stock portfolio that you can do a transaction fairly inexpensively today, so as you said all assets are not equal.
TIANA: Right, right, very true, and under covering those assets too, because we know that everything obviously isn’t on the tax return.
I think the other thing that I find is that a lot of folks knee-jerk into it and then they’re in it, and it’s a long process. I don’t care who you are and how much assets you have, it’s a long process, and it’s going to be effect every aspect of your life, and we don’t recognize that. Unless you’ve been through it, you really don’t recognize how everything changes, everything, and so be prepared for that and make sure that you have, I always say your closest network, those one or two or three people that really you can lean on and cry.
I kind of meant that literally because crying in front of the judge and crying in front of the attorney and crying in front of the accountant, in other words we’ve got to, once we’re in the process, we’ve got to hold it together at the moments that you’re on the clock. I had a divorce attorney recently say to me, my goal is when I see the total assets, I get a third and each of the spouses get a third, and I said, well that is an interesting philosophy, because what that’s telling me is his or her goal as a divorce attorney in this case is not really to quickly make it work out. It’s really to complicate it more, and so I say the more that the spouses can be calm, and yes, you might not like that person but bringing all that emotion forward blurs your vision and blurs the decision making power for your best interest.
JIM: Yes, I’ve seen it already too, with spouses that are fighting and each of their attorneys, oh, yeah, we’re going to stick it to them, we’re going to stick it to them, and they just feed on those emotions and at the end of the day the attorneys stuck it to them.
At any rate, let’s take a short break. When we come back let’s talk about someone’s gone through the divorce and what things they need to prioritize to get back on their feet, so please stay tuned.
JIM: Welcome back as we continue to visit with Tiana Ronstadt, and Tiana has had a lot of experience with her practice dealing with folks going through a divorce and then also dealing with women and women’s issues as a female advisor. She’s well respected in the industry, and she’s come up with a lot of different life experiences which she’s able to help a lot of people with.
Tiana, before the break we were talking about all the pitfalls of a divorce, and I think we both can agree, if there’s any way to save the marriage that’s usually the best way to go about it, right?
JIM: But let’s say they can’t work it out, they got the irreconcilable differences, and they’ve gone through the divorce and now they’ve settled on what they’re coming out of that marriage with, what are the priorities that you’re looking at for people as they go forward?
TIANA: I love that question, Jim, because it’s exactly what I talk about, and the first that I always say is family first, meaning, okay so how are you going to now function in this new you, whether there’s children involved and joint custody, I mean, how are you going to function? Because the more you can focus and feel some control on your new schedule and your new life, that then can lead us to the next two, so really there are three things.
One, family first. The second thing is looking at your budget, looking at what you do have, what your expenses are, what your old habits, possibly you might have to break some of those. You might have to, you know, leave some things, and/or you might have to get a job. If you don’t already have a career, and then that’s really number three, how do you figure out what you can do, what are your talents, what are you good at, what would you like to do, what do you have to offer, and it might not be, Jim, a lot of times that they need to work but they want to work. They want to do something else that’s outside of themselves, so those are really my three.
Family first, look at how does this new you, this new role and new schedule work. Two, look at the budget, look at how is the cash flow now in your household, and then three, finding a career or a job to help sustain your living or just sustain yourself.
JIM: I find a lot of people who have gone through a divorce, it really has a devastating impact on their finances, and it’s really a step back for people, and you see a lot of divorces and I’ve talked to a lot of couples and they’re under a lot of stress. They raise the kids and they’re busy raising the kids, and the last one leaves for college and all the sudden they look at each other and it’s like, okay now what, and you see a lot of people getting divorced at a later stage of life, so how does that impact their retirement planning?
TIANA: Recently I just read an article about the graying divorce, talking about that it’s devastating, and it’s devastating to the fixed income, it’s devastating to the lifestyle that you thought you were planning for, so I always say you want to plan for the worst and hope for the best, and so I’m telling clients now, I try and work in when we’re talking about retirement planning and what you’re saving for, what does that actually look like? What are you going to be doing? What are things that you like doing together now? Because you are right, Jim, there’s a lot of folks that they’re in the same house and they’re focused on those kids and the kids is the primary thing that they’re interested in, if you will. It’s the one thing they enjoy doing together, and when that’s gone, what now? What do we enjoy doing together? And it is, it’s devastating.
JIM: I have come across a lot of widows, widowers, divorcees, and they don’t know that they may be eligible for an ex-spouse’s or deceased spouse’s social security, so I’ve seen a lot of them get into social security age and let’s say it’s the female that decided to be a stay-at-home mom, she doesn’t have a lot of credit towards social security, and she’s trying to live on maybe $1000 a month where she may be eligible to go on the ex-spouse’s social security, get half of it if they’re still alive, or potentially get all of it if they’re deceased, because if they’ve been married for 10 years or more they may be eligible for that spouse’s social security check.
Do you find the same thing when you’re counseling clients, that they’re really not aware of some of these resources available to them?
TIANA: I do, Jim, all the time, and I also in counseling, if I’ve got somebody that’s been married nine years or nine and a half, you know, I encourage them to stick it out. I mean, I really do because that is a benefit that is not well known, and I think depending upon when you got divorced too, you might have forgotten. I have a client that was in recently. She lost her first husband. They were married over 10 years, but he also passed. She’s now lost her third husband and so she’s been married three times, never divorced, but widowed. I mean, it’s devastating, and she didn’t even know that she would be eligible. I’m like, it’s amazing to me, so, you know, it’s something that I do think that this independent idea, be strong, and those are all great, but do know that you have some valuable resources that are out there that, no, I don’t think folks know.
Now with the great web site that SSA has done as well as you can set appointments at the local one all over, it’s becoming more and more known that at least you can have a conversation with Social Security.
JIM: The other thing that I would mention too that I don’t think people are aware of, because I see this all the time with widows and widowers, we do a lot of legacy planning for the surviving spouse. Well, you could also say the surviving spouse from the standpoint of someone who just got divorced, and when you’re filing jointly, a lot of people, your deductions, your exemptions are twice as high as a married couple. Your brackets, you could make twice as much before you get into the higher brackets, and a lot of people, they become single and all the sudden they don’t realize how much more their income taxes will be as a single person, especially if they got divorced right after the kids moved out and all those deductions and exemptions moved out, they’re used to all these years of paying very little in tax and all the sudden they might have been getting big refunds, now they’ve gone from big refunds to owing big checks, and they’re barely getting by. Do you see people getting shocked by that too?
TIANA: Oh, absolutely. We do know that the statistics tell us that the female traditionally, the wife’s standard of livingly drop by 27% whereas the male standard of living will actually go up by 10% in the divorce, and that’s for the taxes is one, the actual spending of potentially the spouse that’s factored in there as well, and more importantly all those extras that we’ve talked about.
One of the things that I tell folks during divorce negotiations is who’s going to pay for the kids’ extracurricular activities, the sporting events, all the sporting equipment. I find that that’s not really talked about a lot, and then all of the sudden you need new soccer shoes and that really wasn’t in your budget, and yet your spouse doesn’t have to pay for that, so all those things, Jim, that, yes, are going to factor in to how am I going to be an independent woman, and is that really what I want, or can we try and just talk about this financial piece going back to the beginning.
I always say, money gets the bad break. Everyone blames money for the reason that they’re fighting and the reason, when really I think it’s that we’re just not having better conversations around money because there’s fear, there’s anxiety, there’s all those, why would I want to jump in a conversation about that, so try and find somebody that can talk with you and help guide that conversation just so you’re able to communicate.
JIM: Tiana, this has been great, and my piece of advice out there, if you decide you’re going to go it alone, don’t go it alone.
TIANA: That’s right.
JIM: So if you’re getting divorced, make sure you have a team of advisors, it’s well thought out, because nobody comes out of a divorce a winner. At least not financially, and if you’re contemplating that there are so many issues you want to be prepared for, I think the point that you made, someone getting divorced nine and a half years into a marriage, I mean if you live somewhere separately and stay married to get to that tenth year, financially that might be a really good decision.
Tiana, thanks a lot.
TIANA: Thank you, Jim.