Within a marriage, a man and a woman’s financial circumstances are generally pretty much equal. But if a divorce occurs, the woman’s situation tends to be somewhat more challenging than that of her ex-spouse. And that’s why, during this major life transition, you may want to meet with a professional financial advisor to go over your spending needs and your cash flow, so that you know what you absolutely need today — and how you can plan for tomorrow.
But before we get into some possible steps you can take, let’s look at some of the reasons that women may fare worse than men, financially speaking, following a divorce:
• Lower income — The average woman’s family income drops by 37% after divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And in many cases, divorce exacerbates a situation in which women were already trailing men in earnings. In fact, women still only earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• Smaller retirement accounts — The average balance on women’s defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans) is only 60 percent of men’s average balances,
according to LIMRA, a financial services research organization.
Of course, “averages” are just that — averages. But whether you recognize yourself in the above numbers or not, consider these suggestions:
Create an emergency fund. Try to put six months’ to a year’s worth of living expenses in a liquid account. Once you’ve established this emergency fund, you won’t have to dip into long-term investments to pay for unexpected costs, such as an expensive car repair, a new furnace or a large medical bill.
Contribute as much as you can afford to your retirement accounts. Even if you will eventually receive some of your ex-spouse’s retirement funds, you need to take full advantage of your own savings opportunities — because it’s pretty hard to save “too much” for retirement. If money is tight, it won’t always be easy, but contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan. At a minimum, put in enough to earn the employer’s match, if one is offered.
Rebalance your investment portfolio. If you are now investing for yourself, you’ll want to take a close look at your asset mix to make sure it is appropriate for your situation. For example, your risk tolerance may be quite different than that of your ex-spouse’s, so if you now have total control over an investment portfolio, you need to make sure it reflects your needs and preferences. Consequently, you may need to “rebalance” your holdings.
Above all, get some help. As mentioned above, now is a good time to meet with a financial advisor. And if you don’t have much experience in managing your finances, you may even find it helpful to work with a trust company, which can collaborate with your financial provider to manage your assets and can also provide a variety of other functions, including bill payment and recordkeeping. A trust company’s services can prove especially valuable to you and your family should you ever become incapacitated.
Unfortunately, a divorce may leave you feeling “at sea” in many areas of your life. But by following the above suggestions, you can at least help keep your financial ship in calmer waters.