The Five Money Mishaps of Newly-Divorced Couples.


A variation of this writing appeared on

Money is blood.

blood money

My grandfather would lob sentences like this at me all the time.

Then walk away leaving me confused.

I never forgot this one; I have a clearer understanding of what he meant. At the time, I thought he was silly.

Heck, I was in first grade. What do you expect?

The people most successful at managing finances detect, understand and respect how strong feelings and on occasion, irrational thoughts, affect their net worth.

Emotions flow deep and dark like the ink in cash. Don’t kid yourself about it.

Money has the potential to become “emotions squared” during and after a separation or divorce.

emoitional money

Decision-making fueled by vulnerability, can weaken financial foundations. Nobody’s immune.  Unclear thinking followed by poor short-term actions has the potential to wreak years of financial havoc just at a time when you need to be most diligent with debt, spending and savings.

I’ve counseled people through money mishaps; I’ve witnessed even the most level-headed individuals make numerous money mistakes through this tumultuous time.

So how do you do your best to avoid the top money mistakes I’ve witnessed over the last 27 years?

Random Thoughts:

Watch vanity expenses. From expensive plastic surgery to lavish trips and wallet-busting new wardrobes, people have a tendency to spend impulsively and deal with the mounting debt later. Restraint is lost and stuff becomes salve for ailing pride. An attitude of “I deserve this: I’m working through a tough time,” has the potential to override common fiscal sense. Before blowing up credit card debt, consider a “FGS” exercise – (Feel-Good Spending) Exercise!

Start a wish list. Boundaries don’t exist when it comes to feel-good wishes. What will it take financially to enhance your handsome, pretty, smart, and your self-esteem?

Total the expenses required to turn desires into reality. Now, cut the sum in half. Next, categorize items from the least to most expensive. Splurge on the first two. This exercise will help you think through each purchase ostensibly minimizing emotional reaction. Also, crossing off a couple of the items can foster a positive feelings which may be enough to halt further spending on the more expensive items.

Rein in the ego dollars. I’ve seen it many times, especially with newly-divorced men. They’ll shower expensive gifts, dinners and excursions on (mostly younger) members of the opposite sex to impress and feed their bruised egos.

I’ve witnessed the spending border on reckless so much that I have helped ego spenders create “sugar-momma” and “sugar-daddy” budgets. Having an objective, non-judgmental discussion with a trusted financial partner about these expenditures can help avoid financial pitfalls and rein in the ego dollars.

For example, a gentleman asked me my thoughts about his new girlfriend’s request for $10,000 for cosmetic dentistry. We both talked through providing $2,000 (still a lot but an improvement), for a less expensive option. Unfortunately, she was upset by the offering and moved on; fortunately, a hefty financial mistake was avoided and a lesson gained.

Don’t allow anger to cost you big bucks in the long term.  On occasion, separating parties are so blinded by anger they fail to comprehend how it can truly cost them. I worked with a couple who decided to split amicably.

They came in to discuss the impact of divorce on their finances which was minimal due in part to reasonable legal costs – less than $7,000, until a fight erupted over who would be primarily responsible for the family dog. The attorneys involved created additional doubts which made the situation worse. Now this once amicable, reasonable couple have spent $37,000 in legal fees with no resolution in sight. I explained they could have worked out a plan and just split the $30,000, keeping the assets for their own balance sheets, not the lawyers.

Seek perspective on every expense greater than $200. Yes, you’re an adult. However, you’re an adult with much on your mind and about to face a big life transition. The perspective is primarily about keeping one foot outside of the situation and gathering feedback from a trusted friend or financial partner. Think of it as validation for keeping a level head about spending and a good habit to consider in the early stages of a breakup. It’s also a potential confidence builder, a foundation to rebuilding self-esteem if your thought processes and expenses are validated by a confidante.

Take a full accounting of all assets and liabilities. What’s fair is fair: Make sure you receive what is due. Party members will occasionally bend over backwards to relinquish assets or overlook a full accounting based on the faith that conflicts will work out and ultimately reconciliation. Hope is one thing. Protection is another.

In good faith, a couple should be transparent with all assets and liabilities. Also, each person should prepare an “impact” budget to determine new lifestyle costs. It’s a vision of your household expenses post-divorce or separation.

A second income could be lost – that’s an impact. You may require greater childcare expenses if you’re a working adult with custody. Perhaps a smaller residence is required and you’re renting now, which can affect deductions. How will your tax situation be affected? Is there alimony or child support – how long will it last? Good questions for professionals. Best to envision what’s to come and begin a budgeting exercise.

Divorce is never easy. In the early stage, there’s a raw, emotional cord that can vibrate and throw off your financial footing.

It’s best to step back and recognize possible mental pitfalls early on.

divorce money



The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).


“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

Don’t Go Crazy on Purpose – 3 Ways to Understand the Power Inside You.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

1959:  The same Long Island Rail Road schedule followed every week. Sundays. When most people were asleep. When humans of the mainstream were hiding under bed covers to escape personal asylum, he embraced discomfort. He ventured out in it. He traveled on the fringe of time. Early. On Sunday.

Like a soldier who accepted and knew his duty. He carried on. Tired. Only one name compelled him to tremble. It was rarely spoken. Except for Sunday. Sunday was different. Her name was all he could think of. On the long trip he tried to remember what her voice sounded like. He worked hard at this. At times, he was upset with himself because he felt her voice slip away deep into the past.

The Sunday ritual should have been comfortable. Or at the least, accepted by then. Nineteen years of the same routine, facing the same distant stare from a bed. His wife. His Josephine. It starts all over again. Every week. His journey to the silent. The only women he ever knew and loved. Gone for 19 years but still breathing. A shell.

Two hours from now he would enter a tiny room, lead painted white, half battleship gray. Eternally cold. Even in summer. At least that’s what I remember. Joseph told me so. He was solemn as he entered a world that would remain silent. He respected what he couldn’t understand. Perhaps it was out of respect. Out of loss. I know he screamed a lot inside. He told me that, too.

Kings Park Psychiatric Center was Josephine’s home for close to two decades. Immediately after she gave birth in 1940, something happened. Something bad. She suffered a stroke as soon as the baby was delivered. By the time the baby, a new daughter, was cleaned up and presented, Josephine could barely speak or move her arms.

Joseph lost it too. He was an immigrant from Italy, his English broken,  but he was able to clearly mutter two words. Again, from what he told me. From what I remember.

My God.”

Allegedly, Kings Park was haunted. I believe it.

This Sunday, 1959, November was different. Joseph was able to borrow his boss’ car. A Buick. The Kings Park doctors were going to allow Joseph to take Josephine on a road trip to Brooklyn. Her daughter was going to be married in a few weeks. Josephine was aware, sort of aware. Partly in this world, one foot in another. She couldn’t speak any longer. No voice at all. She knew she had a daughter, however. Josephine sort of knew her mother was raising the child as her own.

It was to be Joseph & Josephine together again. For a road trip. For an introduction. The cover was going to come off, blown off, a family secret.  Revealed to an 18 year-old girl who was told her mother died during childbirth. And now at a pre-wedding party she was to be told the truth. In front of family. Two weeks before her nuptials. At a party.

Joseph purchased Josephine a new dress for the visit. It took him a month to save for it. He stocked food shelves for a small store in downtown Manhattan, lived in a tiny apartment close by the store. Never remarried. His daughter lived in a nice house with his mother-in-law, raising his only daughter. A subway ride away. In Brooklyn. His only real family. And he lived separated. As I mentioned: He existed on the fringe. For his wife and daughter. Oh, the in-laws adored him. His sacrifice. His dedication. But it wasn’t the same for him. He spent all his free time (for what it was) with Josephine and his only daughter. He was always traveling. A life on trains. He told me.

Joseph bought me a battery-operated aqua-colored locomotive that puffed real smoke. It was 99 cents. He told me that’s what it cost. I never forgot. He told me about all his time on trains. His thoughts while sitting. I felt how tortured he was. I heard the despair in his voice. I hugged him. I wanted to take the pain from him. I felt his chest sob. I still remember his tears on my forehead.

“Passion and love can cause tears.” He said that. I remember it. He was right. As I get older I realize how truly spot on grandpa was. I didn’t understand at the time. For a grocer he was the the most intuitive man on earth. He wasn’t ashamed to cry. I bet he cried a lot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Words Mean Everything. What you say to others counts. I imagine each word immediately gains 100 pounds when it leaves my mouth. I can feel the heaviness on my tongue. A sentence weighs a thousand pounds. Don’t say what you don’t mean. Mean what you say. Mean it deep. Last month, I received a twitter message from a person I haven’t spoken with in 15 years. She told me how words spoken by me changed her life for the better. Then I got to thinking: What have I said to others in the past that may have changed lives for the worse? I was a friend who provided sincere encouragement at the time. Remember your words weigh heavy. Screw all this “actions speak louder than words,” bullshit you hear.

2). Words Mean Everything. What you say to yourself counts. If you speak to yourself negatively, good things won’t happen. On occasion, bad things will. If you tell yourself you’ll be financially secure, your mind will work toward it (even without you knowing from a conscious level). If you say to yourself that you will be better – physically, mentally, it will happen. Never underestimate the power of words.

3). Words Written or Spoken Lead to Self Discovery. The more you communicate, the more you weigh the words, the more you shape the tone of those words, the more people can see you mean them (and they will) the more influence and power you’ll possess. The right people will love you more. The wrong will hate you more. I used the word “more,” more on purpose. Deal with it.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

I screamed those words at her. Mom. She was pushing my buttons. Hard. She was drunk. She hit me. I hit her back. There was blood everywhere. From her nose. My nose. I meant it too. Josephine went insane because she saw your future, mom!! She saw what a miserable human, horrible mother you were going to turn out to be and the disappointment was too much!!

She sat there. At the edge of the bathtub. Bleeding. She said: “I’m sorry.” That’s it. I stopped her in her tracks. My words hit harder than a palm against her face. I knew they would.

Grandpa Joseph told me about his mistake. He saw a change in his girl. When he wheeled in Josephine and introduced her to his daughter. He said the words he knew changed his daughter forever. But it was too late.

“This is your real momma, honey.”

I barely remember what Grandpa Joseph looked like. I can’t recall his voice at all. But I remember the words he spoke to me. I remember what he told me.

Like it was yesterday. I remember the words I said to mom. Like it was yesterday almost 40 years ago.

Who will remember your words?


40 years from now.

Will those words comfort you or drive you insane?

You choose.