How much do I need in my emergency fund? I’ll admit, I’ve been all over the place on that question since I began my cash lifestyle years ago. I don’t have a credit card to fall back on, should anything happen. Whatever cash I have in the bank is all I have to get me through if something goes wrong.

I’m not alone in my uncertainty about my emergency fund. If you look around the personal finance community, you’ll find recommendations ranging from $1,000, to 3-6 months expenses, to 1 year’s worth of expenses, to keeping nothing liquid (depending on credit cards and/or investments that can be used in an emergency). It’s a hotly debated topic.

I’ll be honest, my short-term financial focus tends to be all over the place. I know what I want long-term. But life is always changing, and I find myself trying to adjust to whatever comes my way. Often times when I make big adjustments, I’ll also adjust how much money is in my emergency fund.

What are some of the things that have caused me to adjust the amount in my emergency fund?

A big factor has been how much cash I have in general. When I had larger amounts of money in my savings account set aside for other priorities, like home improvement, I felt more secure in having a smaller emergency fund. Having $1,000 in an emergency fund isn’t a big worry when you have several thousand more in your savings account that you could potential pull from, if needed. But, as that money has been spent down, I feel less secure about having enough money if something happens.

Another factor has been how “secure” my life feels. When the boyfriend lost his job, our situation immediately became less secure. Both of us took on more expenses. Right now, he doesn’t have a long-term job, so there’s no guarantee that we’ll have 2 paychecks coming in every week. It was also a vivid reminder that no one’s job is guaranteed. With everything that was going on, ramping up the emergency fund seemed like a good idea.

Six months ago I felt pretty good about having a $1,000 emergency fund. Now? I’m working on building that fund up to $3,000. I’m half-way there. Will it be enough? I don’t know. Emergency funds are for emergencies. For the unexpected things that come up in life. I’m hoping my emergency fund will turn out to be more peace of mind, and I won’t have to find out if it’s enough.

I’m sure the amount I feel that I need to have in an emergency fund will continue to fluctuate over the months/years. Someday I’d love to be one of those people who is debt free, and has 3-6 months worth of expenses sitting in an emergency fund, just in case. I know there are a lot of people who build up to this amount to start, and then work on slaying their debt. I tend to lean towards keeping the emergency fund a little smaller until the debt is gone. After all, the more debt you can get rid of, the less money you’ll need to cover your monthly expenses if you lose your job.

How do you feel about an emergency fund? Do you lean towards keeping more money set aside as a cushion? Or would you rather put that money to work in other ways?

– Cindy W.

It’s taken me a really long time to write this post, and it’s with a lot of apprehension that I finally publish it. Part of me says that I’m sharing too much, that my relationship and personal life aren’t really anyone’s business. Part of me has concerns about sharing so much of someone else’s story. A big part of me worries about what other people will think. But I can’t really be 100% honest about my financial position if I don’t talk about where we are right now, and how we got there. 

A few weeks back, I wrote about Bryan and Melissa*. After nearly 20 years of marriage, and 2 kids, Bryan and Melissa decided to part ways. But instead of opting for divorce, they decided to join the growing number of what New York Times calls the “Un-Divorced”; Couples who go their separate ways, but stay legally married. After weighing out all the options, they felt that delaying their divorce, at least until the kids were out of the house, was the best plan for everyone.

Despite feeling that this was the best choice for their situation, separating, but remaining married, did nothing to improve Bryan and Melissa’s relationship. There was still a lot of animosity and bitterness. They rarely saw each other or spoke, and when they did it usually resulted in bickering and hurt feelings. Over the years things deteriorated more and more, until eventually they avoided each other completely. It was easy to do; Bryan lived and worked over 2 hours away, and Melissa’s family owned properties she could escape to when she knew he’d be around. Eventually their communications came down to texts about the kids, with the occasional note when something needed discussed.

Eight years later, their youngest was graduating from High School, heading off to college. Their oldest had a good job, and seemed to finally be getting his life together. The reasons they had stayed married no longer seemed to apply, and they agreed it was time to take the next step: Divorce.

I met Bryan in the beginning stages of his divorce. Most people didn’t even know he was still married; He rarely talked about his “ex”, except in regards to his kids. But he was very upfront with me about his situation. In the past, I never would have given him a second look. After all, I wanted the whole fairy-tale, with the wedding, and kids, and white picket fence. Other people’s baggage didn’t fit into the fairy-tale. But, after years of dating I started to realize that, in your 30’s, it’s often the guys who had never been married that come with the most baggage, at least emotionally speaking. I’d met a man who I got along with. We enjoyed spending time together. We wanted similar things in life. He had been living in his own place for over 10 years, had been separated for 8 years, and was starting the process of getting divorced. Why should it be a problem?

Ah, to be so naive! Just because two people agree to a divorce doesn’t mean they’ll agree on anything about the divorce. And two people who have spent almost 30 years fighting about everything? Bryan believed that the process would be easy; They’d simply sign some papers and be done! No lawyers, no battles, just a quick and easy divorce. Except, you have to divide assets and liabilities in a divorce. And they refused to even talk to each other. At all. How exactly did they think this was gonna work?

It didn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse. One of their children started having a lot of personal issues. Bryan and Melissa were at a loss, and couldn’t agree on how to handle the situation. With everything that was going on with their son, Bryan’s family began weighing in heavily on how he should proceed. His family all felt that “gifting” the house to his children was in the best interest of his son, and he was getting a LOT of pressure to do so. What no one knew is that he still had 18 years on a 20 year mortgage, and didn’t even have 20% equity in the house. His expenses were so high that he wasn’t able to save anything from one year to the next. They had personal loans, an equity note, vehicle loans, and credit card debt. It was a stretch just being able to afford the house; Giving the house to the kids wasn’t even a possibility!

As they say in personal finance, perfect is the enemy of good. Everything came to a stand-still as Bryan tried to find the perfect solution to make everyone happy. His kids. His family. His ex. Me. But giving everyone exactly what they wanted just wasn’t possible. The weeks dragged into months, and still nothing changed. My patience was wearing thin. It was one thing to be dating someone who was going through a divorce. But nothing seemed to be changing, and there was no end in sight! We fought. I cried. We talked about going our separate ways. He talked about building a life together, but until things were finalized, we couldn’t move ahead. We didn’t even know where we’d be starting! What would happen with the house? What would happen with their pensions? What about all their furniture? He’d expect me to have answers to all his questions, but I’d never been married, let alone divorced! How was I supposed to know?

I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure about how I feel about our situation. Which is probably why I’ve never shared the information; I judge myself. What would other people think? In the beginning it seemed like no big deal. After all, he was getting a divorce. But, as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years (!), I started having a lot of doubts. What makes a marriage a marriage? Legal status? Commitment? They decided to go their separate ways almost a decade before I ever met Bryan, always with the intention of divorcing. They agreed to start the process of getting a divorce before Bryan and I even knew each other. I wasn’t the reason they were getting divorced. But still, I often found myself questioning whether it was right to be dating someone who wasn’t “officially” divorced.

Age has definitely changed Bryan, as it does most people. He still likes to go out with the boys for a drink after work. But now the “boys” are all old and retired. They have a drink, talk business, and go home to their wives. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s become a perfect man. And I can definitely see the traits that helped his marriage to fail. But we aren’t the same people as he and his ex were. One thing he admires about our relationship is that we can talk to each other. And, for better or for worse, he’s determined to tell me everything. Past, present and future, every thought, emotion, and story. That includes every detail of his divorce. I have mixed emotions about that. It’s a big thing to go through, and I want to be there for him. As a third-party to all of this, I don’t feel like I should weigh in. But, admittedly there are times that my emotions get the best of me. Like when his family was pressuring him to give the kids the house. There were times when I felt he was being unfair to his ex, and would tell him as much. And I definitely had a problem when everything stalled for months on end, and it seemed as though things would never come to an end.

Throughout the process there were “turning points”; Things that helped move the process along, and gave glimmers of hope that there might actually be an end to all of this.

The first turning point was when he realized that, in our state, a divorce can be granted, even if the division of property hadn’t been settled. Couples can spend years fighting things out, and still be divorced. He didn’t have to have the perfect solution right now. They could get divorced, while taking their time to sort out the details. And hopefully, just the act of getting divorced would spur them along in making decisions.

The second turning point came when he finally admitted to needing a lawyer. The reality was, their situation wasn’t as cut-and-dry as he originally thought. He wasn’t willing to speak to his ex (and vice-versa). They both seemed to have very different expectations of the outcome. Everyone wanted to give him advice, and often he found that what one person told him conflicted with what someone else said. It finally became clear that the only way this was going to work was if he hired a lawyer.

Things finally started moving along, although still at a very slow pace. The paperwork was filed. Memos and requests were passed between lawyers. Not much was really decided, and, in my opinion, not enough was discussed. Neither party felt that there was any really hurry. Months ticked by, but nothing seemed much different than before. Being divorced wasn’t much different than being married when you’re still tied together by all the things yet to be decided.

And then, Bryan lost his job. And that changed everything. In addition to losing his income, he gained a myriad of expenses. The life that he’d been living for decades suddenly became completely unaffordable. He found a full-time job, but there were no guarantees he’d be employed through the winter. His bills equaled out to more than his new salary, and his savings started dwindling quickly. To slow things down, we agreed to split the rent at the apartment. He isn’t comfortable with that arrangement, but honestly, it’s still more than he can afford. I was willing to pay for all the expenses related to the apartment, but that was more than his pride would allow.

Which leaves us where we are now. His hope is that everything will be finalized by the end of the year, and his lawyer seems to think that is definitely doable. I have my doubts. His ex has stated that she wants the house, but at this point, hasn’t given any indication how she intends to pay for it. She’s assured her children she has a plan (which, honestly, I find a little worrisome). The question of pensions is still up in the air. Technically, they’re each untitled to half of the other’s pension. There’s a possibility that could result in a wash, but I have the feeling Bryan’s is worth more.

I know that people will have strong opinions about our situation. Why am I sharing any of this? Because I feel like the rest of my story doesn’t make sense if I don’t share it. Like why does the boyfriend own a house that he never intends to live in, that is straining him financially? Because it’s an asset of his marriage, and he can’t legally do anything with it until he and his ex come to an agreement. Why doesn’t he get a more fuel-efficient vehicle, since the suburban is such a gas guzzler? For the same reason. Why are our future plans so uncertain? Because we have no idea how things will end up. He could lose everything, and have to start at zero, or things could go better than he expects.

I’ll be honest, our relationship has been a struggle. This is definitely not what I signed on for when we met. And there have been so many times that I have almost walked away, and even more times I’ve wanted to say “Get back to me after you sort this out.” I do love him. And I see us having a beautiful life together. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll look back and this will all seem so far away. The life we live together is simple and affordable, and we’re both looking forward to the day when we aren’t stretched so thin financially. I also see things getting worse before they get better. I don’t see how things can be finalized by the end of the year, especially not with all the Holidays. I don’t feel like he’s talking enough with his lawyer, and I don’t think he’s stressing what his situation is. The reality is, he will run out of money, and his paycheck won’t cover all of his expenses. Assuming he even has a paycheck still coming in. And, while I’m willing to take over our expenses, it won’t be enough. I’ve already drawn the line that I absolutely will not contribute to any of “their” expenses.

But, this is his divorce. After nearly three decades, two people are separating what remains of their live together. What happens will have a large impact on his future, and in that way will affect me as well. But it was my decision to start a relationship with a man with an unfinished divorce. I knew that where we were starting our lives together was yet to be decided.

I can choose to accept the situation, or I can choose to walk away.

– Cindy W.

* Names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of others.

Let’s be honest here, we’re all human. As much as we want to stay on track with our financial goals, wants still pop up. Logical or not, we all have things we desire.

A year ago I posted about my desire for a new computer. I was at my wit’s end with my personal laptop. I’m typically a very cautious person when it comes to my online use. Yet, somehow, I’d managed to get a virus. Or what I’m calling a virus anyways. Commercials would pop up in a little boxes at the bottom of my browser. At first I just had to find the right window, and close it out. But, eventually, the videos wouldn’t close until they’d played for 10 seconds. Which, in download time, was usually much longer. Add in the variety of other pop-up ads, little ad bars that blocked my screen, and all the other advertisements that were crowding out my screen and slowing things down, and using my laptop for anything became an exercise in frustration.

I tried virus scans and every other free software to try cleaning up my laptop, but no luck. Then I thought I’d finally gotten a break: I found the name of the virus! I had somehow managed to get the Playtopus Virus. I started Googling, looking for some way to rid myself of the virus. One tip led me to finding the virus in my programs and uninstalling it. It seemed so simple! And didn’t work. Waa waa! Most of the other hints involved expensive virus programs. I only paid about $350 for the laptop to begin with, I wasn’t about to spend hundreds of dollars for software that may not even work.

I convinced myself that the best option was to just buy something new. Maybe I’d buy an iPad? After all, Apple products are known for being less prone to viruses. But still I waited. And stewed. As much as I thought it would be money well spent, I just couldn’t see parting with hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a new computer. But my laptop was such a pain to use! I found myself using it less and less, relying on my phone and work computer for most of my needs.

Over a year passed with me “making do” with my infected laptop. But when the boyfriend lost his job, we were suddenly down to one computer. Buying a new computer just wasn’t a priority, at least not until we got things figured out. But the issues became that much more frustrating with two people using the laptop. And I constantly worried that the virus might be more than just annoying; with every online account check I worried about what type of information we might be sharing. It was time to get more serious.

I tried the antivirus/malware/adware route again. Hours downloading and running programs. No luck. So, I went back to Google. This time, I hit the jackpot! Removing the Playtopus Program from my computer had been a great first step. But that didn’t remove the program from my browser. Hidden in the settings of Chrome, under the extensions, sat the active copy of my virus. I clicked delete, and it was gone!

Not only did I find how to get rid of the program, I also found out how I got it in the first place. Apparently some software companies are paid to bundle products from other companies with their own products. When you download a free program online, there’s a chance that you could be downloading more than just the program you thought. What program had bundled the lovely Playtopus with it? No idea! I usually only download things that are common and well-known. Think iTunes, or Chrome, things like that. I may not know exactly how I got the virus, but at least I know how to prevent getting it (or something similar) in the future. Apparently it’s best when downloading a program (especially a free one!) to do the custom install. That way you can deselect any programs that have been added on that you don’t recognize.

It’s been a couple of days now, and everything seems to be running smoothly. I’m officially virus free! I’m hopeful this will be a good things; Maybe I can get back to writing more in the evenings, instead of browsing Facebook/Pinterest on my phone while we watch TV! At the very least, I’m happy to have my laptop back in working order. And to have saved myself a bundle of money!

– Cindy W.

 

Earlier this year I decided to stop contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan. At the time, my plan made sense (at least in my head): I’d take the extra money ($36.92 after taxes) each week and put it towards my student loan. Then by the end of 2014, my student loan would be paid off! My employer contributes 6% every week, regardless of whether or not I contribute, so I’m not losing any “free money”. And I’m already 100% vested in the program. It would all work out swimmingly!

Except it’s mid-November now, and I still have $5,000 to go before my student loan is paid off. An expensive vacation, job loss, and life in general managed to derail my original plan. The last couple of months have had me thinking that maybe it would be a better idea to start contributing to my 401(k) plan again. Sure, the extra money each week was helpful. And it’s not like I’m blowing it, or using it irresponsibly. But that $36.92 every week added almost $53 dollars a week to my 401(k) balance. Add in interest, and dividends… Wouldn’t it be better in the long run to be socking that money away?

I was just about ready to sign on the dotted line when our company’s 401(k) plan got audited. And, as it turns out, there was a problem. It’s probably been close to 2 years since our company’s 401(k) was merged with our parent company’s plan. Since that time, our company has had very little access to the plan. Sure, each individual can check their account information and make changes online. But all the internal checks that are supposed to take place no longer happen within our company; They’re all done by our parent company. Or, so we thought. But as we were preparing for our fiscal year-end, a long over-do audit turned up missing contributions. One week’s worth of employee contributions were paid into the plan, but never credited to the employee’s accounts. Our parent company looked into their accounts and realized they were missing employee contributions as well, on totally different weeks than us. And their parent company? Same thing!

I have to admit, I’ve been a little psycho about checking my 401(k) balances most of this year. I’m constantly recalculating my net worth, and as part of that, I’m keeping close tabs on how my retirement accounts are doing. The market has been pretty all over the place this year, so I’d gotten into the habit of checking each month to see if my employer’s contribution had been added, instead of just checking the balance. But I’m only getting the monthly employer contribution right now. Back when I was contributing to the plan, I was a little less diligent about checking my own contributions each week. And apparently, so is everyone else; Of the hundreds of people participating in the plan, across multiple companies, no one noticed the missing contributions!

Apparently there is one woman from the company that administers our plan who is responsible for crediting each individual’s account and making the purchases of shares. She laughed it off as a minor oversight, updated the accounts, and moved along as normal. The market was low when the error was corrected, so people were getting more bang for their buck, after all! Very few people know that any of this happened. I wasn’t personally affected, since it was only happening with employee contributions, and I wasn’t contributing. The rest of the people who knew were all in high level management positions, and didn’t feel like their position enabled them to complain. Everyone was waiting for an employee to notice and raise the red flag. But no one did.

All of this makes me a little apprehensive about contributing to the plan again. Sure, I could join the plan, and just make sure I’m really diligent about checking that my contributions are being credited to my account each week. But I don’t really trust now that everything is kosher with our 401(k) plan. What about the things I can’t see, like management fees? Am I just being paranoid? Finding excuses not to contribute? Or is this a valid concern?

Part of me says that I should keep my money out of the plan, for now. If I feel like contributing to retirement is a priority right now, I could always setup an IRA with Vanguard. I want to do that eventually anyways, so I can roll over my Roth from Edward Jones. But then, I’d need a chunk of cash to get things started. I don’t really want to take money from somewhere else to put towards an IRA. And I’m bad about the whole “divide and conquer” approach to savings. Contributing to the 401(k) would be so much easier and more effective. But it also would make me feel kind of uneasy.

What would you do in my situation? Contribute to the 401(k)? Set aside money for an IRA? Continue to prioritize debt repayment?

– Cindy W.

I’ve talked a lot about my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014. Overall, I think it’s a great goal. I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll be able to make it, but I should come in pretty close.

Right now though, I’m having conflicting emotions.

The boyfriend and I have done a lot of work on my house the last few months. We’re into the final stretch of getting the house ready to go on the market. With any luck, we’ll be listing it before the end of the year. Obviously, Spring would be better, but every month it sits is more money wasted.

Why is this a problem? Because the last few things we have to do on the house are going to be pretty pricey. Like replacing the garage door (<$700). Adding trim work to the newly enclosed laundry room ($300! Are you kidding me?!?). Painting and various repairs in the garage (several hundred dollars).

I have $1,800 left in the fund I setup to get the house ready to go on the market, so coming up with the money isn’t a problem. I also have money saved for the Holidays ($800), and am in the process of building my emergency fund from $1,000 to $3,000. I also like to keep a little bit of “slush” in my other accounts, so I’m not ever cutting things close. I have the money to complete the house. And, if we can stay focused, we shouldn’t have a problem getting things done. I’m hiring someone for the garage door, so that’s one thing off our plate.

The problem isn’t having the money, it’s spending it. I have right around $1,400 to go to meet my overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014. If I spend down the $1,800 I have set aside for the house, it’s that much more I have to go to make my goal. My growth has been all over the place each month this year. Growing by $1,400 in 2 months seems pretty doable. But $3,200+?

And then I realize, I’m being totally stupid.

By worrying about spending $1,800 on the house, I’m “missing the forest for the trees”. Sure, that means I might not make my goal for 2014. But selling the house puts me one step closer to my bigger goals. Growing my net worth by $10,000 is just a milestone along the way to eventually reaching financial independence. Every month my house is costing me between $500 and $600 (between the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities). Most of that money is just gone; My monthly payments only decrease my mortgage principle by $80-85 per month. I’m pouring hundreds of dollars down the drain every month that I keep the house!

So, finishing out the house may keep me from making my 2014 goal. But selling the house will make it so much easier to make my overall goals. I’m not sorry I set the goal; It’s kept me on track with my spending and savings this year, and helped me to make better decisions with my money. But I can’t start making bad decisions in the 11th hour for some arbitrary goal. The sooner I sell the house, the quicker I can really start growing my worth. Putting that off, even by a few months, would be a terrible idea!

– Cindy W.

Yesterday was my birthday. Yep, I’m officially 36! In my late 30’s, as my mother would say.

I’ll be honest, I was nervous about my birthday. Last year was terrible. I think I cried most of the month of November, and my relationship with the boyfriend almost didn’t survive. It seems so superficial, freaking out over your age. But it wasn’t just about getting old; I felt like I hadn’t come very far for being 35, and I really didn’t have a good sense of where my life was going. I wasn’t sure where (or if!) I fit into the boyfriend’s plan. Plus, I do think it’s harder for a woman, especially for a woman who hasn’t hit certain “traditional milestones”, like getting married, or having children. Sure, sure, there’s no age limit on getting married. But there’s no denying getting married in your 40’s is very different from getting married in your 20’s. And having children?

In case you weren’t around last year, you can read all about it here. And here. And here. And here. Confused? Yeah… Rereading those posts made me realize exactly how all over the place my thoughts and emotions were back then. One day it was all doom and gloom, and the next everything was going to be just fine. Maybe.

So yesterday was my birthday. How do I feel about being 36? Just fine, actually. Some things haven’t really changed since last year: We still have 2 houses, which we’re now spending less time than ever living in. We still aren’t married. We both still have debts, although we are making progress. But there have also been some very big changes. Some of those changes have been “for the worse”: The boyfriend lost his job. Which means we now have more expenses, like rent and utilities on the apartment.

Looking at it from that angle, you’d think I’d feel worse about this year. But I actually feel like we have some direction. We’re working towards selling houses and building a life together. Those things don’t happen overnight, but at least we’re finally communicating better. We’ve realized we’re on the same page as far as what we want for the future. And the boyfriend’s job loss is actually spurring us to take action on some things.

We’ve committed to building a life together. What exactly will that life look like? I don’t know. We’re still a little fuzzy on the details. Will we retire in a couple of years? Or continue working? What will retirement look like for us? Where will we live? Honestly, we don’t know. We’re considering all the options, and actually have a lot of opportunities. I’ve learned that you can still move forward, even if you don’t have a clear goal in place yet. You can save towards a home, even if you don’t know where that home will be. You can plan for retirement, even if you don’t know what that retirement will look like. And kids? Well, as my grandmother says “One way or another, you’ll have the kids you’re meant to have.” Some days I worry that I’ll regret it if I don’t have children. Other days I worry about how having a child would fit into our lives. But I don’t have to decide that today, or tomorrow, or next year. Yes, as a woman I realize that my time to make those decisions is running short. But for now, I’m just trying to relax, and let things happen in their own time.

Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be.

My mom used to sing that all the time when we were little. And I can’t help but think that there’s something to that. Not that we shouldn’t plan. Or dream. Or prepare. But I don’t know what the future holds. Sometimes you just have to let go, and enjoy where life takes you. I see a lot of things changing this year. Some changes I’ll choose. Some things I’ll be able to control or plan. Others I won’t. I may have to change courses along the way. Who knows where I’ll be a year from now? But I can’t help but think that things are heading in a good direction.

Turning 36 really isn’t so bad. We’ll see how I feel when 37 rolls around!

– Cindy W.

I’m a little late on getting my net worth update out for October. Actually, I put together the information on October 31st, but didn’t get the chance to post it. So, how did I do in October?

October 2014 net worth update

Net Worth update as of October 31st, 2014

October ended up being an awesome month, with $1,989 in gain to my net worth! Much better than I was expecting!

I’ll be honest, most of October wasn’t looking so great. The stock market seemed to have a pretty crazy month; In the middle of the month my 401(k) was down by hundreds of dollars, only to end the month higher than ever. My liquid assets were also a bumpy ride, with this being the first month of paying rent at the apartment. But in the end, everything worked out great.

I’m not sure how the rest of the year will work out. The Holidays are coming, so I expect November and December to be higher spending months. I’ve budgeted $800 for Holiday spending, which should be about perfect, and already have the money set aside in savings. We also have a few big expenses coming up on the house before we (hopefully) put it on the market. The money for that is set aside in savings as well. But that means my Liquid Assets are going to take a big hit before the end of the year.

Can I make my goals for 2014? I’m not sure yet. But it’s looking like there still might be a chance!

– Cindy W.

Bryan and Melissa* were in their late 20’s when they decided to get married. Bryan was a hard-working, blue-collar man with large ambitions and a taste for the wild life. Melissa was quiet and easy-going. She came from a professional family, but had little ambitions of her own. They were at an age where “settling down” was the expectation, and they both saw advantages to being together. They planned for a marriage without children, and set out to build a life together.

But settling down didn’t work the way they expected. Bryan was making good money, but his job kept him on the road, where he continued to live life as though he was single. The children came, despite their plan. Feeling lonely and hurt, Melissa found comfort in spending and food. Life continued on, both feeling injured by the other’s actions, both acting out in the only ways they knew how. They bickered, and argued, and hid things from one another.

Over a decade passed before they were forced to acknowledge how bad things had become. Bryan’s credit cards started getting declined. Melissa had been handling the family’s finances for years; Bryan had no idea that they had over $100,000 of consumer debt, on top of their mortgage and car loans. Learning of their financial predicament was devastating. But, credit was easy, and home values were high. Bryan refinanced the family home to pay off most of their debt, and worked hard to erase the rest. The finances were “fixed”, but the relationship was hanging by a thread.

Despite the fear, anger and hard times, nothing really changed. Bryan continued living life on his own terms. Melissa continued spending. Both felt more justified in their own actions. They were both miserable, but neither were willing to change. The arguments increased, along with the debts, until finally they had to face the facts: This wasn’t going to work.

They set out with the intention of divorcing. But with two young children at home, both had their reservations. Melissa hated the idea of selling the house and uprooting the kids. Bryan didn’t trust that Melissa could responsibly handle money; He preferred supporting his children directly, and knowing where his money was being spent. Neither liked the idea of scheduled visitations and having the courts involved with raising their children. As much as they didn’t want to be married, getting divorced didn’t seem like the right option either.

In the end, Bryan and Melissa decided to pave their own way in their separation. Melissa and the kids would stay in the house, and Bryan would continue to support the family financially. Melissa was removed from all the accounts. Each was allowed to do as they pleased with their own money. Bryan was already living elsewhere, but could come and go at the house as he chose to see his kids, and to continue maintaining the house. They agreed that divorce was the logical step once the kids were out of school. They rarely spoke, and their only interactions involved the kids. Unusual as it was, being separated, but not divorced, worked for them. Did the legal status of their relationship really matter?

There’s a lot of hype around the changing landscape of marriage. As people’s feelings on religion and government have changed, couples choosing not to marry has become more and more acceptable. From a legal standpoint, there are pluses and minuses to getting married, depending on your incomes, assets, and goals. As laws change and social norms change, couples can choose to have children, buy homes, and even combine assets, without having to get married. More and more couples are choosing to create their own path, marrying or not marrying based on what seems right to them.

As much talk as there is about the changing landscape of marriage, there isn’t much talk about how these changes affect divorce. But as society moves towards seeing marriage as less of a necessity, it makes sense that how we see divorce would change as well. When a marriage crumbles, is divorce always the best option? Not from a “we should try to work this out” perspective, but rather from a financial perspective. If we don’t see it as necessary to bring the law into our unions, is it necessary to bring them into our separations?

To be continued…

– Cindy W.

*Names and some details have been changed for privacy purposes

It’s been over a month now since the boyfriend lost his job. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to find our way back to normal. Or, our new normal I should probably say. A lot has changed, but there’s a lot that still needs to be decided.

When you’ve been with a company for a long time there tends to be a blurring between your work life and personal life. The boyfriend had been with the “family of companies” for over 25 years, and always assumed he’d be there until he retired. He felt like his job security was rock solid, so he never much considered the “what if’s”. Being let go was a rude awakening, and the losses extended far beyond just losing his paycheck.

Since we worked for the same company, my boss was the one who informed me the boyfriend had been let go. She was nice enough to tell me I could take the rest of the afternoon off. I immediately tried to call him, only to get the President of the company; Since his cell phone was a company phone, they’d had him turn it in as soon as he was let go. The cell phone was his only phone. How was I supposed to get a hold of him? Where would he go?

Where he would go didn’t end up being much of an issue; He drove a company truck, so they dropped him off at our apartment after he was let go. That’s where I found him, sitting alone in the apartment, with no vehicle, no phone, no computer. Even if he had a way of calling someone, he couldn’t; He kept everyone’s numbers in his company phone. I understand that there are protocols and all that for letting someone go. But really?!? This is how you treat someone after 25 years?!?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but his mood was surprisingly calm, and he immediately started thinking about what we needed to do.

The first step was a vehicle. Luckily he’d bought an older Suburban from a friend 6 months prior. I’ll admit I didn’t feel like it was the best idea when he bought it. Sure, it was a great deal. But did he need it? And he didn’t have the cash, so he had to take out a small loan. At the time, it didn’t seem like the best idea. But it had already come in handy several times over the summer, and now it would prove to be a lifesaver. He’d left the Suburban at another friends house to have some cosmetic work done. So off we went to pick up his vehicle.

On the way back we stopped at Wal-Mart to buy him a cheap, temporary cell phone. He’d already decided to follow my lead and get a Republic Wireless phone, but he needed something to fill in for a few days until the phone arrived. My thoughts were to buy him a simple Trac-Phone. But, Wal-Mart being Wal-Mart, it wasn’t that easy. Have I mentioned I hate Wal-Mart? Apparently Virgin Mobile has sales reps at Wal-Mart lurking around their prepaid cell phones. The rep immediately pounced when he saw us, and talked the boyfriend into one of the Virgin Mobile phones. Which they ended up not having in stock. A 10 minute trip for a simple, temporary phone turned into an hour ordeal. And we still didn’t get a phone. The boyfriend had to make a second trip the next day.

All said and done, the Virgin Mobile phone cost him around $30, and he got a $25 prepaid, no contract plan with unlimited calls and 50 text messages. The rep had told him they would set the phone up, but that didn’t end up being the case, so he had some frustrations trying to get things setup. It was a basic flip phone, which was okay for the (less than a) week that he needed it. Of course, I was livid a few days later when I found out Virgin Mobile had been texting him non-stop, asking for responses rating their service, or general “how are things going” texts. Basically a scam to use all your texts, so you have to reload your plan before the end of the month. Not that we needed it for that long, but I saw this as a completely predatory practice. Especially given the economic situation of people who are typically buying prepaid plans. But his Republic Wireless phone came, and we were even able to port his new Virgin number over, so he didn’t have to contact everyone again to switch his number.

The next few weeks were spent filling in the gaps. We had to rebuild his contact list, and he had to reach out to all of his friends and family to let them know how to get ahold of him. He lost his company laptop, along with his company email address, which he had always used as his personal email address as well. For now we’re sharing my laptop, and I set him up with a new email address. It’s been a hassle going through and updating everything, from banking and credit cards, to loans and rewards programs. You don’t really think much about all the things you use your email address for. Some thing were easier than others. Chase was by far the worst; For security reasons, you can only log onto your account from a “known computer”. It wanted verification for him to sign in from my computer. How do they verify? Via text or email, of course! We spent over an hour trying to get through to someone at Chase to fix it so he could log into his account. When we finally reached someone, he was incredibly nice, and very helpful. It was just a long and tedious process!

In addition to the phone, and truck, and laptop (email!), the company also paid for the apartment where we stay. We’ve decided for now to keep the apartment. The rent is $700/month, plus electric, which runs from $60-90, depending on the season. Initially I offered to pay for the apartment, at least until he could get things sorted out. We finally settled on my paying half the rent. It’s looking very likely that we’ll be putting my house on the market as well. Finally!

At first, the boyfriend was hoping to find a similar supervisory position at another company. Now, he’s not so sure. Does he really want that kind of stress? And he’s technically eligible for retirement. How long does he plan to stick with it? Over the past few years, we’ve discussed moving, starting a small business, retiring. The world seems wide open, and we haven’t really decided what direction we’re headed in yet. But he obviously needed an income. So, being union, the boyfriend was able to let the union know he was unemployed, and get put “back on the board” for a job. He’s been back to work now for a few weeks. The job is technically temporary, but it’s looking like they might have more work lined up. Maybe enough to get him through the winter. Maybe longer. It gives him some breathing room to think about what he wants. Maybe he’ll stick with something like this until he’s ready to retire? Maybe another company will offer him something better in the Spring?

Of course, being back on the job means having to drive long distances to job sites. As part of his old contract, ALL of his fuel was paid for by the company, both for business and personal uses. The man hasn’t paid for gas in years. Maybe even decades! Do you know how much it costs to fuel a Suburban? The logical solution, given that I work less than 10 minutes from home, was that I would drive the Suburban, and he would take my Escape. It’s not a permanent change; We’ve talked about him trading the Suburban in for something more fuel-efficient. But, that’s going to have to be at least a few months down the road.

So, that’s where we are. It isn’t perfect, but it’s gone much more smoothly than we expected. We foresee some big changes in the future, and he’s hopeful that they come sooner, rather than later. But, that’s a post for another day.

– Cindy W.

 

It’s one of those times in my life where nothing seems to be going according to plan. I’m sitting here in our living room, eating crackers, trying to find a balance between feeling hungry and feeling like I’m going to yak.

It’s been a whirlwind since the week before I left for vacation. No one was “available” to fill in while I was on vacation, and, as the payroll accountant, my job couldn’t exactly be put on hold until I got back. So, I got to do two payrolls before I left, one normal, and one estimated. Then when I came back, I had to do a normal payroll, and then a corrected payroll for the one I estimated. As if that wasn’t fun enough, it’s end of month, and end of our fiscal year. To say I’m stressed out at work is an understatement!

So, of course, a few days before I left for vacation, I came down with a nasty cold. That didn’t help with my workload, and it made the drive down to Florida rough. Luckily, despite being trapped in a car with me for two days, no one else on the trip got sick. But resting up wasn’t exactly in the plans. We had a great time on our trip. But weeks later, I’m still a bit stuffy, and my cough isn’t going away.

I’m still playing catch-up on things for work. So, of course, I got called in for jury duty today. I have tons of respect for the American Judicial System, and completely understand the importance of jury duty. But it always seems to come at the worst time, doesn’t it? I was pulled in for a 3 day attempted murder trial, but sent home when they realized I had an indirect relationship with one of the prosecuting attorneys.

I left the courthouse with a massive headache, but every expectation of working late. Two hours later I found myself locked in the bathroom at work vomiting. Part of me thinks I have a migraine. The light hurts my eyes. A headache like none other. Nausea. Hard time looking at a computer screen. I’m so hot, which is unlike me; I’m the person who has a little heater under my desk all year-long. I’ve definitely been under enough stress, which I’ve heard can cause migraines. But, I’ve never had a migraine. And, since another girl left work last week with an overwhelming migraine, I’m kinda wondering if we aren’t actually passing a bug around.

I’m definitely starting to feel better. Back to work tomorrow! It’s going to be a long week. I’ll have to put in some long hours to get caught up, but that’s life in the working world!

– Cindy W.