Community//

Avoiding A Financial Storm

After divorce, a woman's financial future can change drastically. Why it's important to make decisions based on balance sheets and not emotions.

Photo by Timothy Ah Koy on Unsplash
Photo by Timothy Ah Koy on Unsplash

Movies seem to make being caught in a rainstorm appear so romantic. Those scenes from Singing in the Rain, Flashdance, Last of the Mohicans, Say Anything, all have that cinematic magic formula to give us a completely unrealistic portrayal of what being caught in a downpour is actually like.

I saw the ominous clouds growing darker as they rolled across the sky, but I assumed incorrectly that it would be a while before the rain fell. Having moved from California to Panama, I wasn’t used to the concept of a rainy season. So I kept walking toward the storm, like an actor on cue. It started with an unwanted, though likely necessary, leg exfoliation from the fine particles of sand whipping my skin. And instead of a plucky tune in a musical, a few heavy raindrops smacked some sense into me and I turned around to head back. I couldn’t see the ridge of mountains just beyond the Rio Chame, now obscured by a wall of grey. Cloud, water, didn’t really matter, it was about to take the lead.

The wind picked up and dumped sheets of hard pelting rain that saturated my hair and clothing within seconds. My hair whipped into my eyes and slapped my face repeatedly. The water dripping from my eyelashes prevented me from seeing through my matted mass of hair but in the distance I managed to make out my destination; Punta Malibu, the luxurious boutique hotel where I’ve been staying in exchange for writing and marketing services since I became slightly more nomadic than I’d intended after backing out of the purchase for the ocean view condo in Nueva Gorgona I was days away from moving into and had already mentally decorated.

My buyer in California canceled escrow four days before closing and thankfully, circumstances orchestrated in my favor to not have paid out the ten thousand dollars I’d almost been in a hurry to part with. But I look back now and instead of being angry with my attorney for having the contract lingering in her email drafts for ten days, I should be grateful. And instead of my frustration with Multibank’s online platform asking to confirm my transaction with an elusive token I was never sent, I now see that not having the token spared me from walking into a financial storm.

And as I trudged through the sand and pelting rain back to shelter I knew I’d made the right decision in choosing not to go through with the condo purchase. I realized I should not be in a rush to buy, as many people had advised me, and there will be another ocean view condo or something better when I have cash in hand.

“Let your resilience be the currency that funds your freedom”

– Patty Blue Hayes

As much as I’d love to be nesting in my own little dwelling, I’m proud of myself for developing the flexibility to change course. I also got crystal clear clarity that I do not want a career in property management. A tropical downpour is romantic if you’re kissing Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, but quite unglamorous when mopping up water in rental units after a rainstorm.

The main driving factor in making my decision to move out of the United States was a financial one. Finances were also the reason I’d made the heartbreaking decision to sell the home I loved so much after my divorce years ago. As hard as that was, I’m grateful to have made the choice based on the financial reality and not my emotional connection to the house and a constructed fantasy that I’d have the means to cover all the expenses; mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance.

In the 1970’s when my parents got divorced, my mother kept the house which became a stressful burden she didn’t have the money to support. She’d set the thermostat to 64 degrees and taped over the dial with a note in big red letters that commanded, do not touch!

It was cold and dark both in the physical house and our emotional bodies. My mother, doing the best she could to provide for me, and me, feeling insecure, protective of her and angry at my father. My mother took longer naps upstairs in her room, often leaving the door a few inches open for the cat to come and go, and I isolated myself in the cold basement bedroom where I thought it was cool to be away from any parental influence. The door was always closed.

As a young adult in the years after my mother died, I knowingly created a financial storm by using my credit card for things I couldn’t afford. I’d made a decision to purchase my way through my astounding grief; writing classes, airline tickets, clothes, fancy groceries and many carbohydrate-heavy meals at restaurants.

But the temporary comfort of those tangible things were soon consumed by the burden of making the minimum monthly payments, realizing it would cost me thousands and take years to pay the balance of the ten thousand dollars I’d charged on my card and now had as debt.

When I was married, I saw money as a source of my security. I also saw it as a statement about me and my place in society; I was a homeowner, we dined out at expensive restaurants, we took vacations and frequently entertained at our home. We had one of the most coveted luxuries you need in the United States; good health insurance.

As the financial support from alimony was coming to an end and my self-employment income wasn’t enough to replace it, at first I felt very insecure, ashamed of myself for not making enough money, and I dipped into some depression and anxiety, how am I going to take care of myself?

And more importantly, how was I going to take care of myself while living an authentic life aligned with my values, desires and dreams? I found a wonderful therapist who helped me see that I had the intelligence and capacity to create options for myself not based in fear but rooted in empowerment. And she agreed, if all efforts failed, I could join the Hare Krishnas; orange is the new black, afterall.

Those financial storms of the past had an impact on me. Today, thankfully a bit wiser, I averted the second coming of a ten thousand dollar storm. I also know that my worth and value as a human being isn’t connected to money. What’s in my heart, my intentions and my actions are a reflection of who I am as a person.

Patty Blue Hayes is the award winning author of Wine, Sex and Suicide – My Near Death Divorce and the creator of You Can Heal Your Heartbreak, an audio program based on her book, My Heart is Broken. Now What? Follow her move to Panama at www.pattybluehayes.com

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