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It’s July 2016. I’m sitting in an overly air-conditioned office looking out the large, frameless window. I’m only half-listening as my husband speaks with our financial advisor. He has a neat folder filled with articles, charts, spreadsheets, and graphs covered in yellow highlighter in his lap. Our advisor seems impressed, if a little concerned that our meeting will run long. I wasn’t bad with money per se, just avoidant. An infrequent frustration for my husband. My only contribution to the conversation: I want our money to be safe; I don’t want to lose anything.
It’s July 2017. I’m sitting in the same frigid office at my bank. My eyes are fixed on the mountain of paperwork piled on the banker’s desk. Endless yellow markers, showing where to sign on the line marked “survivor” and “beneficiary.” I’m here on my own this time. I am heartbroken, in shock, and shattered by loss. Just weeks before, my seemingly healthy husband died suddenly of
at the age of 37. This is the first of many such meetings as I deal with the business of his unexpected death.
Survival instinct and an intense sense of duty to honor my late-husband by learning how to manage our money well and to protect it, and myself, propel me forward. I don’t want to lose anything else.
My money avoidance was a learned behavior
As a feminist, I don’t like admitting that I took a backseat when it came to our finances. My inherited bad attitude toward all things money was rooted in my dad’s anti-consumerist avoidance of money and my mother’s secret spending habits followed by intense buyer’s remorse.
My passivity and overall disinterest in managing our finances meant that my husband’s untimely death left me fiscally vulnerable and with a lot to learn in a short period of time. Before I could effectively manage our money, I would need to heal my relationship with it, all while riding unrelenting waves of grief.
I went in search of a financial advisor with heart
Early in my journey toward healing my past money wounds, I hired an independent financial advisor: Liz from the New School of Finance in Toronto, where I grew up and lived with my husband. Liz brings her full arsenal of experience, education, and empathy to her work with clients. She doesn’t work for one of Canada’s six big banks; the only stake she has in the game is to help her clients thrive by empowering and educating them.
Liz helped me gain a foundational understanding of how to manage my finances, and empathized with my newly precarious situation and need for a sense of safety. She helped me bring a functional structure to every aspect of my finances, from the basics (figuring out what my life actually cost and whether I could afford to stay in our apartment) to thoughtfully placing investments (determining timelines for when I would need to access funds and those that could be locked away to fluctuate and ultimately grow), and identifying my comfort level for risk.
You can’t do it all — and you shouldn’t
My work with Liz has been invaluable to making money management accessible to me. She also gave me an important piece of advice: You don’t have to do everything yourself.
I felt strongly that I needed to save as much money as I could. I refused to withdraw any of our savings, investments, or life insurance, opting instead to invest all of it.
At tax time, I took Liz’s advice and hired the same accountants my husband and I had used in previous years. They were familiar with our financial situation and were instrumental in helping me navigate a very complicated tax filing situation: I worked a full-time salaried job, had a side hustle where my earnings weren’t taxed, I’d moved nearly all of our investments to funds with lower fees, and had invested my husband’s life insurance payout in full. Working with our accountants meant that my taxes were filed by professionals I trusted and who were familiar with my situation.
A question of when not if
Ultimately, when I was forced to take the reins of our finances at age 31, I was also forced to heal my past money wounds, fast. No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario. No healthy 30-year-old wants to make a will and go to the trouble of ensuring that all accounts and investments have a beneficiary named. But it’s never a question of if, it’s always a question of when.
My inherited avoidant behavior toward money was a ticking time bomb, a question of when I would have to face the unhealthy patterns I’d been developing since childhood. Acknowledging the emotional side of money and consciously choosing to adopt my husband’s practical views of money management, instead of my own unhealthy patterns, and aligning myself with financial experts willing to educate me and be part of my journey were key to my financial success. Since my husband died in 2017, I’ve grown my savings, bought my first house, and started my own business.