The end of a relationship is always emotionally devastating. As hard as it is to face the tough stuff when your emotional life is in chaos, dismantling a shared financial life can make things even more difficult. For this article in my series on heartbreak with Aimee Harstein, LCSW, we reached out to Ellen Rogin — a New York Times best-selling author and financial counselor with 20 years of experience.
Having counseled both men and women through traumatic breakups and their financial aftermath, Ellen offers the following five strategies to get through the mess and start taking control of your financial future:
1. Shift your perspective.
No matter the circumstances of your breakup, make it your main priority to develop a resilient attitude. Every hurt is an opportunity and a gift.
“When people see events happening for them and not to them, they are better equipped to problem-solve and see the potential for personal growth,” said Ellen.
“A failed relationship may be the beginning of a wonderful new chapter. I have seen individuals go back to school to further their education, change jobs to do something more fulfilling, or simply hunker down to understand their finances — all in the pursuit of independence and self-sufficiency.”
2. Flex your gratitude muscle.
Along with developing a resilient mindset, cultivate a daily gratitude practice. People who are grateful not only experience better health, less stress, and improved sleep, but they report increased happiness.
“I’ve noticed that over-spenders tend to talk a lot about what they don’t have in their lives. In contrast, good savers are consistently taking time to show gratitude for what they have. Practicing gratitude consistently has a positive ripple effect in other areas, as well: reduced materialism, more fulfilling social relationships, and higher optimism and self-esteem.
“Feeling prosperous — regardless of your financial situation — tends to attract more goodness into your life. This is true prosperity,” said Ellen.
3. Face your debt head-on.
In Ellen’s book, Picture Your Prosperity, she tells a story about Jeannie, a 30-something woman whose live-in boyfriend suddenly decided to move out. Jeannie stayed in the apartment but redecorated to remove all traces of her ex — quickly racking up credit card debt in the process.
It’s very easy to splurge — buying a new wardrobe, treating yourself to expensive dinners, indulging in facials and massages — to soothe an aching heart. But if you’re spending more than you earn (or paying the minimum on your credit cards), you’re actually adding to your stress and depression.
Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that a 10 percent increase in credit card debt leads to a 14 percent increase in depressive symptoms. "The short-term ‘high’ you feel when you indulge is quickly replaced by low-grade depression, a loss of appetite, and feelings of loneliness,” said Ellen.
“Instead, shore up your self-esteem and tackle the things that frighten you. Get a handle on how much you owe and to whom. Devise a strategy to pay more than the minimum on your credit card bills. Knock out debt with the highest interest rates first. The feeling of satisfaction and self-sufficiency will stay with you much longer.”
4. Visualize your goals to prioritize your spending.
While a tightening of the belt may be in order, we also advocate building a life that makes you feel good and that is a reflection of your values. Setting goals both immediate (i.e., a new dress) and long-term (i.e., a vacation in France to study cooking) makes life rich with possibility.
“I encourage clients to use visualization techniques to create inspiring goals,” said Ellen. “People who use visualization are actually strengthening and conditioning their minds.
"They have a much better chance of making their dreams a reality because they are alert to opportunities. This ‘dreamtime’ is actually a very powerful tool to create an abundant financial future.”
Plus, compelling goals are a wonderful incentive, making it easier to say no to unnecessary expenditures. You’ll make more informed financial decisions that reflect your values and further your dream life.
5. Take ownership of your financial future.
In many long-term relationships, one (or both) partners might have been “willfully blind” when it comes to understanding money. While it’s realistic to feel nervous about this subject, don’t allow fear to hamper your ability to get ahead.
“You’d be surprised at how many ‘successful’ professionals have no idea how much they make, let alone how to invest money and save for the future,” said Ellen.
“The good news is that fear is often much worse than reality. There are so many resources available that teach how to invest and save money, purchase insurance, and create an estate plan — the building blocks of financial wellness.”
If this seems daunting, consider enrolling in a finance class or enlisting the services of a financial adviser. Whatever you do, commit to using this time of transition wisely and taking bold steps to create your strong financial future.
Ellen Rogin, CPA and CFP, is a nationally recognized expert on building wealth. She speaks to audiences around the country on creating success and building wealth.