From Half to Whole

Kristine Hayes

FOUR YEARS AGO, at age 45, I got divorced. These days, divorces are equal-opportunity proceedings. Since our income streams had been roughly the same, and we didn’t have children, our assets were split 50-50. For me, that meant losing half my state pension. Along with that loss came the realization that my retirement dream was just that—a dream.

Following the divorce, my lifestyle underwent a huge upheaval. Living on my own for the first time in my adult life, I realized I needed to educate myself on personal finance issues. I started reading books on how best to manage my money. I learned how to create—and stick to—a budget. I learned how to distinguish “needs” from “wants” and I began saving more of my paycheck. I met with a representative from the investment company that manages my current retirement fund and I learned about my investing options.  I educated myself on tax strategies, the differences between Roth and traditional IRAs, and I began to pay attention to the stock market for the first time.

Studies show that women are 80% more likely than men to live in poverty during retirement, making it even more imperative they learn to manage their money after a divorce. I began my own education by reading a variety of books about personal finance, including the Jonathan Clements Money Guide (now available for free on this site) and The Simple Path to Wealth by J L Collins. I also started to follow financial websites, such as CNBC’s Personal Finance page. The investment firm that manages my retirement account created a website devoted solely to issues involving women and their finances—Woman2Woman—which contains a variety of useful information.

Although my salary is quite modest—after 19 years of working for the same employer I now make $66,000 a year—I’ve made some impressive gains towards financing my future. My retirement account recently hit the $250,000 mark, and I’ve also been able to set aside money for an emergency fund and a future vacation. Retirement, following my divorce, is no longer a dream. Instead, today, it’s a well-researched, well-funded reality.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. She has an M.S. degree in biology, and hopes to one day retire and become a fulltime writer.

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