Hidden Figures: When the Numbers Tell You Something You Don’t Want to Hear

Hidden Figures: When the Numbers Tell You Something You Don’t Want to Hear by Fabienne Swartz

{3:30 minutes to read} A friend of mine has a problem. She is in the middle of a divorce, yet she remains wedded to a lifestyle she can no longer afford. The bulk of the expenses she is claiming are what I would consider unnecessary, like:

  • Retaining a full-time housekeeper;
  • Outfitting her children with designer clothes;
  • Driving a high-end, German car;
  • Grocery shopping at Whole Foods; and 
  • Monthly clothing budget in excess of what many people earn in a month.

Divorce is difficult, and one of the most difficult things about it is figuring out how to pay for two households when there was once only one. In 99% of divorces, the discretionary cash decreases as a result, but that does not mean the quality of life needs to decrease.

  • Groceries: Whole Foods has some great products, but it doesn’t have the nickname “Whole Paycheck” for no reason. Consider buying specialty items there, but also explore alternatives like BJ’s, Sam’s, or Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s has a great selection of frozen prepared foods and Kosher meat.
  • Transportation: BMWs are amazing to drive, but does your drive really have to be amazing? The savings one can achieve by driving a hybrid like the Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion are substantial. A colleague of mine is very proud of the fact that he only spends $30 or less in gas every two to three weeks.
  • Clothes: In certain situations, it’s very important to be well-dressed. But in between those occasions, shopping the clearance rack is nothing to be ashamed of—in fact, some of my wealthier friends swear by Old Navy and Nordstrom Rack. In fact, mixing gems from the sales rack with this season’s latest line will get you compliments all year.   
  • College: New York and Connecticut have some of the finest public universities in the world. There are majors and concentrations available in the SUNY and UConn system that aren’t even available in private colleges, like SUNY Albany’s famous Center for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. The common complaint about public universities is that the class sizes are too large and students feel like nothing more than a number. That may be true in freshman year, but as students make their way up the academic ladder, class sizes start to shrink and many of them get exposed to professors who are leaders in their field.

My friend’s case is complicated by the fact that the judge clearly wants her to settle and accept the new limitations on her budget. Judges are human, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that my friend will be “punished” as a result of her refusal to acknowledge that her life has to change.

Even for people who are not divorcing, it’s worth taking a moment to do some soul-searching about money. At the end of the day, don’t we have a higher purpose in life other than collecting designer clothes, driving expensive cars, and keeping up with the Joneses?

Whether or not money can buy happiness is a topic for debate. If we follow The Beatles’ advice, we know that we can’t buy love….but what about social stature or personal fulfillment? I found a quote from Tibetan spiritual leader Tenzin Palmo that, I think, sums it up:

“One of the advantages of being born in an affluent society is that if one has any intelligence at all, one will realize that having more and more won’t solve the problem, and happiness does not lie in possessions, or even relationships: The answer lies within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.”

Fabienne Swartz JD (Belgium) CDFATM
Certified Divorce Financial AnalystTM
500 Mamaroneck Av.
Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
(914) 798-6940

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