“I’m 29 years old and on my second marriage. Those are not words I ever thought I’d be writing, but I’m sure I’m not the only almost-30 year old looking back with mild surprise about where the last decade has taken her.
I am not interested in delving too far here into the emotional trainwreck that is divorce. (Though if anyone wants to discuss the exquisite agony of having to explain via work email that “congratulations on your name change!” messages are not warranted- I’m your girl.) What I’d like to share through my #TheFinancialConfessions is that my divorce, and my subsequent blissful marriage with an incredible, grown-up man, has provided me with razor-sharp clarity about the importance and satisfaction of financial independence.
To give you the quick and dirty version: I married my college sweetheart at the tender age of 25, which in the greater New York area essentially made me a child bride. He was a perfectly nice person and we had many happy times together. However, we were not compatible for real, adult life, and I walked away from our marriage after a year and a half.
To put it mildly, this was not an easy decision. When it became abundantly clear that that there was no fixing my marriage, it almost broke me. But once I emotionally made peace with my decision, leaving was logistically an option for me, because I had positioned myself professionally and financially to make it happen. I had recently negotiated a promotion and raise at my fundraising job, after working ferociously to cover my work and my former boss’s position for nearly a year, and had established the trust needed to take some time off to handle my business. I had squirreled away money in a Roth IRA, $50 at a time, that I could remove without penalty to cover the retainer for my attorney and my deposit for my new apartment (a savings account would have been better- long story.) I had established good credit and was using only a fraction of it, so I had the flexibility I needed to furnish my new home.
I must mention that I am extraordinarily lucky to have fiercely loyal family and friends, all of whom showered me with love and support through my divorce saga. My parents allowed me to be catatonic at home before moving me out of Hoboken and into the city; my friends kept me sane, fed, and pleasantly buzzed through the whole experience; and my guardian angel friend Meg let me crash at her place in Brooklyn for two months. But not one of these blessed souls had to write me a check to help me muddle through my divorce, and that makes me feel wicked good.
Signing the lease on my 350 square foot studio in Yorkville was one of the proudest moments of my adult life. I didn’t need a cosigner, and I didn’t need to borrow money from my family for the security deposit- or for the furniture, or for my first round of groceries at Fairway. I loved that little nest and everything in it ardently (even though the shower was coffin-sized and you could pretty much cook dinner while sitting in my bed.) It represented something so important: I was on my own and utterly okay.
Fast forward to today: I am a newlywed and feel so grateful every day that this is how my life has turned out. My husband is the most wonderful human being I have ever met, and I need this man like I need oxygen and Cool Ranch Doritos. We are partners in every sense of the word, and we are building a life together emotionally and financially. That said, he knows that it will always be imperative to me that I can stand on my own two feet.
The key thing I’ve learned is that financial independence means that your life is in YOUR control. It means that you aren’t lashed to someone or something that isn’t good for you- be it a person or a job- just because you can’t see a way out. It means that your relationship is a deliberate decision every day; you are choosing your person instead of sticking around just because you don’t have a better option. It means knowing you are capable of taking care of yourself when bad stuff happens, and of taking advantage of exciting new opportunities when they come your way. That feeling is incredibly empowering- especially as a young woman who may not always hear the message that you can do it on your own.
Being financially independent saved my life… not to be dramatic or anything. It gave me the ability to start over, to find myself again and create the kind of life I craved. Don’t get me wrong- it wasn’t all smooth sailing, I most certainly don’t have it all figured out now. I’m working to improve my “financial fitness” every day and striving to reach financial goals both personally and with my husband. But my hope for all young women like me is that by working at it bit by bit- by making saving a priority, making responsible credit decisions, and being aggressive about establishing our worth in the work place- we can all enjoy the satisfaction, empowerment, and freedom of choice that comes along with financial independence.”
Image: Emil Caillaux