MONEY matters

Mark Zaifman's thoughts on money, global economic trends and politics

Divine Intervention - Facing Your Retirement Truth

Mark Zaifman   |    Thu, Sep 12, 2013 @ 11:45 AM

retirement planning

If you’re among the millions of boomers beginning to plan for retirement, you’re most likely feeling a range of emotions that may range from euphoria to downright fear. Nonetheless, as you begin to prepare for this next phase of your life, step one is assessing where you stand financially right at this moment.

Yet on the road to assessing your financial readiness for retirement, unexpected events could occur that rock your world and change your life in ways probably unimaginable to most people.  The story below actually happened. Names have been changed but events that occurred are unfortunately real.

Lois & Ben are both in their mid-50’s and after putting their two kids through college, they began thinking about their retirement prospects. Lois reached out to me about two years ago, she wanted to get started developing a financial plan, but Ben wasn’t ready. That’s very common by the way and I’ll always recommend it’s best to wait on comprehensive financial planning until you’re both on the same page.

Earlier this year, Lois called again, but this time the enthusiasm she initially expressed during our first call, her excitement of getting their financial house in order and mapping out their future life plan was gone. This was a sad call and briefly, here’s what happened.

After my first call with Lois nearly two years ago, she asked for a check list of financial documents that would be needed in order to develop a comprehensive financial plan. Not surprising to me, she held on to that check list and January of this year started gathering the info she knew she needed. She told me her new year’s resolution was to develop a financial plan and she was highly motivated.

She said Ben handles all the investments for the family, she pays the bills and manages month to month cash flow. So Lois started the project by gathering up all their investment statements. She had easy access to her 401k statement from work, but everything else, all their other investment statements, she would need to ask Ben for.

Money Secrets & Feelings of Betrayal

As it turns out, the reason Ben was reluctant to engage a financial planner was due to a big and destructive secret he was keeping. Ben was a closet day trader. I say closet because Lois knew nothing about his secret trading (gambling) activities nor as Lois later discovered did any of his close friends. 

While Lois believed they had approximately $1 million total in their various investment accounts, the truth was not even close. Over the past four years, Ben had lost nearly $800k of their savings. On top of that, he had used a margin account to leverage his stock trades and owed another $150k to his brokerage account. What they actually did have now in terms of retirement savings was around $50k. A far, far cry from the million plus Lois was certain they had accumulated over their 25 years of marriage.

Sometimes these tragedies end with somewhat happy endings. Often times there will be a good amount of marriage counseling, lots of healing and forgiveness and an ability to let go and rebuild. Not in this case. Lois and Ben are now formally separated and Lois has every intention of filing for divorce.

Her call to me was not about her and Ben doing a financial plan together, but about how she could move on an rebuild the financial security she thought she once had. Her life dreams, her dreams of retirement she had imagined for so long were shattered to pieces. She said she felt totally betrayed by Ben. Her heart was broken but she’s a fighter, and with some help, she will bounce back.

Why share such a sad story when there’s not a happy ending? Because maybe, just maybe, someone reading this blog that’s keeping money secret’s will realize how vital it is they come clean. Will it guarantee your relationship stays together? It will not. But it’s the right thing to do not just for your partner, but mostly for yourself.

I called Lois last week and asked her if it would be ok to write a blog about her painful experience. She said yes immediately. Through a lot of work she’s doing with a spiritual advisor, she’s starting to believe this event was divine intervention. She hasn’t changed her mind about divorce, but is working on forgiveness.

As she said during our call; “What if I didn’t discover Ben had a gambling addiction until ten years from now? How much worse off I would be. At least now I have a chance to rebuild my life.”

What we all need to remember about retirement dreams when we’re in long-term loving and committed relationships is this -  these are shared dreams, shared hopes and shared aspirations of the future. Trust is the glue that keeps relationships together through the good times as well as the bad. Betray that trust and you risk not only ruining your life, but the life of the person you so deeply love.


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