When Helen Baker found herself in the midst of a divorce at the age of 26, she quickly learned the truth of the saying, a man is not a financial plan.
But splitting up from her partner of four years 25 years ago taught the financial adviser from Sydney countless valuable money lessons – and the mistakes to avoid if you are breaking up.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Helen shared how she navigated her way through a divorce, and how you can too.
When Helen Baker found herself in the midst of a divorce at the age of 26, she quickly learned the truth of the saying, a man is not a financial plan (pictured now)
But splitting up from her partner of four years 25 years ago taught the financial adviser from Sydney (pictured) valuable money lessons – and the mistakes to avoid if you are breaking up
According to the financial adviser, when she got married at 22, she was ‘insecure – emotionally and financially’.
What are the four lessons Helen learned in divorce?
1. Have an emergency fund as a buffer that is separate from any joint accounts.
2. Make sure you have immediate control of your own earnings.
3. Learn about your credit score.
4. Let go of any hatred or anger. While a settlement might cost you a lot, it is cash that can be recouped and you cannot put a price on your happiness and freedom.
‘Women typically crave peace and financial security,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. ‘But curiously, we are also less likely to seek professional financial advice at any time in life.’
The 51-year-old found four actions invaluable when she was building herself back up after divorce.
The first was having an ’emergency fund’, which she had originally used as a buffer in case of a big bill, but which steadily became a fund that meant she didn’t have to ‘put up with bad behaviour anymore’.
‘If you’re even contemplating leaving, or have any reason to believe it might be on the cards, make sure you have an emergency fund,’ she said.
‘This is a pot of money you, and only you, can access. Every woman, regardless of marital status, needs one. “Emergency” does not have to be about Heartbreak Road.’
The first thing Helen said it’s absolutely vital that you do if you think you’re going to get divorced is you should have an ’emergency fund’ (stock image), separate from joint accounts
The second piece of action, Helen told Mamamia she found valuable, was making sure she had her own income, which helps to give you ‘immediate control of my earnings’.
Thirdly, Helen said it helps to learn about your credit score:
‘I paid rent for my little flat as well as half of the mortgage, without fail, until our house sold, because I wanted to maintain an unblemished credit rating,’ she said.
Lastly, the financial adviser said she had to learn to ‘let go’. While her divorce settlement was costly and around the equivalent of $25,000, she added that she was told by her boss that it wouldn’t take her forever to recoup that cash:
‘As I’ve told many clients since, sometimes it is better to know in your heart you were right, settle and move on,’ she said.
Helen (pictured) also said you need to let go of the anger at the money you’re spending on a settlement, as this is cash that can be recouped and you cannot put a price on happiness
Speaking about the money mistakes the 50,000 women in the country who divorce make annually, Helen said it’s not about seeing your life in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’, but rather a four-phase view: pre-settlement, negotiation, post-settlement and rebuild.
‘Alongside your emergency fund, you need to make sure you close any joint bank accounts as soon as possible, and know the full extent of any outstanding debts on joint credit cards, loans and mortgages, utilities and leases.
‘You can be held responsible and non-payment can impact your credit rating,’ she warned.
Helen said it’s not about seeing your life in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’ divorce , but rather a four-phase view: pre-settlement, negotiation, post-settlement and rebuild (stock image)
What are the four stages of divorce?
‘Pre-settlement can be emotionally raw, making it even more important to make rational, informed decisions. Pre-settlement is a time to define your values, needs and future goals, and understand what assets are in the pool and which best align with your values, goals and needs,’ Helen explained.
‘Pre-settlement can take the heat out of the negotiation phase, often enabling a property settlement out of court,’ Helen said. ‘This saves time, money and stress: peace has no price tag. If the lawyers or mediators can’t generate a settlement at the agreed time, you have the advantage of understanding better what works for you – and why – as well as professionally organised paperwork to go to court.’
According to Helen, by the time you reach post-settlement, ‘the material assets of your union have been divided up and it can be tempting to want to splash out, whether this is on retail therapy or a holiday’. But this is when you need to think things through and build or ‘rebuild’ for your future.
‘In the rebuilding phase, I encourage women to have all financial foundations in place: a spending and investment plan, superannuation, insurances, an emergency fund and estate planning. When it comes to investing, time is your friend,’ Helen said. ‘I’ve made it my mission to see that more women know how to manage their financial assets independently.’
The financial adviser also said failing to assess which assets are in your name and which are in your joint name will lead to financial ruin, and you should ‘never rely on income that may cease like spousal maintenance, child support or a pension’.
‘Check who you nominated as the beneficiary of your superannuation and life insurance,’ she explained.
‘Unchanged, the Other One could receive an unintended windfall if you suddenly die.’
She added that you should seek financial advice from people who aren’t just lawyers:
‘A financial adviser will work with you to plan a secure financial future long after this uncertain time, taking into account your lifestyle now, and what you want.’
Lastly, she said, you should establish a ‘holiday fund’, as when ‘planned within your means, holidays are good for your physical and emotional health’.
Helen Baker is an Australian financial adviser and founder of On Your Own Two Feet.