Money Matters

What’s your money story? From the time you were a tyke, the ways in which you and your loved ones dealt with money—who controlled it, who earned it, who spent it, who saved it, whether there was too much or too little—have shaped your money narrative. This storyline, says financial adviser Laurie Stefanowicz, serves as the backdrop for your relationship with money today. And if you’re a woman, Stefanowicz contends, the familiar plot can be holding you back from making new and improved money decisions.

“Women have a more personal relationship with money” than do men, who are “more in the moment,” says Stefanowicz, who is the senior vice president and managing partner at Catamount Wealth Management in Westport. Women want to anticipate the twists and turns of their financial life, to understand the specifics and details and, most important, to be able to predict how the story will turn out. They want to know whether they will be okay down the road.

Stefanowicz hears women’s money stories frequently during Catamount’s financial empowerment workshops for women. She says that many attendees come feeling powerless, perhaps on the heels of divorce, the death of a spouse, the loss of a job. They’re disappointed with their savings or investments; they feel they haven’t saved enough to pay college tuition or to fare well in retirement. Even a sudden windfall, like a bonus or an inheritance, may be causing anxiety.

To help women plot their outcome, Stefanowicz advises a little written reflection exercise. First, they should spell out what is motivating them to seek financial advice at the moment. Then, they should “define their relationship” with money. Catamount literature asks, “If your money were a person, would you be on friendly terms with him or her? Would the relationship be volatile? Is it a secure connection or an insecure one?”

Volatility in any story leads to exploring
risk-tolerance and goals, the antagonists in many money stories. How comfortable are you with exposing yourself to the risks that lurk in your quest to accumulate some magical amount of money before you retire? And what, exactly, is that number?

The ability to write your ending comes only with a thorough understanding of four critical elements: what you own, owe, earn and spend. “Usually people can figure out ‘the earn’ and ‘the own,’” Stefanowicz says. “Figuring out their assets and the spending takes awhile,” particularly for singles who used to be part of a couple in which one partner managed the money while the other assumed different responsibilities. “I had a situation with a younger couple where [all the money management was] electronic, and she didn’t know any of the passwords. He was diagnosed with cancer and died within a month. She didn’t know the accounts or what they had.”

Once you wrangle all of these subplots, crafting the ending of your new money narrative becomes easier. Take note: And they lived happily ever after (financially, anyway) does not stem from earning more money. “There are people who are millionaires who will not be okay,” Stefanowicz says. The happy ending occurs once ‘the own’ and ‘the earn,’ triumph over ‘the owe’ and ‘the spend.’

Financial Fitness for Couples

The average couple in Fairfield County with half a million dollars in assets meets with a financial adviser once or twice a year. What happens in between? Not much—and that’s when problems arise.

Talk. Devote thirty minutes weekly or monthly to a money conversation. On track to meet your goals? Anything nudge you off course? Lost a job or encountered the unexpected? Need to take action?

Will. Ensure that you have a current will, especially if you have children or if your marital status changes.

Ask. Each should keep learning and asking questions. There are a lot of resources. Educate yourself. Show up at a seminar. When you’re having a conversation with your financial
planner, go together and ask questions.

Double-check. You get second opinions for everything else. Why not for your finances as well?

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