At a divorce workshop called Second Saturday, women of all ages are packed around a large conference table. One of them is Jenny Juffs. She’s divorcing after 19 years of marriage and has two special needs children. Like many women, Juffs is pretty shocked by her new financial reality.
“I’ve been a wife or homemaker all my life,” she says. “Everything’s changing for me. I’ve never managed money.”
This situation is particularly grim for older women. Today, a quarter of divorced women over 60 live in poverty. Overall, older women see their household income drop by 41 percent. That’s twice the amount of their ex-husbands. And, to make matters worse, baby boomers are splitting up at record rates.
“So we are seeing these 20, 25, 30, 35-year marriages coming apart, with the women who have never worked outside of the home,” says financial advisor Grace Antares.
Antares heads Portland’s local chapter of Second Saturday. Many people who come to her divorce seminar are completely inexperienced when it comes financial planning. She often sees panic. Like one middle-aged woman who fled the room: “She explained to one of my colleagues that she was going through what felt like PTSD to her, that she had been separated from her husband for 10 years and had made every single mistake that we had mentioned in the first part of the class.”
So, financial literacy is important. But Antares says the biggest contributor to post-divorce success is earning power – and some women who spent more of their time focusing on the family lack job skills.
As for Jenny Juffs, she’s trying to build basic skills, like keyboarding. “I know how to use a computer a little bit, but not Office or Excel or anything that anybody’s going to need.”
Antares says even women who have good jobs can make poor financial decisions after divorce. And the closer to retirement these mistakes are made, the more devastating the effect. Grace Antares is now 64-years-old, and has her own story.
“I was highly emotionally attached to the house,” she says. “I pulled out the equity to pay him, I was the bigger earner, paid him a big settlement. Then, when the real estate market crashed, the house was underwater instantly. And so he got all the tax-free cash, and I got a foreclosure and a bankruptcy.”
Antares’ own experience is what helps fuel the one message she repeats all the time: “You’re going to be in charge of your finances for the rest of your life.”