I’m Mad As Hell! – Confessions of a Widow

Richard (Rick) Atkinson, MBA

After a recent presentation, a member of my audience named Edith spoke privately with me. She informed me her husband Fred past away six months previously. Then Edith added “I’m mad as hell!” When asked the reason for her fury, she said when Fred was alive he regularly met with a financial advisor and the two of them made money decisions impacting both he and Edith. Edith was informed after the fact, by her husband, regarding what was decided but with little or no explanation. According to Edith, Fred ended each conversation with the words, “Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll take care of you.”

After Fred’s passing, Edith said she was left with the task of picking up the financial pieces. Not only did she have a time finding Fred’s financial paperwork, she didn’t understand Fred’s notes or the rationale for decisions.

After gathered up what papers she could find, Edith said she met with the financial advisor Fred regularly dealt with. At the meeting, Edith said the advisor quickly summarized the years of discussions without regard to Edith’s lack of financial understanding. She said he used unfamiliar terminology and spoke in a rather abrupt manner. Several times, the advisor said, “You do understand, don’t you?” Edith said this made her feel inadequate and humiliated.

At the conclusion of our chat, Edith added, “You know Rick, though I’m mad as hell at Fred, I’m also mad at myself.” On asking why, she said, “I should have insisted at being present at each meeting with the advisor, asking my questions and getting answers which satisfy me. Unfortunately I didn’t and this makes me very angry.”

I mention the conversation with Edith because I believe she represents many spouses/partners who defer financial decision making to their mate. Financial Education is Key!

For years Edith relied on her husband to determine the financial wellbeing of she and Fred. Unfortunately, for Edith her behaviour of shirking financial responsibility played havoc and is forcing Edith to ‘get up to speed’ with her financial situation and plot a course of action aimed at solidifying (and possibly improving) her future as a single retired woman.

Turning the clock back, Edith could have prevented her frustration by insisting on being present at every meeting with the financial advisor. Further, she would have benefited by educating herself on financial terminology, investment products available and their advantages and disadvantages, asking questions and insisting on receiving explanations and answers which satisfied both she and Fred.

Where to Start

For women (also men) who want to feel empowered when it comes to financial matters, here is a partial listing of actions you may wish to consider:

(a) Investigate enrolling in a course on investing offered at your local community college and boards of education night school programs.

(b) Read the business section of your local or regional newspaper for useful economic and financial information. Three of my favourite financial writers are:

Ellen Roseman and Gordon Pape of the Toronto Star and Rob Carrick of the Globe and Mail.

(c) Use the Internet to search for investment information, commonly asked questions, trends, economic thinking and the like.

(d) Read published reports and investment newsletters offered by financial institutions and private organizations.

(e) Attend business shows. One show I’ve participated is the annual MoneyShow held in major centres across Canada.

(f) Read books and magazines for investment information and tips. Two magazines find appealing are: Canadian Business and Money Magazine.

(g) Join an investment club or discussion group. Check your local library for information on the availability of such clubs and groups in your area.

Consequences of Financial Literacy

By increasing one’s financial literacy, the payoffs are many including:

• Avoiding making financial mistakes through exercising informed decision making.

• Increased ability to make projections about future variables (i.e. income growth, inflation).

• Increased self-confidence when dealing with financial institutions and personnel.

• Better understanding of financial products including costs and benefits.

• Increased personal and household budgeting.

• Better debt management.

Women I’ve met who consider themselves financial literate report they feel an increased sense of control; something they did not experience prior to understanding the complex world of money.

To this day, I wonder what steps Edith has taken to dispel her feeling of anguish. Is she feeling confident when meeting with her financial advisor, is she more understanding of her financial situation and better equipped to face life? I do hope so.

What are you doing to improve your financial literacy?