What is Financial Independence and Why Does It Matter?

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Women have been told since time immemorial that they need a man to provide for them — that they can’t do it on their own. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that a married woman could open up a bank account without her husband’s “permission,” and not until 1974 that a single, widowed or divorced woman could apply for credit without a man cosigning. So I suppose it is understandable why some women fall into a patriarchal trap when it comes to money. And given the economic realities of divorce, the newly single are particularly vulnerable.

Statistics for divorcing women are sobering. Maintaining your pre-divorce lifestyle could cost you 25 to 50 percent more given that one household is now split into two, and typically, a woman’s standard of living following a divorce plummets 27 percent, while a man’s increases by 10 percent.

So out of the ashes of divorce, you have a choice: Rely on a new man and possibly repeat the same behavior that got you into this mess in the first place, or commit to being financially independent.

Being financially independent does not mean that you have achieved a specific account balance, met a targeted net worth figure or that you simply never have to worry about money again. Financial independence is attained through the commitment you make to be solely responsible for creating, building and defending your worth. It is about owning your life (quantitatively and qualitatively) and realizing that no one — not a friend, a family member, a boss and certainly not a man — can protect and grow your worth better then you.

Like most newly single, I quickly learned that navigating my way through the financial maze of divorce wasn’t easy. Establishing financial security again seemed like a herculean task. A simple signature on my divorce decree cut my net worth in half, and caused my retirement outlook to darken.

I knew that becoming one of the three out of five women over 65 who can’t afford to cover their basic needs was simply not an option. However, one daunting question loomed over me: Despite my professional and academic pedigree, how in the hell was I going to be able to support myself, let alone my family, after opting out of the workforce for 16 years while I raised my children?

Initially, the employment outlook was grim. But simple logic told me that if I couldn’t control the inflow, I better take a hard look at the outflow. So with pen and paper in one hand, and a calculator in the other, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, digging through mounds of paperwork like an archaeologist hunting for a lost treasure. I began to examine everything: I documented monthly expenses, itemized bills, and (among other things) I read the fine print on my credit card statements. I realized that too much money was flying out the door. I knew that money would be better spent investing in myself, creating opportunities for the future and building my worth.

The answer was clear: I had to focus on what I could control and not be paralyzed by what I couldn’t. I had to regain ownership of my life. So, I made a commitment to being financially independent. I became solely responsible for my financial present and future. I’ve since built a business and while, truth be told, I may not spend as freely as I did during my marriage, I am financially secure. The best part is, my financial plan is not dependent on a man, but rather myself.

While financial freedom doesn’t happen overnight, the commitment to become financially independent can — and it is a critical step! If you believe, without a doubt, that you can handle whatever comes your way, you will become focused, resourceful and persistent, and you will attain financial freedom even in the face of obstacles.