After an unexpected divorce, Marnie Annin's once-bright financial future became worrisome. A financial planner has helped put her back on the road to security.
Marnie Annin and her husband had planned their retirement together, and she’d felt confident they would do all right. He was a finance professor, after all, and she trusted he would make wise choices for them.
So when he told her he wanted to end their marriage, it pulled out the rug from under her.
Now 58 years old and newly divorced, Annin has not only had to adjust to being single in middle age, she’s had to plan for her own financial future. It’s been no surprise that she’s found herself less confident in her planning than before her divorce.
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When she filled out an online survey to participate in a free financial makeover, she explained that her unexpected divorce left her with questions: How should she be managing her income and expenses? Should she make changes to her retirement plans and investments? When can she retire?
“Really, I would love to retire tomorrow if I could,” Annin said.
She has a good city-government job that pays $88,000 a year. When she and her husband split, they sold their house. Her share of the divided assets included a condominium she inherited from her mother, on which there is a home-equity loan with about $7,000 remaining, with monthly payments of $150.
She also has about $6,000 in savings, about $140,000 in various retirement accounts, a pension fund through TIAA-CREF with about $125,000, and various investments in funds worth another $350,000.
But to the extent that she budgets, it’s more just a matter of making sure she doesn’t spend more than she brings in.
When she was married, she said, “I remember suggesting maybe we should have a budget. Not control, but understanding our expenses and plan for them that way so we had enough by the end of the year.”
“His feeling about that was, ‘Oh, we always make it, it’ll be fine, don’t worry about that.’ In the end we always did make it,” she said.
But that laissez-faire approach to budgeting is a common mistake, said Rachele Cawaring, director of financial planning at Clark Nuber in Bellevue.
“She wasn’t overspending right now, but she wasn’t saving enough,” said Cawaring, who is a certified financial planner and member of the Financial Planning Association’s Puget Sound chapter.
Cawaring’s first step in turning Annin’s finances around was to carefully categorize her spending.
Cawaring pointed out that it was common that someone going through a major transition such as a divorce would spend a bit more initially as they got set up in their new life on items such as furniture or fixing up an apartment.
But in Annin’s case, her largest spending categories were “Miscellaneous” and “Uncategorized.” Reducing those categories either by recategorizing or cutting spending is an important first step.
Annin’s monthly expenses — that she was aware of — include $350 for homeowners fees, $200-250 for groceries, $215 for utilities, $50 for various medications and co-payments, and about $100 in donations to Meow Cat Rescue in Kirkland.
“I find myself giving them money, supplies and I foster cats for them, so litter and food,” she said.
One significant expense is that she also helps support her 22-year-old son, who is in college, to the tune of about $700 per month. Her 24-year-old daughter is self-sufficient.
One of the first things they learned was that Annin was spending more than she’d thought on her kids, even on her daughter, with whom she’d go out to dinner or to an occasional concert.
“Just by being aware of what I’m spending on certain things I will make better decisions on whether I want to spend that or not,” Annin said.
Cawaring also encouraged her to put aside an additional $260 per month into savings to help boost her later retirement income.
“That’s another three years of income,” the financial planner said.
Another step was to adjust Annin’s investment portfolio, which she did not realize was aggressive for someone of her age, with more than three-quarters of her holdings in stocks.
Her risk tolerance was much lower, Cawaring said, and suggested a new balance of 40 percent in stocks, 55 percent in bonds and 5 percent in cash.
One unappreciated benefit Cawaring likes to emphasize is that you can usually reallocate your investments in the same mutual-fund family — in Annin’s case, the American Funds Group — and not get charged commission.
Annin’s financial situation was not dire, and with better tracking of her expenses and saving a bit more, she was told that she could maintain her standard of living for the rest of her life.
But she can’t retire or take a lower-paying job at someplace more in line with her personal interests, such as Meow Cat Rescue or another nonprofit.
“I guess my ideal would have been — that was sort of a pipe dream — to retire before 65 or to be able to reduce my income earlier even if I continued working,” she said.
But after going through the financial makeover process, “I really feel like I’m more prepared to manage my finances in a more thoughtful way,” she said.
“To take control instead of just making sure I didn’t overspend.”